2020 NASCAR season in pictures

0 Comments

As the 2020 NASCAR season approached, much of the talk focused on 2021. A robust free agent market led to questions of if there would be a dramatic shift in where drivers raced after 2020. And they would do so with the Next Gen car, which was scheduled to make its debut in 2021 before it was pushed back a year.

No one could have known that as Erik Jones won the wreck-filled Busch Clash, in a car that was involved in three accidents, that the world was changing and would impact all of society, including NASCAR.

More than 100,000 fans and President Donald Trump gathered in February at Daytona International Speedway to watch the Daytona 500, only to see the race delayed a day by rain and Denny Hamlin‘s dramatic win muted by Ryan Newman’s horrific accident that hospitalized him for two days.

There was no better sight all year than the image of Newman walking out of the Daytona Beach hospital with his daughters.

This will be a year we’ll never forget for many reasons.

2020 NASCAR season
Ryan Newman leaves a Daytona Beach, Florida hospital with his daughters after his Daytona 500 crash. Newman recently told NBC Sports how the accident has changed him. He said he’s “probably more spiritual than I ever was. I’m more giving than I ever was. I’m more empathetic than I ever was. I’m probably a better dad. I’m a better person because I had that moment.” (Photo: Roush Fenway Racing)

 

The scene before the driver/crew chief meeting March 8 at Phoenix, the last time this season there would be such a gathering. After the season resumed, COVID-19 protocols led to virtual driver/crew chief meetings and social distancing in the garage area. Among those pictured is Kyle Larson. This would be his final Cup race of 2020. After uttering a racial slur during an online racing event in April, he lost his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing. He spent the next several months “listening and learning.” NASCAR reinstated Larson, and Hendrick Motorsports hired him to drive the No. 88 car in 2021. (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

When the NASCAR season paused because of the coronavirus, the sport turned to iRacing with its stars to give fans their weekly fix of racing. This also brought out former stars Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. While the virtual world mimicked much about real racing, many of the crashes were out of this world, such as Gordon’s high-flying act in a race at virtual Talladega. But iRacing gave fans the chance to better appreciate a driver like Timmy Hill. Others who also benefitted from their experience on iRacing and got to showcase it were Garrett Smithley and Landon Cassill. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

NASCAR returned May 17 at Darlington Raceway. It was a new world for the sport. There were no fans. The schedule was dramatically revamped multiple times. No practice. No qualifying. Everyone in the infield wore masks. Through it all, the sport ran a full season in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Two days after he and wife Marissa found out she had a miscarriage, Chase Briscoe held off Kyle Busch to win the May 21 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway. After winning, he returned to his motorhome and FaceTimed his wife: “She’s still in not the best mood because of what happened, but it definitely raised her spirits up a little bit,” he said that day. “But it’s not by any means swept under the rug. This is still really serious for us, and we’re struggling right now.” Marissa would suffer a second miscarriage in October. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

NASCAR rallied around Bubba Wallace on June 22 at Talladega Superspeedway, a day after a noose was found in his team’s garage stall. An FBI investigation later determined that no federal hate crime had been committed, stating that the noose had been there since October 2019 and there was no way of knowing that Wallace and his team would occupy that garage stall in 2020. Competitors pushed Wallace’s car on the grid to the front in a show of unity. Teams followed the drivers down pit road. Car owner Richard Petty joined the group. Here, Wallace stands with close friend Ryan Blaney in front of the rest of the field. Later in the year, the new team owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin would announce that Wallace would be its driver for 2021. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

The All-Star Race was full of change this year. It was moved from Charlotte to Bristol. The date changed from May to July. More than 20,000 fans attended the event. Other changes included NASCAR moving the numbers on the side of the car back and adding lights underneath each vehicle. The race also saw the trial of the choose rule, which later was instituted for each series. Here, Brad Keselowski (2), Kevin Harvick (4) and Chase Elliott (9) race. Elliott would go on to win the event. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

After finishing a career-high sixth, NASCAR Xfinity driver Josh Williams takes a moment Oct. 17 at Kansas Speedway to mourn the loss of his friend, Tim Hayes. As Williams buried his head, he faced conflicting emotions. “Every time we’ve had a good run, we’d get back to the shop on Monday, he would talk about it,” Williams told NBC Sports of Hayes. “I was mad because he wasn’t going to be at the shop on Monday telling me how good we did.” (Photo: Parker Kligerman)

 

Matt Kenseth took over the No. 42 at Chip Ganassi Racing after the team fired Kyle Larson. Kenseth scored a top-10 finish at Darlington in May, but much of the season proved to be a struggle. A highlight was Kenseth’s runner-up finish at Indianapolis in July. Chip Ganassi Racing hired Ross Chastain to drive the No. 42 car in 2021. Kenseth told the Wisconsin State Journal after the season that his career as a full-time Cup driver was finished. Here, Kenseth spins in the grass at Texas in October. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

 

Call it a passing of the torch. As Chase Elliott (9) celebrated his championship after winning the Phoenix race, Jimmie Johnson (48) took one last lap to salute the fans in what was his final race as a full-time Cup driver. The two met on track, slapped hands, and saluted each other before moving on: Elliott to a champion’s celebration and Johnson to his family on pit road. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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)