After 71 days, NASCAR returns; Kevin Harvick earns 50th career Cup win

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After a 10-week hiatus, NASCAR returned to real-life racing Sunday – without fans for the first time in the sport’s history due to the COVID-19 pandemic – as Kevin Harvick held off Alex Bowman to win the Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway.

It was Harvick’s 50th career Cup win, his first win of the season and his first since at Texas last fall. It was also his second career win at the 1.366-mile paperclip-sized facility known as the “Track Too Tough To Tame.”

“I just want to thank everybody from NASCAR and all the teams for letting us do what we do,” Harvick told Fox Sports. “Then we won the race and it’s dead silent out here. We miss the fans.

“It’s a pretty big honor to win 50 races in this deal and I just have to thank all my team guys and everybody for what they’re doing. … We’re bringing home the trophy. It doesn’t seem real (that he’s won 50 races).”

Harvick leaves Darlington No. 1 in the Cup point standings — the same position he has been in since the last Cup race more than two months ago.

“Man, I’m excited,” Harvick said. “It is weird because there’s nobody up there (in the stands). … I’m speechless.”

Due to social distancing restrictions, Kevin Harvick celebrated in an empty victory lane after winning Sunday’s Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Harvick ties NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson with 50 career Cup wins, leaving all three in a tie for 12th place on the sport’s all-time wins list.

Bowman signed a one-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports on Saturday.

“It was a lot of fun to race a guy like Kevin at a place like Darlington,” Bowman said. “It sucks to finish second, but it’s really good to restart the season this way with a strong car off the truck. We just needed a little bit more … and just came up a little bit short.”

Kurt Busch finished third in the 293-lap, 400.5-mile race, followed by Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.

“I’m the happiest guy in the world, I got to drive 200 mph today, passing cars, felt the energy of the race car and just to be out here and to have a job,” said Busch, who earned his 13th top-10 career finish in 25 Cup races at Darlington. “I miss the race fans, we didn’t have you here, but I felt you through the (TV) cameras.”

Two other notable finishers were Matt Kenseth (10th) in his first Cup race since the 2018 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and Ryan Newman (15th), in his first race back since a horrific crash in the season-opening Daytona 500.

The last Cup race prior to the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the race season was March 8 at Phoenix Raceway (Joey Logano was the winner).

Brad Keselowski earned the pole by blind draw, while Bowman was alongside on the front row.

With no practice or qualifying, it didn’t take long for the first incident of the race to occur as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made contact with Corey LaJoie’s car on Lap 1.

Stenhouse’s car bounced off LaJoie’s car, hit the wall on the backstretch, sustaining heavy damage and subsequently breaking into flames from the rear of his No. 47 car. Stenhouse finished last in the 40-car field.

Two other notables knocked out were race leader Jimmie Johnson (finished 38th) on the final lap of Stage 1, while eventual Stage 1 winner William Byron wrecked on Lap 110 but following repairs was able to resume (finished 35th).

Kyle Busch’s drew the fourth starting position but because his No. 18 Toyota failed in the first two pre-race inspections, he was forced to start at the back of the 40-car pack. Due to an unscheduled late pit stop, Busch trailed off to finish 26th.

Only about 900 essential personnel were allowed onto the grounds, including drivers, team members, NASCAR officials including CEO Jim France, safety personnel, TV production people, media and others.

All competitors and team members had to pass a health screening before entering the track, abide by social distancing guidelines and wear a mask at all times at the track.

“Our drivers, race teams and officials have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get back to the race track and we want to assure you that we have taken the return to racing very seriously,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps wrote in a statement.

STAGE 1 WINNER: William Byron

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

MORE: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Seven drivers had never competed in a Cup race at Darlington, with Tyler Reddick (7th) and John Hunter Nemechek (9th) being the highest-finishing rookies.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: On the last lap of Stage 1, Jimmie Johnson appeared headed to the stage win. But Johnson failed to avoid the slowing car of Chris Buescher, bounced off and hit the inside retaining wall head-on, knocking the seven-time champ out of the race. That extends Johnson’s winless streak to 100 consecutive races, the longest of his NASCAR career. His last win was June 4, 2017 at Dover.

NOTABLE: In an unusual caution on Lap 155, track workers had to pull off a banner that had partially broken away from the racetrack’s outer wall and was flapping in the wind. Chunks of the sign got caught in Denny Hamlin’s grille and Tyler Reddick’s front fender until they became dislodged. … At this juncture, NASCAR expects to continue racing without fans through at least June 21.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Cup Series returns to Darlington Wednesday night and then on Sunday to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the sport’s longest event, the grueling Coca-Cola 600.

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Sponsor adds more races in 2023 with Josh Berry

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Jarrett Companies will increase the number of races it will sponsor Josh Berry‘s No. 8 JR Motorsports ride in 2023, the Xfinity Series team announced Monday.

Jarrett Companies will sponsor Berry in six races after serving as the primary sponsor in three races in 2022. Those six races will be Phoenix (March 11), Richmond (April 1), Dover (April 29), Atlanta (July 8), Indianapolis (Aug. 12) and Texas (Sept. 23).

The deal gives Berry at least 26 races with sponsorship for next season. Bass Pro Shops will serve as the primary sponsor of Berry’s car in 11 races in 2023. Tire Pros is back with JRM and will sponsor Berry in nine races in the upcoming season.

Berry, who reached the Xfinity title race and finished fourth in the points, will have a new crew chief in 2023. Taylor Moyer will take over that role with Mike Bumgarner serving as JRM’s director of competition.

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

 

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”