Friday 5: Can history repeat for No. 3 car at Talladega 20 years later?

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Twenty years after Dale Earnhardt’s magical victory at Talladega Superspeedway, Austin Dillon hopes the No. 3 car can repeat history Sunday.

Earnhardt scored his final Cup victory on Oct. 15, 2000, charging from 18th to first in the final five laps.

Austin Dillon seeks to lead the No. 3 car back to victory lane at that track Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC) to advance to the next round of the playoffs. He enters the race last among the 12 remaining playoff drivers after he finished 32nd last weekend at Las Vegas. Dillon trails Alex Bowman by 32 points for the final transfer spot to the next round.

Dillon, 10 years old when Earnhardt won that 2000 Talladega race, recalls the event. He’s well familiar with Earnhardt’s 76th and final Cup win.

“It was a spectacular race,” Dillon said. “Seeing him come from the back to the front and make the moves he had … I think that was amazing.”

Running 15th with four laps left, Earnhardt passed six cars on the backstretch on the way to his win.

Dillon will seek to be closer to the front when the final lap begins Sunday, but he knows a victory could be his only chance to keep his title hopes alive.

“I’m not really worried about points,” Dillon said. “I think we need to go win the race to transfer to the next round and try to create our own destiny that way. For me, it’s throwing caution to the wind. Obviously, you’ve got to get to the end of those things to win, but a lot of these guys that have been successful at speedway racing have also led a bunch of laps and put themselves in situations to do that.

“For me, from lap one, I’m racing and doing what I can to be aggressive and keep track position to show everybody around us that we’re there, we have a fast car to work with us, and just kind of prove a point from the beginning of the race on that we’re going to be a contender at Talladega.”

Dillon’s lone Cup win on a superspeedway came in the 2018 Daytona 500. That win came 20 years after Earnhardt’s lone Daytona 500 victory.

Could Dillon again win 20 years after a momentous win by Earnhardt?

“That would be fitting for us to go win at Talladega and lock ourselves into the next round of the playoffs,” Dillon said, noting the anniversary of Earnhardt’s win.

2. After nearly 40 versions, the 2021 Cup schedule emerged   

The 2021 Cup schedule was finalized after about the 40th version and more than 50 people had played a part in shaping it, Ben Kennedy, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, told NBC Sports this week.

While NASCAR executives Steve O’Donnell, Scott Miller, Brian Herbst, Ben Baker and Kennedy comprised the core group, many others within the sanctioning body, drivers, teams and broadcast partners were involved in a schedule unlike any other in NASCAR.

The Cup Series will visit three new venues (Nashville, Circuit of the Americas and Road America) and have two new races (Bristol dirt race and Indianapolis road course) next season. 

“It used to be every year we announced a new schedule and it was like we moved a race by one week, but all the races were the same,” Brad Keselowski said. “Well, that’s not really much to announce. This is the first schedule announcement we’ve had since I’ve been a Cup driver that has had significant changes. I think that’s refreshing. I think the schedule needs to be bold, it needs to be changed, it needs to be dynamic every year.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in November that there would be three key components to the 2021 schedule.

“We’re looking at where we’re going to have the most competitive racing that we can have, where we’re going to have full grandstands, and what does that market look like, is it a new market that we can service,” he said.

Getting to Thursday’s announcement was not easy. Unless one compares it to what the sanctioning body did to resume this season after the pandemic paused it 10 weeks. NASCAR went through more than 80 different schedules before completing its revamped version this season.

Kennedy told NBC Sports that a 2021 scheduling team of about 15 people formed shortly after last year’s Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend. Phelps stated April 2020 as a goal to announce the 2021 schedule. Kennedy said the group had made “a lot of headway” on the ’21 schedule when the sport stopped in March because of the coronavirus.

The focus turned to resuming the sport and creating a schedule as NASCAR consulted with governors, state officials and health officials.

One-day shows, rearranging races and moving the All-Star Race to Bristol in the updated schedule this season set in motion ideas for an inventive ’21 schedule.

“I think that mentality and mindset was also brought back to the 2021 schedule as we started to think about, hey, let’s continue to really shake it up,” Kennedy said.

The changes, Kennedy notes, align with what fans told NASCAR. That led to the addition of three road course events, the notion of a dirt track at Bristol and an additional race in Darlington, among other changes.

“We think the work that Ben Kennedy has done by leading this really continues us on that journey not only for this year,” O’Donnell said, “but we’re going to continue to be bold in ’22 as well.”

Now, Kennedy focuses on the 2021 Xfinity and Truck schedules and the Next Gen car’s debut in 2022.

“There’s never a lack of something to do here,” he said.

3. One-day shows returning in 2021   

Most of next year’s Cup races will be one-day shows, said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer.

O’Donnell said the plan is for Cup to practice and qualify for the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and championship finale at Phoenix Raceway. Practice and qualifying also will take place at the five new events on the schedule — Nashville, the Bristol dirt race and road course events at Circuit of the Americas, Road America and the Indy road course.

“We’ve certainly learned a lot this year, most good in terms of some efficiencies we can see,” O’Donnell said. “We want race fans back at the track, right? We want race fans to see qualifying and practice. We also know that as we look forward to 2021, there’s still an unknown.

“The race teams have asked us, and we’ve worked closely with them, it’s worked for us and our television partners, to be as efficient as we can in 2021 on our journey to the Next Gen car.”

4. Another dirt race?

Chase Briscoe, who came from the dirt car ranks, is thrilled about Bristol hosting a NASCAR dirt race in March. 

Anytime you can have a dirt race, I feel like that’s just going to help me,” Briscoe said. “Eldora was always one that I had circled that I felt like I could go and win (in the Truck Series), so, for me, anytime you can add any type of dirt race to any schedule in a pavement series, I feel like I’m going to have a little bit of an advantage, so I’m super excited.”

Briscoe has a suggestion for where NASCAR might want to race on dirt next if Bristol succeeds.

“I’m not sure how it’s going to race with our cars with that much banking, but I think another good possibility maybe down the road to look into this, I think Loudon (New Hampshire) would be a perfect racetrack to go dirt racing,” he said. “It’s got a little bit of bank. It would be just like the mile (-long tracks) that the ARCA cars run. I just think it would be a really cool event. 

“You could have the big block modifieds come and run a big race or whatever, so I think down the road if Bristol is a good success, that Loudon would be a really good one to add that to, but I’m excited to add dirt racing. I think the fans are going to be excited. I’m excited to see how it turns out.”

 

Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley (11) and JR Motorsports’ Michael Annett duel during the June Talladdega race won by Haley. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

5. Race within the race

One of the fascinating subplots in Saturday’s Xfinity playoff race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) could be the duel between JR Motorsports and Kaulig Racing.

The teams have combined to win five of the last six races at Daytona and Talladega. A Kaulig car passed a JRM car for the win at Talladega in June.

Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley has won the past two speedway races. He took the checkered flag in August at Daytona when teammates Ross Chastain and AJ Allmendinger wrecked on the last lap battling for the lead. Haley won in June at Talladega when his teammates pushed him past JR Motorsports’ Jeb Burton for the win.

The Kaulig cars of Allmendinger, Chastain and Haley ran 1-2-3 for most of the final third of the Daytona race before the incident between Allmendinger and Chastain. That incident also collected JR Motorsports driver Michael Annett.

“I heard a lot of people questioning if we were going to work as well as we have at Talladega after what happened at Daytona,” Haley told NBC Sports. “Certainly yes.”

If Kaulig Racing can control the front of the field, that could make it harder for others.

“They’re really strong at blocking,” Annett told NBC Sports about the Kaulig Racing cars. “It’s almost like they’re willing to sacrifice themselves to throw a block in those races.”

Haley admits his group defends its positions vigorously.

“I think we’ve all seen how aggressive Ross Chastain can be blocking at a superspeedway,” Haley said. “He takes the icing on the cake for that now. You’ve got to be aggressive if you want to control the race and if you want to not get dropped. You’ve got to be aggressive and that’s how it is.”

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NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule 10.5.2.6.A covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

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4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

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9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.

 

 

 

SunnyD to sponsor Kevin Harvick in two races, Riley Herbst in Daytona 500

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Kevin Harvick has picked up a sponsor for the new season, and Riley Herbst has picked up a ride in the Daytona 500.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that orange drink SunnyD will be the primary sponsor for Harvick’s No. 4 Ford at Darlington Raceway (May 14) and Kansas Speedway (Sept. 10).

SunnyD also will be the sponsor for Herbst as he joins the entry list for the Daytona 500 in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing car. The orange drink also will be an associate sponsor for Herbst in the No. 98 Xfinity car fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing in the Xfinity Series.

The 2023 season will be Harvick’s final year as a full-time Cup driver.

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The Daytona 500 will mark Herbst’s first Cup Series start. The 24-year-old native of Las Vegas has made 109 Xfinity Series starts.

“It’s great to have Riley making his first NASCAR Cup Series start with RWR and be a part of the next step in his career,” said team owner Rick Ware in a statement released by the team.

“As a kid you always dream of being able to race in the Daytona 500, and I’m able to accomplish that with Rick Ware Racing,” Herbst said. “It’s such a big event and for it to be my first Cup start will be a crazy experience.”

 

 

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).