Top 5 moments at former NASCAR tracks

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While seven Cup Series races were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there wasn’t a race scheduled for this weekend due to the Easter holiday.

The past few weekends we’ve taken a look at memorable moments at the tracks the Cup Series would have raced at on that particular Sunday.

With no corresponding track this weekend, we decided to go off the beaten path and look at moments from tracks that NASCAR no longer visits, which includes some that no longer exist.

Let’s get started.

 1. ‘They ought to fine that son of a (expletive)’; North Wilkesboro Speedway

It was an odd role reversal on Oct. 15, 1989.

With four races left in the season, Dale Earnhardt was 35 points behind Rusty Wallace and three laps away from clinching a dominating win at the short track located roughly 90 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Earnhardt, who would lead 343 of the race’s 400 laps, was leading on the final restart with three laps to go, as Ricky Rudd started alongside him.

Earnhardt kept the lead all the way to the white flag. Rudd tried to pass Earnhardt on the inside as they entered Turn 1. Their cars made contact, which sent both into a spin.

That opened the door for Geoffrey Bodine to take the lead and win the race. Rudd finished ninth and Earnhardt placed 10th.

Afterward, Earnhardt displayed the kind of anger usually seen from someone who had been spun by Earnhardt himself.

“They ought to fine that son of (expletive) and make him sit out the rest of the year,” Earnhardt declared to ESPN after the race.

Instead of leaving North Wilkesboro with 185 points, Earnhardt earned 144 points and lost two points to Wallace. Earnhardt would win the season finale three races later at Atlanta, but Wallace claimed the title by 12 points.

North Wilkesboro’s final NASCAR race occurred seven years later in 1996.

 

2. No sponsor, no problem; North Carolina Speedway (Rockingham)

Victories like Matt Kenseth’s first in the Xfinity Series just don’t happen.

Driving an unsponsored No. 17 Ford for Robbie Reiser (the Lycos decals on the rear quarter panels were there to express gratitude to the company for their Daytona sponsorship), Kenseth earned the win on the 50th birthday of NASCAR.

He just had to go through a fellow future Cup champion to do it.

After chasing him down in the late stages of the race, Kenseth got to Tony Stewart’s bumper with less than five laps to go.

On the last lap, Kenseth gave a tap to Stewart’s rear bumper as they exited Turn 4, sending Stewart up the track and allowing Kenseth to get beside him. It was a drag race from there with Kenseth beating Stewart by a car length.

That wasn’t Kenseth’s only big moment at Rockingham. Six years later in 2004, he beat Kasey Kahne in a photo finish to win the final Cup Series race at the track.

 

3. Two in a row for Tim Richmond; Riverside International Raceway

The first 11 races of the 1987 Cup Series season were held without Tim Richmond in the field. The Hendrick Motorsports driver sat out while he suffered from a mysterious illness that eventually was revealed as AIDS.

Richmond returned on June 14 at Pocono and promptly won, leading the final 47 laps and beating Bill Elliott.

A week later, Richmond’s comeback continued at Riverside International Raceway, a road course Richmond had won at three times before.

Richmond led the final 10 laps after passing Phil Parsons. He beat Ricky Rudd by 1.5 seconds.

It would be the last win for Richmond, whose last nine wins occurred over 19 starts. He would start the next six races after Riverside with his final start coming at Michigan.

NASCAR held its last Cup race at Riverside in June 1988.

Richmond died on Aug. 13, 1989 from AIDS complications.

 

4. The King earns final title at Ontario Motor Speedway

The 1979 Cup championship came down to the wire.

When the series held its season finale at Ontario Motor Speedway in California, Darrell Waltrip entered the race with a two-point advantage over Richard Petty, who had trailed Waltrip by 229 points in August.

Waltrip’s title hopes were dashed on Lap 38 when he spun trying to avoid a spinning car. The caution came out two laps later, trapping Waltrip a lap down. Waltrip never got back on the lead lap. Petty finished fifth and Waltrip placed eighth.

Petty ended the year 11 points up on Waltrip and claimed his seventh and final Cup championship.

Ontario would host its final Cup race the following year, ending a nine-race run that began in 1971.

 

5. NASCAR’s last hoorah at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis

The 2011 Xfinity Series season included the series’ last visit to Lucas Oil Raceway, the short track formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park.

After a 30-race tenure, the series would move to Indianapolis Motor Speedway the following year.

But the .686-mile track provided some drama in its sendoff.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dominated the event, leading 189 laps until a late-race restart.

With three laps to go in the scheduled distance, Brad Keselowski went to Stenhouse’s inside as they headed toward Turn 3.

When they got to the turn, Keselowski’s car went up the track and into Stenhouse’s, almost putting him into the wall.

But it was enough for Keselowski to take the lead. He would survive another restart to take the win.

 

NASCAR Penalty report from Michigan

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The NASCAR penalty report from Michigan International Speedway has been released.

It includes two fines for unsecured lug nuts. Chad Knaus, crew chief for William Byron‘s No. 24 Chevrolet, and Chris Gabehart, crew chief on Denny Hamlin‘s No. 11 Toyota, have each been fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut during the course of the weekend.

The report also includes the penalties issued Saturday to Roush Fenway Racing for the improper spoilers used on both Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher‘s cars.

Brendan Gaughan set for Daytona road course after COVID-19 recovery

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On July 15, part-time Cup Series driver Brendan Gaughan became the second NASCAR driver to announce he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

After quarantining for two weeks and testing negative for COVID-19 twice more than 24 hours apart, Gaughan has been medically cleared to go racing again.

And he won’t even have to wait until the Cup Series regular-season finale on Aug. 29 to do it.

Originally scheduled to only compete in the season’s four superspeedway races with Beard Motorsports, Gaughan will suit up to drive the No. 62 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

He joins Jimmie Johnson in having tested positive for COVID-19 and returned to race. While Gaughan last competed in the June 22 race at Talladega, Johnson only missed the Brickyard 400 before returning to the track.

“I feel fantastic,” Gaughan said in a press release. “I’m finally out of the house. The toughest part of the whole ordeal was the mental aspect. I truly feel for people who struggle with depression and have to deal with COVID-19, because this thing is tough. You literally get stuck in a location by yourself. Fortunately for me, I had my puppy. I missed my two children tremendously. But it’s amazing now because we live in the age of the Jetsons that we can pick up a phone and look at their faces.”

To get clearance to race, Gaughan tested twice for COVID-19 in more than 24 hours and also had to get a doctor’s note saying he was good to go.

“That was it,” Gaughan said. “As long as I’m negative, they are good with it. They still have their protocols in place, so when we get to the track we are all still separated. The drivers don’t get to mingle with the teams right now. NASCAR has done a phenomenal job with it and they have been able to stay open for business while having very, very minor effects from this.”

While he was originally just going to race at Talladega and the Daytona oval, Gaughan says this weekend’s road course race “technically counts.”

“We said all of the Daytona races,” Gaughan said. “What happened is that as soon as it got added to the schedule immediately my mind went, ‘Wow, I would love to race the Daytona road course.’ There’s very few of us Cup drivers that have experience on that race course. And with no practice and no qualifying, that gives about 10 of us a very large advantage over the field.”

Brendan Gaughan
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Gaughan competed on the road course and earned a class victory in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, with his team beating second place by a full lap. He’s ran in the Rolex 24 twice since, finishing third in 2016 in the Prototype Challenge class and 14th in 2018 in the Prototype division.

“I was immediately enticed by it,” Gaughan said of the road course race. “Then you know how much I always speak so highly of Richard Childress Racing. Richard called and said, ‘Hey, come on man, you know you want to do it,’ and I kind of chuckled because everyone knows I love my road racing. I talked to the Beard family and said, ‘Hey, you want to add a race to the schedule?’ It wasn’t in the budget. It wasn’t planned originally, but the Beards were on board.

“They are in the same boat as me. This is a retirement year like me and they are having the same fun I am. They went, ‘Ooohh, we can do well there.’ So we called Richard up and he built me a brand new Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro from RCR that we were able to rent for Beard Motorsports to go race.”

Gaughan, who will start last in the race due his lack of owner points, dissected how different it will be navigating the road course in Cup compared to the sports car he drove the last time he raced on it.

“I need to remember that the last time I raced there in an LMP car, I could lift at the ‘1’ sign going into the chicane on the back straightaway,” Gaughan said. “Now if I lift at the ‘1’ in a Cup car, I will end up at the airport. So I need to remember that I’m going to need a little more braking zone room. But you basically already know the line and you know where you want to be. You know the feel of the place.

“You know where some passing zones are. You kind of know how to run that race, which is the big advantage that comes with it. Having a car built from Richard Childress means that I don’t have to worry that it’s going to have parts and pieces that aren’t any good. And I still have Darren Shaw, my crew chief, who I’ve been working with at Beard Motorsports. We’ve still got our guys working it and our guys doing it, so I kind of have the best of all worlds here. And there is an advantage for people that have been there. I also gave myself a little bit of an insurance policy. I offered to sponsor Andy Lally in the Xfinity race. To me, Andy Lally is the premier sports-car racer in America.

“I don’t think anybody can argue that there is anybody better than Andy Lally. So, I offered to sponsor Andy because he’s racing Saturday. I told him he has to stay over Sunday and do some driver coaching and give me his notes. Not only do I have experience on the track, I will have notes from a stock car on the track from the day before.”

Christopher Bell: ‘Pretty scared’ about future before re-joining JGR

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Early last week, Christopher Bell was “pretty scared” about his NASCAR future after Leavine Family Racing, the Toyota-backed team the rookie driver competes for in the Cup Series, announced it would sell its assets to Spire Motorsports.

That left Bell’s relationship with Toyota, the manufacturer that’s been the “centerpiece” of his racing career since 2013 and 2015 in NASCAR, up in the air.

“I’ve said it time and time again, but Toyota has been my – they’re the ones that got me here,” Bell said Tuesday in a press conference. “They’re the ones that took me from dirt track racing to pavement racing to Truck (Series) racing to Xfinity racing and then obviously made this deal happen with LFR too. At the time, it’s either the 20 car (at Joe Gibbs Racing) or I’m done with Toyota. There’s no other options. It was very scary. I didn’t want that to end.”

Bell acknowledged that despite his 2017 Truck Series title, his seven Truck wins and 16 Xfinity wins, a lack of sponsorship backing didn’t make him the most valuable hire for another team.

“The sponsorship piece is a huge part of it,” Bell said. “It’s no secret, you have to have sponsors in order to succeed in this sport and I’ve been really fortunate to have Rheem with me for the last couple of years. If I get pushed out of the Toyota group, I don’t really have much to say, ‘hire me.’”

Bell said, “I knew that once LFR shut down, there was only one place for me to go and the 20 car has obviously got a great driver in there right now.”

That driver was Erik Jones, who has been with Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup full-time since 2018 and been a Toyota driver in NASCAR since 2013 in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“‘How is that going to work?'” Bell asked himself. “‘How am I going to be able to go to JGR whenever they’re full?’ Unfortunately my homecoming so to speak was at the expense of another driver.”

Two days after LFR’s announcement, Joe Gibbs Racing revealed Jones would not return to the team in 2021, a move that “blindsided” Jones.

On Monday, JGR announced Bell’s ascent up the ranks would finally land him in the No. 20 next season.

“It was very, I mean, uncomfortable is a good way to put it,” Bell said. “I don’t think any of us – myself, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota – none of us expected the whole LFR deal to go down like it did, so I think that put everybody in a little bit of a box. … I’m extremely grateful that I get to continue that relationship and that I get to continue to drive Camrys on Sundays and race with TRD for hopefully a long time to come.”

How does Bell see his relationship with Jones playing out over the final 14 races of the season?

“As far as me versus him, that situation is already done, so I don’t know how he’s going to race me going forward,” Bell said. “I’m going to be cheering for Erik, just as everybody is at Joe Gibbs Racing, just hoping that he gets a nice solid deal and lands on his feet. I’ll be cheering for him and trying to race him with as much respect as I can, just like every other competitor. I hope he performs well, and obviously, the better he performs now in the 20 car, the better off I’ll be at the start of the year with the owner points standings. It’s really important that he does well this year in the 20 car for my future next year as well.”

Bell observed that it’s “absolutely crazy” to look back at his career path, which began in UASC Midgets and has led to him driving a “house” Toyota Cup car at JGR next year.

Going into 2021, Bell said he still has a “great relationship” with the people at JGR from his time there in the Xfinity Series.

“Whenever I was on the Xfinity side, I still got to mingle and interact with the Cup shop a little bit, so I have a rough idea how everything operates there,” Bell said. “I got in a little bit deeper with the LFR deal, and having that technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, but it’s going to be very nice to be able to go back home.”

Spire Motorsports confirms purchase of Leavine Family Racing

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Spire Motorsports confirmed Tuesday that it will acquire the assets from Leavine Family Racing upon the completion of the 2020 season. Spire Motorsports also will expand to a two-car team in the Cup Series in 2021.

The purchase will include LFR’s charter, the team’s race shop near Charlotte Motor Speedway and all of its owned inventory. LFR’s fleet of cars and chassis will be returned to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Spire, which began competing in 2019 after it purchased Furniture Row Motorsports’ charter, fields the No. 77 Chevrolet. It has made 58 starts for more than a dozen drivers since last year, including an upset win in the July 2019 race at Daytona with Justin Haley behind the wheel.

The team is co-owned by Jeff Dickerson and Thaddeus “T.J.” Puchyr.

“This is an exciting moment for Spire as we take the natural next step in our long-term plan to build our race team and prepare for the Next Gen car in 2022,” said Dickerson in a press release. “Bob Leavine invested more than money into LFR and this industry. He built a team brick-by-brick and we have long admired how he took his own steps in the garage. He also did it with his family at his side. We won’t let that be lost in this transaction. When you build something with your family, it always means a little bit more. His ability to connect with fans was genuine and we are thankful he chose us to carry this team forward.

“These are no doubt trying times, but I have never been prouder to be part of this sport. NASCAR has managed several difficult situations this spring and into the summer. We believe in the ownership model that NASCAR has built and where this sport is going now more than ever.”

The team said details about drivers and manufacturers for 2021 will come later.