Vaccaro: A race fan’s letter to Bob Jenkins

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Dear Bob,

I’ve been thinking about you a lot these days, even before your announcement Tuesday that you’re battling brain cancer. I can’t think of a Dale Earnhardt tribute that’s aired that hasn’t featured at least one of your calls.

Your calls! To this day, I stop in my tracks when I hear one of them. Equal parts enthusiasm and melody, plated with golden pipes. They can take me back to my childhood faster than an Indy 500 pole run. A childhood that you brought so much joy to.

Well before my 10th birthday, race days in my house meant my younger brother and I would line up our ever-growing but never-quite-big-enough 1:64 diecast collection on the brown rug in my parents’ living room. We’d match them best we could to the starting lineup for that day’s race, and then we’d proceed to simulate a race. My brother’s maneuvers usually won the race – I was too busy trying to imitate you calling the race. I know I’m not alone.

Drivers who were victorious in races you called wouldn’t simply “win” – no, they would “wiiinnnnnn”. You took that simple, three letter, one syllable word and made it a thrilling call to the finish line in hundreds upon hundreds of races.

You punctuated, and thus, elevated so many moments. It deepened our love of racing. And best of all? We could always tell that YOU were one of US – a race fan first. Then. Now. Always.

On all of those glorious Sunday afternoons and thunderous Thursday nights, we couldn’t wait to welcome you into our living room from race tracks of every shape and size. Places like Daytona and Talladega, North Wilkesboro and Bristol, IMS and IRP.

Thank you for the calls that will endure forever…

“They go into Turn Number 1 and both of them spiiinnnnnnn!”  (North Wilkesboro, 1989, Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt)

Thank you for all the fun with Ned and Benny, bringing out the best in them and becoming the most welcoming companions a race fan could ask for.

Thank you for taking the time to pose for a picture with an 8-year-old and his 6-year-old brother outside the front-stretch grandstands at Dover in June of 1990.

Thank you for inspiring that same 8-year-old who imitated you calling diecast races in his parents’ living room to take his passion for sports and make it a career.

So, Bob, on behalf of race fans everywhere….

Here’s to you…. may you wiiinnnnnn your battle.

Ron Vaccaro is VP, Editorial Content for NBC Sports Group, and a racing fan for as long as he can remember.

Martin Truex Jr. charges late to win Clash at the Coliseum

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Martin Truex Jr., who struggled through a winless season last year, opened 2023 in style Sunday night, winning the Clash at the Coliseum with a late-race charge.

Truex bumped by Ryan Preece to take the lead with 24 laps to go and led the rest of the way.

Truex, Alex Bowman and Preece appeared to have the strongest cars over the race’s closing segment. Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch joined the struggle at the front.

With seven laps to go, Dillon shoved Bubba Wallace into the wall as they raced for second place.

Dillon, Busch, Bowman and Kyle Larson followed Truex to the finish.

“It was just a really good race car.,” Truex told Fox Sports. “Last year was a pretty rough season for us with no wins. To kick it off this way was great for these guys. We found ourselves in the right spot at the end.”

The second half of the race was pockmarked by contact and subsequent spins as the field was slowed time after time for cautions. The yellow flag flew 16 times.

Bubba Wallace, who wrestled the lead from Denny Hamlin on the first lap of a restart, was in first place at the race’s halfway point as the field parked for service.

Following Wallace at the break were Truex Jr., Dillon, William Byron and Tyler Reddick. In the second five were Preece, Busch, Bowman, Joey Logano (last year’s winner) and Larson.

The race’s first caution flew after 17 laps as Erik Jones spun out after contact from Michael McDowell. Jones parked for the night.

Seven laps later, 11th-place Ryan Blaney spun out in heavy traffic to prompt the second caution.

Among drivers who failed to qualify for the 150-lap feature were RFK Racing entries Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher. Both also missed the race last year.

Jimmie Johnson to run Chicago Street Course Cup race

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LOS ANGELES – Jimmie Johnson says that one of his Cup races this season with Legacy Motor Club will be the July 2 Chicago Street Course race, which will air on NBC.

The seven-time champion will run select Cup races this season after spending the past two seasons in the IndyCar Series. Johnson, who left NASCAR in 2020, will return in two weeks at Daytona International Speedway as a driver and part owner of Legacy MC. His No. 84 car does not have a charter and he’ll have to secure one of the four spots for non-chartered cars.

Johnson said on Fox before Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum that he looked to do more Cup races beyond Daytona and Chicago but did not announce any others. He will drive the NASCAR Garage 56 entry in June in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

 

Kevin Harvick to join Fox booth in 2024

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LOS ANGELES – Kevin Harvick will move from the car to the TV booth next year when he joins Fox Sports.

Harvick, who is in his final season driving in Cup, will join Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer in the booth for the NASCAR races on Fox in 2024.

“I’m looking forward to that,” Harvick said on Fox on Sunday. “We’re coming right to the booth. I couldn’t be happier. For me, the timing in life has just been absolutely perfect with everything on the driving side and now to have this opportunity to tell people about racing, there’s not anything I love more and I can’t wait.”

The announcement was made before Sunday night’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Harvick advanced to the Clash through his heat race.

RFK Racing drivers fail to qualify for Clash at the Coliseum

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After heat races and a pair of last chance qualifiers, RFK Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher failed to qualify for the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum for the second straight year.

Former champion Chase Elliott led wire-to-wire Sunday to win the second last chance qualifier to move on to the feature. He was joined by second-place Ty Gibbs and third-place AJ Allmendinger.

Michael McDowell led all 50 laps in the first last chance qualifier race to advance to the feature. Also moving on to the 150-lap main event were Christopher Bell and Todd Gilliland.

MORE: Clash at the Coliseum starting lineup

Among those failing to advance from the first last chance race were Harrison Burton, whose late-race slide cost him several spots, and Ty Dillon.

Austin Cindric got the provisional starting spot and will be 27th — and last — at the green flag. The race is scheduled for an 8:20 p.m. ET start.

William Byron led all 25 laps in winning the fourth heat race.

Also transferring to the feature from the fourth heat were Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Ryan Preece and Erik Jones, who took the fifth and final spot with two laps to go.

Denny Hamlin dominated the third heat, leading 20 of the 25 laps to win. Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez followed in the top five to transfer to the main event.

The biggest loser in the third heat was Bell, who spun out after late-race contact and finished sixth.

Martin Truex Jr. took the lead from Kyle Busch late in the second heat and won easily. Busch was second, Austin Dillon third and Kyle Larson fourth.

Kevin Harvick, starting his final season in Cup, made a strong last-lap move and edged Elliott for fifth and the final transfer spot to the feature.

Aric Almirola, who failed to make the Clash feature last season, took the lead late in the first heat race and won the 25-lapper in front of Alex Bowman and Justin Haley.

“It was about being more prepared,” Almirola told Fox Sports. “There was no way to be prepared a year ago. I was really disappointed to watch this race from the grandstands last year.”

Rookie Noah Gragson and defending race and reigning series champion Joey Logano also finished in the top five to join the first three in the feature.

Burton spun out early in the first heat.

MORE: Heat race 1 results

MORE: Heat race 2 results

MORE: Heat race 3 results

MORE: Heat race 4 results

Last Chance Qualifier race 1 results

Last Chance Qualifier Race 2 results