NASCAR President: Sport on ‘journey’ to make it better for all

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps says the sport continues “this journey toward getting better” and “bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment, whether at the race track or you are watching on television.”

Phelps made the comments Saturday night on NASCAR America on NBCSN before the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

He spoke after a remarkable week in sports that saw athletes halt play to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“For us it really is getting back to this, what’s action can we take?” Phelps said on NBCSN. “I mean, it’s great to say the words, but if you don’t follow them up with actions, they’re really meaningless. And so, for us, it’s continuing down … this journey towards getting better. And getting better really means bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment, whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome.”

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Asked about the events of this week in sports, Phelps said:

“Listen, the events of this week are difficult for sure. The sports world, we saw some things that are unprecedented with games being canceled and athletes finding their voice and talking about, in their minds what needs to happen, what needs to change.

I pivot back, frankly, to where we were back in early June. With, you know, coming out of the death of George Floyd, what the drivers did with their video in Atlanta, you know, kind of that moment of listening that we had as a sport in Atlanta and then the following week with the banning of the confederate flag and importantly to make sure that, you know, we were making sure we were following through with that at the racetrack, which is something that we have done. And then the following week, with Bubba Wallace at Talladega and just those iconic images that came from Talladega.

Before the June 7 Cup race at Atlanta began, the cars were stopped on the frontstretch. Pit crews stood on the wall behind the pit boxes. Phelps then addressed competitors and fans.

“Those watching at home, thank you for your time,” Phelps said. “Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard. The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”

“The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection to acknowledge we must do better as a sport and join us as we may now pause and … listen.”

Here are Phelps’ full comments in his NBCSN interview Saturday

Krista Voda: We are joined now by the president of NASCAR, Steve Phelps. It is never easy to see our country have divided. What are your observations from the sports world this week and what’s the sentiment inside the NASCAR community?

Steve Phelps: Well, first of all, thanks for having me on, Krista. It’s a pleasure to be with you and Brad. Listen, the events of this week are difficult, for sure. The sports world, we saw some things that are unprecedented, with games being canceled and athletes finding their voice and talking about, in their minds, what needs to happen, what needs to change. I pivot back, frankly, to where we were back in early June. With, you know, coming out of the death of George Floyd, what the drivers did with their video in Atlanta, you know, kind of that moment of listening that we had as a sport in Atlanta and then the following week with the banning of the confederate flag and importantly to make sure that, you know, we were making sure we were following through with that at the racetrack, which is something that we have done. And then the following week, with Bubba Wallace at Talladega and just those iconic images that came from Talladega, which, you know, for all of us that have been in this sport a long time, as you, Brad, and Krista, have been, just seeing that sense of community and that sense of family that exists at NASCAR, watching the support of Bubba – I just thought it was extraordinary.

Brad Daugherty: Yeah, it was absolutely remarkable. And Steve, as you go back to June, I mean, going forward, coming forward to now, the seismic shift in all of our cultural ideologies has changed dramatically. And at the forefront of that has been pro sports figures and pro sports teams. You talk about Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA, most notably, but also in the origin of all this was NASCAR and you stood behind a pretty defiant stance and took a really big chance with NASCAR, being one of the leaders, speaking out and taking a stand against social injustices. Why is now the right time for NASCAR?

Phelps: Well, you know what, Brad, that’s a really good question. You know, for us, and again, I’ll go back to June, it was a moment in time in this country that it appeared like everyone really was interested in understanding what was happening. An opportunity for us to listen. That’s where we were as a sport. You know, Bubba, who I think we would all suggest that he’s shown nothing but class and courage in this whole thing and he always has kept it up here, never has gone down here. It’s all about love, understanding, welcoming people to this sport and that’s really what we’re about. And I think that for us at this moment in time, where we were in June, was something that was important for our sport. We want to have this great sport open to as many people as we can. And the events that happened in June really showcased who our sport was, so, I was super proud of it. I know that the two of you have, I’ve had conversations with you about this, so I think it was, again, time and place, that was our time. There’s still work that needs to be done, for sure, and since June, you know, we’ve done a lot of listening with our own employees, with our industry broadly, with our many partners, Comcast, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Geico and many, many others about the role that sports can play, the role that our athletes can play and the roles, frankly, that our broadcast sponsors and our sponsors can play in what’s going on in our sport.

Voda: You bring up some great points, I think we’re all just trying to be better human beings overall. What is the biggest, I guess, takeaway or learning through all of the conversations and impact that you’ve had, you know, even dating back just to June?

Phelps: Yeah, listen, there’s so many, Krista, and they just kind of all blur together. But for us, it really is getting back to this, what actions can we take? I mean, it’s great to say the words, but if you don’t follow them up with actions, they’re really meaningless. And so, for us, it’s continuing down this continuum of this journey towards getting better. And getting better really means bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome. And that’s really, you know, we say it a lot, but I think our sport does that better than any other, frankly, in terms of this sense of family and this sense of community that exists.

Daugherty: Steve, we get through February, the pandemic hits, everyone’s scrambling, trying to figure out, especially in the sports leagues how they’re going to get their seasons done or in. Here we are, we’re coming to the end of the season tonight, the regular season. How in the world did you guys come up with this ending at Daytona? You’ve hit it out of the park, my friend. This is going to be epic. I want to know a little bit, I’ve known you a long time, I want to know about the thinking that went into this, because this is going to be an epic night for the playoffs to begin after this.

Phelps: Well, I think you go back, Brad, just getting back to racing as we did on May 17th in Darlington, first without fans and then with fans. You know, here tonight, we’re going to have over 20,000 people, which is both, you know, an extraordinary accomplishment, you know, all the protocols that are in place, both for our competitors and our fans, but here we are, race 26 of the regular season. This has been circled on my calendar since the schedule came out last year and you just think about, you know, even at the time, switching from the July 4th date and frankly, we were heavily criticized for doing that and bringing it to tonight, this is why we’ve done it. You think, DJ. said, if you have eight people — there are actually 17 individuals, drivers that could get in tonight that are in the top 30 that can win their way in or point their way in. It’s going to be — not that Daytona’s not always a wild ride, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Voda: Well, thank you, Steve. We appreciate both your time and your transparency on these topics and we’re going to see Steve again later in the show. He’s going to present Kevin Harvick with the award for regular season supremacy.

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.

 

 

 

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway

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After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)