NASCAR Hall of Famer Bruton Smith dies at 95

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Bruton Smith, who helped grow the NASCAR fan experience at his tracks with visionary ideas, died from natural causes. He was 95.

Smith founded the company that is Speedway Motorsports and owns nine tracks that host Cup races, including Nashville Superspeedway, which hosts the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series this weekend.

“For me, Bruton Smith passing away is like Bill France Sr. or Bill France Jr. passing away,” NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty said Wednesday. “It’s the connection to the very, very beginning of the sport, a connection to guys who had a dream and a vision and believed in what NASCAR and auto racing could become. They put it all out there.

“It’s sad for me to see that generation go. We could sit down and talk with them and hear those stories, and now they’re gone.

“I think most race fans believe he owned Charlotte Motor Speedway and went head-to-head with Bill France, but he was so much more. He went back to the 1940s when he promoted races. The majority of fans see him as the titan of Charlotte and what he did in Texas and building speedways, but he was more than that. He was a pillar of the sport and part of the foundation.”

Smith’s tracks, which included Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, among others, used the slogan “fans first” in providing unique experiences for fans, whether it was special pre-race shows, mammoth video boards, or special food in the concession stands. He also added lights to Charlotte, making it the first 1.5-mile track to run races at night, something that has become common.

“I’ve told people before that he doesn’t do things to get awards,” Marcus Smith, Burton’s son, said of his father in January 2016. “He doesn’t really relish a victory as much as he does a challenge, and that’s probably something in common with a lot of Hall of Famers, I would guess. 

“He’s certainly someone who just relishes the challenge, loves the climb and when he achieves a goal, he quickly moves to the next opportunity and the next challenge.” 

“Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France. “Few knew this truth better than Bruton Smith. Bruton built his race tracks employing a simple philosophy: give race fans memories they will cherish for a lifetime. In doing so, Bruton helped grow NASCAR’s popularity as the preeminent spectator sport. His vision and legacy inspired many, and his fan-first mentality remains today through his son Marcus. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Bruton Smith, a giant of our sport.

Smith entered the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January 2016, joining a class with Curtis Turner, Terry Labonte, Bobby Isaac and Jerry Cook.

“From promoting his first race prior to turning 18 to becoming one of the most successful businessmen in all of motorsports O. Bruton Smith did as much as any single person in creating the standard for the modern racetrack,” said Winston Kelley, NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director. “In 1959, he led the effort to design and build Charlotte Motor Speedway working alongside fellow Hall of Famer Curtis Turner. The track became the flagship of Smith’s company, Speedway Motorsports, which through his vision of taking SMI public in 1995 has grown to operate tracks across the country.

“Smith has always sought to focus on the fans and competitors and how he could make things better from their perspectives. His tracks were the first to add lights to a superspeedway and add innovative amenities such as officer towers, condominiums and high-end restaurants — all ushering in a new era of tracks.”

In 1959, Smith partnered with Turner and built his first permanent motorsports facility, Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track opened in June 1960 with a 600-mile race, the longest ever in NASCAR’s history.

“His mind is racing all the time; he’s done so much for the sport,” Rick Hendrick said of Smith in 2016. “He’s so brave to step out and try things that have never been tried before … He’s a sharp guy. He helped build this sport and it’s (Hall of Fame induction) well deserved.” 

Smith, born March 2, 1927, was the youngest of nine children and grew up on a modest farm in Oakboro, North Carolina.

Years ago, Smith told the story how he wanted to race and bought a car for $700, but his mother was against it and prayed that he would stop racing.

“Well, I knew then when she did that it was time for me to quit because I was not going to compete with that,” Smith said. “That’s when I quit, and I went over on the other side, and I started promoting races.” 

Smith, who founded Speedway Children’s Charities in 1984 also was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame (2006), the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2007), and Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame (2008).

Speedway Children’s Charities has distributed more than $61 million to local organizations across the country that improve the quality of life for children in need.

Survivors include sons Scott, Marcus and David; his daughter, Anna Lisa; their mother, Bonnie Smith; and seven grandchildren. Information regarding funeral arrangements will be released at a later date.

“A pioneer, a visionary and a true original. Never afraid to take a chance, Bruton will go down as one of the greatest promotors and innovators in the history of motor sports,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said. “I have tremendous admiration for the legacy he carved out in both racing and the car business.

“Even though we occasionally competed, I was always happy to call Bruton a friend. He was someone you wanted on your side because he was tough as nails and never backed down from a fight. At the same time, Bruton was incredibly generous and dedicated much of his life to giving back. The impact of Speedway Children’s Charities and his countless acts of kindness cannot possibly be measured.

“Bruton and I both grew up on farms, and we shared a passion for racing and for the car business. In 1983, I held a press conference at City Chevrolet (in Charlotte, North Carolina) to announce a new NASCAR team that would become Hendrick Motorsports. He was there that day, and his support was something I never took for granted.

“Although most knew him as a savvy and successful businessman, I will remember Bruton first and foremost as a father, a family man and a dear friend. He was so proud of his children, and our families have always been close. On behalf of Linda (Hendrick), our family and our entire organization, I offer my deepest sympathies to the Smith family and the many, many people who loved and respected Bruton.”

Highlights that Smith and Speedway Motorsports accomplished through the years that have forever reshaped the racing landscape.

1959: Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner broke ground on what would become the flagship facility for Speedway Motorsports – Charlotte Motor Speedway.

1960: Bruton Smith hosted the first 600-mile NASCAR race at the newly built superspeedway.

1982: Bruton Smith founded Speedway Children’s Charities to support children in need through deserving non-profit organizations.

1984: First-of-their-kind condominiums suitable for year-round living were built outside of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Turn 1.

1985: Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted the first NASCAR All-Star Race.

1988: The Speedway Club opened at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The restaurant and entertainment facility was the first high-end, fine-dining experience built at a race track.

1990: Speedway Motorsports acquired Atlanta Motor Speedway.

1992: Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted the first ever superspeedway race under the lights, a NASCAR All-Star Race aptly nicknamed “One Hot Night.”

1995: Speedway Motorsports became the first motorsports company traded publicly on the New York Stock Exchange.

1996: Speedway Motorsports acquired Bristol Motor Speedway and Sonoma Raceway.

1997: Bruton Smith completed construction of Texas Motor Speedway.

1998: Smith built and opened a new dragway tower at Thunder Valley, Bristol Motor Speedway’s iconic drag strip.

1999: Speedway Motorsports acquired Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

2006: Bruton Smith was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame.

2006: Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted the world premiere of the Disney-PIXAR movie CARS.

2006: Las Vegas Motor Speedway opened the innovative, fan-friendly Neon Garage.

2007: Speedway Motorsports acquired New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

2007: Bruton Smith was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

2008: Speedway Motorsports acquired Kentucky Speedway.

2008: zMAX Dragway was constructed; it was the first-ever, four-lane all-concrete drag strip.

2011: Charlotte Motor Speedway debuted the world’s largest HDTV, a 16,000-square-foot “Speedway TV.”

2013: Texas Motor Speedway added its giant HDTV, “Big Hoss,” eclipsing Charlotte’s HDTV screen with a 22,700 square-foot screen.

2013: Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosted its first Electric Daisy Carnival music festival.

2016: “Colossus,” the world’s largest outdoor, center-hung digital display was unveiled at Bristol Motor Speedway.

2016: Bristol Motor Speedway hosted the “Battle at Bristol,” setting a world record for the largest attendance (156,990) ever at a college football game. (Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee).

2016: Bruton Smith was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

2018: Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted its first Roval race in the NASCAR playoffs on an innovative road course-oval hybrid track.

2018: Las Vegas Motor Speedway completed construction to widen The Strip to four lanes and hosted the West Coast’s first four-wide NHRA drag race.

2021: Bristol Motor Speedway hosted the NASCAR Cup Series on dirt for the first time in more than 50 years.

2021: Speedway Motorsports hosted NASCAR races for the first time at Circuit of The Americas outside of Austin, Texas.

2021: Speedway Motorsports acquired Nashville Superspeedway and Dover Motor Speedway.

2022: Atlanta Motor Speedway completed a resurfacing project with the highest degree of banking for an intermediate track at 28 degrees, bringing superspeedway racing to the 1.5-mile oval.

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”