Key storylines for Pocono

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NASCAR’s return to Nashville started its run to the playoffs. However, that story felt overshadowed by the buzz of being in a market that not only has a deep racing history but has become one of the country’s hottest destinations in recent years.

Still, the playoff picture changed a bit during last Sunday’s race at the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway. We could be in for more in this weekend’s Cup Series doubleheader at Pocono Raceway, the only time in 2021 that NASCAR’s premier division will race on back-to-back days.

The Pocono Mountains aren’t as flashy as Nashville, but they’ve long been a destination for couples, families, outdoor types, and yes, race fans.

Those fans will be back this weekend at the “Tricky Triangle,” which will be open at full capacity. Its NASCAR weekend last year was held behind closed gates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But while those fans will look to have a good time, those in the Cup garage will look to finally solve the question that’s stumped them for weeks…

How to stop Kyle Larson?

If Hendrick Motorsports has been running like a freight train, Kyle Larson has been the locomotive.

Larson notched his third consecutive points win and sixth consecutive top-two finish with his victory last Sunday at Nashville.

On top of that, he’s also won six of the last seven stages, as well as eight of the last 11 dating back to the May 16 race at Dover.

That’s enabled Larson to gain 134 points on Denny Hamlin since the Dover race. Now, Larson only trails Hamlin by 10 points for the lead in the regular season standings. The regular season champion earns 15 playoff points for the postseason.

While Hamlin’s resume at Pocono is among the best (six wins, tied for most all-time with Jeff Gordon), Larson has never been particularly strong there (no wins, average finish of 12.4 in 12 Cup starts).

But with the way Larson and his No. 5 team are clicking right now, history may not mean much.

Hamlin and Harvick

Speaking of Hamlin, he and Kevin Harvick split wins in last year’s Pocono Cup doubleheader. Those were part of a season where Harvick led the Cup Series with nine victories and Hamlin had the second-most victories with seven.

But both drivers return to Pocono with no wins on the board in 2021.

Since opening the season with eight top-five finishes in the first nine races, Hamlin has recorded one top five in the last eight races. He was forced to pit for fuel with two laps to go at Nashville and finished 21st, his worst result since finishing 32nd at Talladega in April.

As for Harvick, he and his Stewart-Haas Racing team have struggled mightily in 2021. But Nashville may have given them some hope.

Harvick finished fifth last weekend, one spot behind teammate and polesitter Aric Almirola. It marked only the third time SHR ended a race with two drivers in the top 10.

Harvick’s win last year at Pocono was his first there, but he’s been a consistent frontrunner. He’s earned nine finishes of ninth or better in his past 10 Pocono races dating back to 2016.

Playoff push

Entering Nashville, both 15th-place Tyler Reddick and 16th-place Chris Buescher were at least 60 points – a full race’s worth – above the playoff cutline.

But last Sunday, Reddick had to recover from an early spin just to finish 18th with no stage points. As for Buescher, he suffered his first DNF since the Daytona 500 after debris from another car led to a tire failure and crash.

As a result, things have tightened. Reddick and Buescher still hold the final two playoff spots. But Reddick’s cushion is down to 49 points. Buescher’s is down to 24 points.

The four drivers 17th-20th in the playoff standings all took advantage of their Nashville woes. Kurt Busch is now 17th and 24 points behind Buescher. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 43 points behind Buescher. Matt DiBenedetto is 46 points behind Buescher. Ross Chastain, who finished a career-high second in Nashville, is 50 points behind Buescher.

Of those four, only Busch has a past Pocono win. In fact, he’s a three-time winner there. But his last Pocono win came in 2016, and he hasn’t had a top-10 finish there since 2018.

Truex trouble

As Larson has ascended to the top over the past two months, Martin Truex Jr. has fallen.

Since beating Larson for the win May 9 at Darlington, Truex has only recorded one top-10 finish (third, Sonoma) and had four finishes of 19th or worse in the last five races. Among the latter was Nashville, where Truex struggled to a 22nd-place finish.

During this span, Truex has recorded an average finish of 21.6 and average running position of 15th.

But Pocono may be a good place for him and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team to get turned around. Truex is a two-time winner there and has claimed six top-10 finishes in the last eight Pocono races.

JGR has excelled at Pocono during that span, recording five wins, three runner-up finishes, 15 top-five finishes, and 571 laps led – tops in all categories, per Racing Insights.

Jes Ferreira selected as Comcast Community Champion of the Year

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Comcast announced Jes Ferreira as the 2022 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, the eighth to receive the annual award. Among all the turmoil of the pandemic, Ferreira looked for an opportunity to give back. Despite her heavy workload, she decided to take on an even heavier challenge, becoming a foster parent to two young girls. 

“I am overwhelmed, humbled, and blown away to be recognized as the Comcast Community Champion of the Year,” said Jes Ferreira, 2022 Comcast Community Champion, “the amount of support this will provide for the Charlotte foster families ensures the best services for these children. I hope this sheds light on the foster community and encourages everyone to support in many different ways.” 

Ferreira, originally earned a foster license to become a foster parent for one child, but a few months later, the child’s younger sibling needed a new foster home. Although Ferreira, Senior Director of Live Shows for CSM Production, already had a crazy work schedule which included traveling to the race track most weekends on top of fostering one child as a single parent, she knew without a doubt these two siblings deserved to be together while in foster care. Now two young siblings who are going through the most trying time in their lives have been reunited thanks to Ferreira. 

On any given day, there are nearly 424,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2019, over 672,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care. On average, children remain in state care for over a year and a half, and five percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.  

Ferreira’s affiliated charity is Foster Village Charlotte (FVC), an organization that allows foster parents to connect with and support each other. FVC collaborates with 16 private foster parent licensing agencies, local government, child welfare organizations and the community to serve families holistically and represent the foster family voice to Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS). 

To further honor Jes’ incredible dedication, Comcast will donate $60,000 to Foster Village Charlotte (FVC).

“Jes encompasses everything the Comcast Community Champion of the Year stands for. Anyone that is at the track knows how dedicated Jes is to the sport of NASCAR and, we are so glad we expanded the eligibility for this award so we can uncover and honor the compassion, selflessness and generosity Jes provides off the track, and that is what makes this honor so special, ” said Matt Lederer, Comcast’s Vice President, Brand Partnerships and Amplification.  

 Ferreira, was chosen by a panel comprised of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as Curtis Francois, the 2021 Comcast Community Champion, who received the award for his work with the Raceway Gives Foundation 

For the first time, Comcast opened the eligibility for anyone in the NASCAR community with a 2022 annual credential or NASCAR full season license, and with this expansion, Comcast is now able to share these exceptional stories.   

Josh Williams, driver of the #92 DGM Racing car for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Sherry Pollex, founder of Sherry Strong, were selected as finalists and will be awarded $30,000 each towards their respective selected charities – the Ryan Seacrest Foundation and Sherry Strong. 

Comcast has a long track record of community service, aiding in the advancement of local organizations, developing programs and partnerships, mobilizing resources to connect people and inspiring positive and substantive change. To learn more about these efforts, visit the Comcast Community Impact site. 

About Comcast Corporation’s Partnership with NASCAR 

Comcast’s Xfinity brand entered NASCAR as entitlement partner of the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2015 and is now Premier Partner of the NASCAR Cup Series. Since then, the company has donated $840,000 to more than 20 different NASCAR-affiliated organizations to honor their efforts and to help further the impact of their worthy causes. Fans can visit ComcastCommunityChampion.com to learn more about past and present finalists and their acts of selflessness. 

Where are they now? Scott Riggs races with son, Layne

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Scott Riggs, who raced for 15 years in NASCAR’s top three national series, now is guiding the racing career of his 20-year-old son, Layne.

And things are going well.

Layne won this year’s NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model championship, scoring 16 wins in 43 starts and edging former series champion Peyton Sellers by four points for the title.

Riggs thus became the youngest champion in Weekly Series history.

“It all started when Layne was 10 years old, mostly just something to entertain him and to have some fun,” Scott told NBC Sports. “But it’s turned into a full-fledged job. My life and plate have been full.”

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes

The Riggs family’s race shop is located in Bahama, North Carolina, Riggs’ home base during his NASCAR career. Scott describes himself as the “truck driver, spotter, crew chief and in-shop mechanic.”

“I am very tired,” he said.

The team, which depends on volunteers, didn’t plan to race in so many events this season, but when Layne started the year with a string of victories, it made sense to chase the national championship and give him a chance to be the youngest winner ever.

“To chase it that hard and be that close and then to win it, it was very exhausting,” Scott said. “It was a very big relief to finish the year.”

Success on short tracks resulted in Layne racing in three Camping World Truck Series events this year with Halmar Racing. He had a best finish of seventh at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in his series debut.

MORE: Snowball Derby attracts top NASCAR drivers

Scott Riggs ended his NASCAR driving career in 2014 in the Truck Series. He won five Truck races and four Xfinity races and ran 208 Cup races without a win. He made his Truck debut in 1999, moved to Xfinity in 2002 (winning Rookie of the Year) and then to Cup in 2004.

Riggs, now 51, raced in the Cup Series from 2004-13 with stops at MB2 Motorsports and with teams owned by Gene Haas, Tommy Baldwin and Ray Evernham, among others. He had four top-five finishes.

“I think I was very fortunate and the timing was right for me to move up through the ranks and get so many good opportunities,” Riggs said. “I raced late models for a long time, and then all of a sudden I got the opportunity to get in a truck. Won some races and poles and won races and poles in Xfinity.”

MORE: Jody Ridley’s upset for the ages

He ran out of chances in Cup as team models shifted, including some downsizing and mergers.

“I felt like I couldn’t get an opportunity that I had worked for and earned,” Riggs said. “It was hard for me. I was bitter for a year or so. But I look back, and a realization came over me that I was fortunate to have that time with my kids when they were at the right ages. I got to watch them do their things and just be the dad I wanted to be — not being gone four out of every seven days racing.

“I don’t think I’d have the relationship I have today with my kids if I had had a longer time in the sport.”

 

 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

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The best quotes from drivers and others involved in NASCAR competition often come in the heat of the moment — after a crash or a close finish or a controversial decision by officials.

NASCAR’s history is filled with memorable quotes from drivers who won races to drivers who watched wins slip away to officials caught in a moment of history.

Here’s a look at 10 that stand out:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. “I didn’t mean to turn him around. I meant to rattle his cage, though.” — Dale Earnhardt, describing how he didn’t mean to wreck Terry Labonte after he wrecked Labonte on the last lap at Bristol Motor Speedway to win the Aug. 28, 1999 race.

2. “They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass. There’s no way to get around that.” — Kevin Harvick, Feb. 21, 2010, offering his opinion on why Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team won so many races after Johnson outran him to win at Auto Club Speedway.

MORE: An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley wins at Dover

3. “It’s a stump-puller.” — Sterling Marlin, emphasizing the strength of his engine after he won the Daytona 500 Feb. 19, 1995.

4. “It’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.” — Joey Logano, talking about Kevin Harvick after they were involved in a late-race crash at Pocono Raceway June 6, 2010. Harvick’s wife, DeLana, often wore a firesuit similar to those worn by team members during races.

5. “Do you have a brother?” — Ward Burton, responding to a reporter who asked if it was tougher to finish second because the race winner was his brother, Jeff, March 7, 1999 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Memorable images from 2022 NASCAR season

6. “I couldn’t hear him. He’s got that little yap-yap mouth. I couldn’t tell what he was saying.” — Ricky Rudd, commenting on what Kevin Harvick said to him after they wrecked at Richmond Raceway, Sept. 6, 2003.

7. “We can’t race with tears in our eyes.” — team owner Robert Yates, explaining why his team would not participate in the next week’s race after its driver, Davey Allison, was killed in a helicopter crash, July 1993.

8. “He’d have to toast everyone with milk.” — Dale Earnhardt, commenting on the celebratory drink choice Jeff Gordon might make if he ever won the Cup championship. After he won the 1995 Cup title, Gordon followed through, toasting his championship with a glass of milk at the awards banquet.

MORE: 2023 NASCAR, ARCA schedules

9. “You know they say there’s talkers and doers. I’ve done this twice.” — Tony Stewart, winning the pre-race trash-talk contest with Carl Edwards prior to the 2011 race for the championship. Stewart had won the title in 2002 and 2005 and notched another over Edwards in 2011.

10. “This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I’ve ever personally had to make, but after the accident in Turn 4 of the Daytona 500 we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.” — NASCAR President Mike Helton, confirming Earnhardt’s death at Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 18, 2001.

Honorable mentions: David Pearson, after being told that Richard Petty had said Pearson was the best driver he ever raced against: “I agree with him.” … CBS broadcaster Ken Squier, calling the famous finish of the 1979 Daytona 500: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers, overflowing. They are angry. They know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.” … NASCAR founder Bill France, providing a unique ending to a pre-race prayer after temporarily forgetting to use Amen: “Sincerely, Bill France.”

Snowball Derby entry list includes NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Truck drivers

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Four Cup drivers are among those entered for Sunday’s 55th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The Cup drivers entered are former series champion Brad Keselowski, playoff competitor William Byron, two-time Southern 500 winner Erik Jones and incoming Cup rookie Noah Gragson, who advanced to the Xfinity title race this year.

Also entered: Josh Berry, who competed in the Xfinity championship race this year, and Ty Majeski, who competed in the Truck championship race this year.

Majeski won the 2020 Snowball Derby. Gragson won the race in 2018. Jones won the event in 2012 and ’13.

Others entered include:

Chandler Smith, who won the 2021 Snowball Derby and will drive for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2023, is listed on the entry list but stated on social media he will not be competing.

The Snowball Derby is among the more prestigious Super Late Model races on the calendar and coming after the NASCAR season makes it easier for more Cup, Xfinity and Truck competitors to take part in the event.

Qualifying takes place Saturday. The Snowball Derby is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Racing America will stream Sunday’s race for $49.99. A three-day viewing pass can be purchased for $74.99.