Friday 5: After 30 years of trying, Bobby Dotter made it to NASCAR Victory Lane

0 Comments

Until last Saturday, SS Green Light Racing owner Bobby Dotter had won only once in NASCAR’s national series. Even then, he didn’t get to enjoy the spoils of Victory Lane.

It was 1992. Dotter drove in what was then the Busch Series. He led 58 of 200 laps at what is now Motor Mile Speedway in Dublin, Virginia, before Jeff Burton passed him with seven laps to go and took the checkered flag.

Burton’s car failed inspection after the race and was disqualified. That gave the win to Dotter, who crossed the finish line second, ahead of such drivers as Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Ward Burton. 

Dotter was gone when Burton’s car was disqualified. His crew chief called him at home, awakening Dotter, to tell him he had won.

Dotter didn’t believe him.

“Am I dreaming?” Dotter said he thought at the time. “This has got to be a dream. This just doesn’t happen to me.”

It would be his only victory as a driver in 209 NASCAR Xfinity and 73 Camping World Truck series races spanning 1988-2004.

Dotter went on to become a team owner, competing in the Truck Series before moving to the Xfinity Series. His team was winless in 305 Truck starts and in 320 Xfinity starts until last weekend when Cole Custer won at Auto Club Speedway.

It would have been easy for anyone to give up, even the son of a racer, but Dotter persisted through those lean times.

“Through the years, it’s just the small victories,” he told NBC Sports of what kept him going. “There’s only one winner, but for us for so many years, a top 10 was a win or a top 15.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance 300
Cole Custer gave Bobby Dotter his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win as a team owner last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Dotter finally got to experience a victory as a team owner — and a trip to Victory Lane — after Custer led the final 21 laps last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, holding off the field on the final four restarts.

Even after arriving in Victory Lane, Dotter kept his cool.

“A lot of people said to me that I didn’t seem as overjoyed as a lot of the other people,” he said. “It was just that I was taking it in. I was enjoying it.”

That’s OK, many others were overjoyed for Dotter, including Gray Gaulding, who has known Dotter since he was 7 years old and raced for Dotter in 2019 and in select races in 2020.

Gaulding, watching from home, couldn’t contain his excitement. He stood and raised his arms at the end of the race.

Dotter was the first person in NASCAR that Gaulding and his father got to know when Gaulding looked to pursue racing. Gaulding took his first laps in a bandolero car in the parking lot at Dotter’s race shop. Gaulding and Dotter often said they would race together at some point. 

NASCAR Xfinity Series Beef. It's What's For Dinner. 300 - Qualifying
Gray Gaulding recorded two runner-up finishes in 38 Xfinity starts with team owner Bobby Dotter. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“We didn’t want to do anything together unless we knew that we had a realistic chance and all the finances were right,” Gaulding told NBC Sports. “We weren’t going to go out of business because I don’t want to see my friend Bobby lose his business over promises that can’t be met.”

Gaulding finished second at Talladega for Dotter and missed making the playoffs by one position in 2019 despite the team’s limited budget. Gaulding often called local businesses shortly before the Xfinity race in that area to try to secure additional funding. 

He said that the team had four employees that season. Gaulding admits it would be difficult to run well three years later with the same type of resources.

Dotter’s SS Green Light Racing team is helped by its alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing. Dotter’s team bought seven cars from Stewart-Haas Racing and receives technical support from SHR and Ford. The team uses Roush Yates Engines. Dotter now has 15 employees for his two-team operation. 

The relationship with SHR started about five years ago when the Cup team had a few spots open on its chartered flights and invited SS Green Light Racing to travel with them. That led to closer ties and an alliance this season.

As part of the arrangement, Custer will drive at least four races for the team this season, and Chase Briscoe will drive at least one race as a teammate to Joe Graf Jr.

Dotter said he hopes the upgrades to the organization will help Graf, who is in his third season with the team, achieve success. Graf is among several drivers who have competed for Dotter. The list includes Ross Chastain, who was among the first to congratulate Dotter in Victory Lane last week, Spencer Boyd, Ray Black Jr., and Garrett Smithley. 

“NASCAR is a tough sport,” Gaulding said. “It’s kind of a dog-eat-dog type of sport. … Bobby Dotter has never lied to me or said anything that I couldn’t take to the bank to this day. … He’s an owner that every driver dreams to drive for. 

“Yes, he doesn’t have the big name. He’s obviously not Rick Hendrick yet, hopefully he will be, or a Stewart-Haas, but the way that man carries himself as a businessman and an individual and really just being a good human being, that’s the reason I’m happy. I’m proud to know him, and I’m really, really proud of him and his race team.

“I tell Bobby this all the time, even though I might not be driving for him anymore … I’m always rooting for him whether it’s from the couch, in the same race or pit box, I’m always keeping up and rooting for him.”

2. RCR rebound

Car owner Richard Childress doesn’t hold back when asked if his Cup operation is close to winning this season.

“I know we can win,” he said. “We are going to win.”

The start of the season has brought much excitement to Richard Childress Racing.

Austin Hill won the Xfinity season opener at Daytona in his first start for the RCR.

In Cup, Tyler Reddick has been fast. He led 51 laps at the Clash in the Coliseum before mechanical issues ended his race. Only Kyle Busch led more laps that day (64).

Last weekend, Reddick won both stages and led a race-high 90 laps at Auto Club Speedway before a cut tire slowed him and he was hit by Willam Byron.

Reddick’s teammate, Austin Dillon, finished second at Auto Club. That followed his third-place result at the Clash.

“I think the new car has brought everybody to a more equal level,” Childress said. “Our guys have worked really, really hard all winter over this project. (General Motors) has really been working with all the key partners to make sure we all are working close together. I think all that has helped.”

The 90 laps Reddick led at Auto Club were more than he had led in his first 74 career Cup starts combined.

NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash
Tyler Reddick (8) showed he was fast at the Clash at the Coliseum and carried that through Auto Club Speedway, winning both stages before a cut tire ruined his day. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

While Reddick doesn’t yet have the finishes, the performance is not a surprise to some. Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson forecasted big things for Reddick last month at Daytona.

“I feel when I watch him, I am watching myself,” Larson said, “just because we are both really aggressive, and he seems to be even a little more aggressive and kind of (able to) keep things in control better than I could back when I was running really hard in Ganassi equipment, trying to run up front. 

“He’s the guy that … I feel like is going to have the breakout season and win a lot of races.”

Dillon’s runner-up finish at Auto Club marked the first time he had finished in the top five at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since placing fourth at Richmond in the 2020 playoffs. 

Dillon credits the early work the team did in developing the Next Gen car with the performance gains.

“We definitely tried to be the guys to embrace this new car the earliest in the process,” Dillon said. “I think some of the teams probably didn’t embrace it as much as we did. We saw it coming and tried to put a lot of effort into it from the beginning.”

3. Bumpy road

There were several issues that led to cars spinning and crashing last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, ranging from drivers trying to get familiar with the new car, limited track time and even the track’s bumps.

NASCAR has sought to help drivers get more track time this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Instead of the Cup field being divided into two groups and each group having 15 minutes of practice, NASCAR will have one 35-minute session the field before qualifying Saturday.

Series officials have not announced if it will change the practice schedule for any other upcoming events.

While the Las Vegas track is not as bumpy as Auto Club, those undulations might present some challenges for drivers this weekend.

“I think the biggest thing … is how you’re going to navigate the bumps in (turns) one and two,” Cole Custer said. “They’re some of the biggest bumps that we have on the schedule.  

“At Fontana, we saw the problems people had over the bumps in (turns) three and four, so it’s gonna be a matter of how far you can push it through those bumps and how your car is handling through that.”

Austin Dillon, though, is hopeful that the bumps won’t be as much an issue this weekend.

“(At Las Vegas), it’s an entry issue, unlike last week where it was an exit (of the corner) issue; where you’re kind of leaving the corner with wheel in the car,” he said. 

“I think it could definitely be a problem and it will be challenging. The stuff I’ve done on the simulator – for some reason, it wasn’t very upsetting like it was at Fontana. The Fontana stuff was pretty accurate to our sim, where we were busting loose across those bumps. So, I’m hoping that it’s accurate again, as far as the bumps in Vegas not being as much of a problem as they were in Fontana.”

4. Winless streaks 

Here is a look at the number of starts a driver has had since their last Cup victory going into Las Vegas:

1 – Austin Cindric

3 – Alex Bowman

7 – Bubba Wallace

8 – Denny Hamlin

10 – Martin Truex Jr.

12 – Ryan Blaney 

16 – Aric Almirola 

17 – Kurt Busch

18 – Chase Elliott

19 – Kyle Busch

28 – Brad Keselowski

31 – Joey Logano

35 – William Byron

35 – Justin Haley

36 – Christopher Bell

37 – Michael McDowell

45 – Kevin Harvick

55 – Austin Dillon

57 – Cole Custer

85 – Erik Jones

130 – Greg Biffle

165 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

197 – Chris Buescher

5. Looking ahead

After this weekend’s race at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile speedway, the Cup Series will primarily race at tracks 1 mile or less through mid-April.

After Las Vegas, the series heads to Phoenix, a 1-mile track, on March 13. Cup teams will compete at the repaved 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway (March 20) and then the Circuit of the Americas road course on March 27 before three consecutive short track races: Richmond on April 3, Martinsville on April 9 and the dirt race at Bristol on April 17.

Las Vegas, Phoenix, Bristol and Martinsville each will host playoff races. Bristol will be the cutoff race in the first round of the Cup playoffs. Las Vegas is the opening race in the third round. Martinsville is the last race before the championship event at Phoenix.

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

0 Comments

Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”

IndyCar driver Conor Daly to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500

0 Comments

Conor Daly, who competes full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series, will seek to make his first Daytona 500 this month with The Money Team Racing, the Cup program owned by boxing Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather.

The team also announced Tuesday plans for Daly to race in up to six additional Cup races this year as his schedule allows. Daly’s No. 50 car at Daytona will be sponsored by BITNILE.com, a digital marketplace launching March 1. Among the Cup races Daly is scheduled to run: Circuit of the Americas (March 26) and the Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13, a day after the IndyCar race there).

“The Money Team Racing shocked the world by making the Daytona 500 last year, and I believe in this team and know we will prepare a great car for this year’s race,” Mayweather said in a statement. “Like a fighter who’s always ready to face the best, Conor has the courage to buckle into this beast without any practice and put that car into the field. Conor is like a hungry fighter and my kind of guy. I sure wouldn’t bet against him.”

Daly will be among at least six drivers vying for four spots in the Daytona 500 for cars without charters. Others seeking to make the Daytona 500 will be seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (Legacy Motor Club), Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing) and Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports).

“I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to attempt to run in the Daytona 500,” Daly said in a statement. “It is the most prestigious race in NASCAR and to have the chance to compete in it is truly an honor. I am also excited to be running the entire IndyCar Series season and select NASCAR Cup events. I am looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait to get behind the wheel of whatever BITNILE.com race car, boat, dune buggy or vehicle they ask me to drive. Bring it on.”

Daly has made 97 IndyCar starts, dating back to 2013. He made his Cup debut at the Charlotte Roval last year, placing 34th for The Money Team Racing. He has one Xfinity start and two Craftsman Truck Series starts.

 

Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

0 Comments

Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.