Friday 5: Rick Hendrick relishes ‘heartwarming stories’ of his son

0 Comments

Even now, more than 17 years after Ricky Hendrick died in a plane crash, his father, Rick Hendrick, says “it’s just hard to believe that it has been that long ago.

“You think about it, in a way it was like yesterday. Sometimes, I even think I’m going to see him come around the corner in his Tahoe. But, then you think, gosh, it’s been that long ago, almost 20 years.”

Ricky Hendrick was among 10 people killed in October 2004 when a team plane crashed on the way to a Cup race at Martinsville Speedway. He was 24 years old. Rick Hendrick also lost his brother and two nieces in the accident.

Ricky Hendrick’s legacy will be honored in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Road America. For the first time since 2009, Hendrick Motorsports will field a car in the Xfinity Series. 

The team will use the No. 17 — the number Ricky Hendrick had when he competed in the Camping World Truck Series in 2000-01 — and a paint scheme based on his truck’s scheme. Kyle Larson will drive the car in Saturday’s Xfinity race (2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network). 

Alex Bowman will run the car in the July 30 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course. William Byron will pilot the car Aug. 20 at Watkins Glen International. 

“It’s been something that I think our family and our organization can still celebrate with that paint scheme, that number and what Ricky meant to us,” Rick Hendrick told NBC Sports a few days after Father’s Day. “It’s very special. 

“It’s hard to even put into words, especially right here with Father’s Day. You’re thinking about not having him around, but having pieces (and) memories, you keep all of that alive.”

Ricky Hendrick on the way to winning the 2001 NASCAR Truck race at Kansas Speedway. (Photo: Hendrick Motorsports)

And he has many stories, which provide uplifting moments for Rick Hendrick and his family.

“As time goes on, you have people tell funny stories and some of his friends, a lot of them come by, and they tell stories and we laugh,” Rick Hendrick said. “That’s the bright spot. He didn’t live all that many years, but, boy, he enjoyed himself, and he had so many friends. 

“There are a lot of heartwarming stories. We talked about it (on Father’s Day) and we do all the time. I smile when somebody says, ‘You remember when Ricky did this or did that?’ “

One special memory happened July 7, 2001, when Ricky scored his lone Truck Series win. Rick Hendrick and his wife, Linda, were at Kansas Speedway and celebrated with their son. 

Ricky Hendrick celebrating his win at Kansas in 2001. (Photo: Hendrick Motorsports)

“There’s nothing in the world that makes you any happier than to see a child, yours, achieve something that they want,” Rick Hendrick said. “I stood in the back of the press conference after the race and listened to him. 

“I still had tears in my eyes because I remembered when he was in the second grade. He said racing ran though his blood like water through a stream. 

“To see him sitting up there, where I’ve seen a lot of my guys sit, and watched press conferences, but to stand in the back of the room and seeing something like an inaugural Truck (win), him achieving what he did. …

“It was just … if you’re not a parent you can’t understand, but if you are, you understand.”

And some parents know the pain Rick Hendrick has felt.

“I have this fraternity that you don’t want to be in,” he said, alluding to fathers in NASCAR who have lost a child. “(Fox Sports’) Chris Myers and Kyle Petty. Chris Myers texted me (on Father’s Day) and we texted back and forth. … In my case and my wife’s case, we think we’re going to see (Ricky) again soon. It won’t be that far off for us.

“But you always think about what could be. You think about how things would be different today, what would it be like. That’s something that we talked about (on Father’s Day), what would it be like if he was with his daughter and we were all together. 

“It’s one of those things you never want to forget. You think about  it all the time, and you think about how short his life was. Until you go through it, you don’t understand. I used to tell people how bad I felt when they lost a child. Then all of a sudden, I wanted to call every one of them back and say, ‘Look, I really didn’t understand. I said I’m sorry, but I really didn’t understand.’

“Good news is that we’ve got such a tight group, automotive family and racing family, and everybody wants to celebrate his life. When the drivers called me and said, ‘Man, I’m so excited I get to drive the 17,’ that makes me feel good.”

The weekend got off to a good start. Kyle Larson won the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race in that race. Although

“Having children myself makes running this car much more important because I can’t imagine losing one of my children and what that would to do me,” Larson said.

To this day, Ricky Hendrick continues to make an impact on his father’s life.

“I think of my grandchildren, I want to spend more time with them,” Rick Hendrick said. “I love doing things with them. I’ve got a 15-year-old grandson that is a car nut. … My granddaughter, Ricky’s little girl, she is in the auto business. She wants to be in the business.

“I think back to him growing up and watching him start working in the stores, start going into motorsports, loving motorsports and see the grandkids doing it. I see him in them.

“I want to make sure that I spend time with them and don’t miss out on that, this stage of their life. You can’t take it for granted that they’ll be here all the time.”

2. How an appeal impacted the finish at Nashville  

The end of last weekend’s Cup race at Nashville proved puzzling, as three Joe Gibbs Racing cars, running second through fourth, all pitted when leader Chase Elliott stayed out before the final restart.

Denny Hamlin was third at the time of the final caution. When Kyle Busch, who was second, pitted, Hamlin could have stayed out and restarted on the front row.

That he pitted was confusing because only the day before Hamlin told reporters: “We have changed our … strategy to just we either want to win a stage or win the race.”

The change is because Hamlin, who is 20th in points, is too far back to climb into the top 10 in the standings before the regular season ends. He won’t get any of the bonus playoff points awarded to those who finish the regular season in the top 10 in points.

The only way Hamlin can earn playoff points is by winning a stage (worth one playoff point) or a race (five playoff points).

That’s what made what happened at Nashville a head scratcher. After Hamlin pitted, 10 cars did not. Hamlin restarted 14th. He finished sixth, while Elliott won.

Crew chief Chris Gabehart told NBC Sports on Thursday that the call was for Hamlin to stay out if he could get the front row, but a miscommunication led to Hamlin pitting.

Nashville was the final race for Gabehart’s four-race suspension because a wheel came off Hamlin’s car at Dover. Joe Gibbs Racing appealed the penalty and lost. The appeals panel amended the penalty, making the suspension four points races instead of four races. 

That proved to be a significant change. 

Had the penalty not been altered, Gabehart would have been at Nashville. With the change to the penalty, Gabehart could not have the All-Star Race, a non-points race, count as one of the four races he had to miss. So, he missed the Coca-Cola 600, which Hamlin won, Gateway, Sonoma and Nashville.

Engineer Sam McAulay served as the crew chief with Gabehart out. A decision to pit before the first overtime restart put Hamlin in position to win the Coca-Cola 600 last month. This time, things didn’t go as smoothly.

“The bottom line is some words got jumbled (on the radio) and it ended up being if you can get the lead, stay,” Gabehart said. “Denny did exactly what he’s supposed to do. He took the directive, and he wasn’t going to be able to get the lead, so he pitted.

“The reality is what we needed and should have done was if you get the front row, stay, and it just didn’t get articulated correctly.”

That’s one of the challenges when a crew chief is suspended. He can’t be on the pit box. He must relay information to the interim crew chief and have that message passed along to the driver. 

“It happens,” Gabehart told NBC Sports of the miscommunication on the radio. “It’s part of it. Many crew chiefs have done it before. 

“I’ve been through a lot more of those situations, and it’s a lot less confusing than when you’re having to channel the directive through a different voice and you’re able to instead consume it and produce it. I feel our instance, honestly, will get cleaned up when all our roles get put back to where they’re supposed to be.”

Gabehart is back at Road America for Sunday’s Cup race (3 p.m. ET on USA Network). 

The last time Cup competed on a road course was three weeks ago at Sonoma. No Toyota finished in the top 15, which Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson called an “embarrassment.” 

Questions remain for the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing entering Road America.

“I can say we’ve put in a tremendous amount of work into it as a team and an organization over the last two weeks, knowing that road racing has been a weakness for us,” Gabehart said. “I look forward to getting to Road America and seeing if we’ve made gains.

“I think realistically, it’s a lot to ask to expect a Toyota to run the way it has at Sonoma and even kind of like at COTA and make a huge leap to be a winning race car at Road America. I think that would be a lot. 

“I think more realistically, if we can be a top five or fringe top-five, top-10 car or organization, then I will deem Road America a success … and try to get better going to Indy.”

3. Ross Chastain’s quest for more

Trackhouse Racing enters Road America as the early favorite after Ross Chastain won at Circuit of the Americas and teammate Daniel Suarez won at Sonoma in the only two road course races this year. 

Chastain noted how the victory at Circuit of the Americas changed him, particularly when the series raced at Sonoma last month.

I got out after practice, and I think we were like fourth or fifth quick,” Chastain said. “I was complaining how the car wouldn’t turn. It wouldn’t drive off the corner. It wouldn’t stop. It wouldn’t do anything good, and we were terrible. 

“I was on the radio complaining about a lot. My car chief looked at me when I got out of the car (and said) ‘Now you complain when we’re top five in practice? Two months ago you were just happy to be here in the field and now we’re (saying) it’s the end of the world when we’re fifth quick.’ It hit me, OK, I’m never going to be satisfied.”

Chastain heads into Sunday’s race second in the standings. He trails Chase Elliott by 30 points with nine races left in the regular season. Elliott, Chastain and William Byron each has a series-high 13 playoff points. 

In a season of inconsistency for many teams as they learn the Next Gen car, Trackhouse has been one of the few teams that has been fast at many tracks. Chastain has two wins and a series-high eight top-five finishes in 17 starts. 

“This isn’t just a moment,” Chastain said, “but this an arrival of Trackhouse.”

4. Fun learning the new car

While the new car has challenged many teams and drivers, Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger says he’s enjoyed the new car.

The Xfinity points leader will again run the Cup race this weekend for Kaulig. He nearly won at Circuit of the Americas before contact from Ross Chastain knocked him out of the lead on the last lap.

This will be Allmendinger’s ninth Cup start this season, as he shares the No. 16 car with Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric this season. 

Allmendinger said the new car has given teams like Kaulig a better chance of competing.

“Let’s be completely honest here – like in the past, especially with the old car when we were with the No. 47 car, we knew that with these types of races we could go run well,” Allmendinger said of road course racing with JTG Daugherty Racing.

“But you knew half of the time at a 1.5-mile race track – no matter what you did, you could be perfect that weekend and you’d probably run 20th just because those cars had been massaged so much, aero-wise. And the big teams knew so many tricks of what they could get through tech. … So it was tough sometimes going to those race weekends and going ‘I hope at best we can run 18th.’

“With this Next Gen car now, your eyes are kind of wide open. Yeah there are some weekends that I’ve gotten in the car and you’re just terrible all weekend and it’s a struggle. But also, when we went to St. Louis – I had no practice, had never seen the place before. We got the car dialed in mid-race and we drove up through the field. I actually thought we had a top-five car by the end of the race. Even last week, we got the car right and we were getting to the edge of the top 10.

That makes it fun because you know if you hit the setup right – the two road courses are the perfect example of that. COTA, I started at the back and we were a top-two car all day, between me and Ross (Chastain). Sonoma, I was at best 11th or 12th. So it does make it fun because you know if your team executes and you get the setup right, you can go have a shot to win races or run upfront.”

5. Confidence growing 

Michael McDowell finished third at Sonoma in the most recent road course race, and the Front Row Motorsports driver is looking for a better result this weekend at Road America. McDowell heads into Sunday’s race having already scored a career-high six top-10 finishes this season.

“Sonoma, I felt like finally I had an opportunity to do what I always believed that I could do at a road course and just have a good day – qualify in the top five, race in the top five, be there throughout the entirety of the race,” he said. 

“So that one was an important momentum shift for us because I’ve always felt good on the road courses. That’s my background, but I’ve never felt like we’ve been actual contenders and at Sonoma we were actual contenders.

“Taking that and moving to Road America, we should be contenders there. There’s no reason why we won’t. COTA, we missed the setup and weren’t great and we ran 13th there.  Sonoma, we hit it and were pretty good. Sonoma should help us build toward Road America.”

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

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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?

0 Comments

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.”