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.

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)

 

 

 

 

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

1 Comment

NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

4 Comments

NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”