Friday 5: A final quest at a ‘childhood dream’

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Elliott Sadler is blunt when he considers his NASCAR career ending without a championship.

“(It) would be a huge void in my life,” he said.

The 43-year-old driver, in his 22nd and final full-time NASCAR season, makes his last run at an Xfinity title beginning with tonight’s playoff opener at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Four times in the last seven years Sadler finished runner-up for the Xfinity crown, including last season when he lost the title in the final laps to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron.

“Last year really hurt,” Sadler said. “Really, really hurt. We were in position to win that championship. I don’t know if I’m 100 percent over it yet.”

Sadler was upset last year with Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position as Sadler tried to hold off Byron with 10 laps left. Byron got by Sadler. Any hopes Sadler had for a title ended when he made contact with Preece’s car and cut a right front tire. 

Sadler’s anger bubbled after the race and he yelled at Preece on pit road as NASCAR officials stood between them.

Sadler, who competed full-time in Cup from 1999-2010, has called it a “childhood dream” to win a NASCAR championship.

“If we’re not able to win a championship, it would definitely be a scar in my mind of not being a NASCAR champion after putting 20 years of effort into it, after being a kid and a fan and dreaming of being a part of this sport,” he said. “Now, that will not define me as a dad or define me as a person. I’ll still be able, hopefully, to do good things in my community, but it will definitely leave a mark.”

Before he gets to that point, he will have to get through his final race at his home track tonight. Richmond Raceway will honor the Emporia, Virginia, native by having Sadler’s children help with the command to start engines.

Even better for him would be going to Victory Lane with his family. Sadler has never won at Richmond in 56 starts in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. Asked to recall his biggest moment at the track, he instantly brings up the 2005 Xfinity race when Carl Edwards bumped him out of the lead on the last lap to win.

“I’m probably more nervous about going to Richmond, trying to win the race than I am trying to make it to Homestead,” Sadler said.

When the season ends in two months, don’t expect to see Sadler at the track often in the future.

“I don’t see myself involved in any racing at all,” Sadler said of his post-driving career. “I’ve been offered a job to come do TV, but I don’t see traveling away from home to talk about racing.”

Instead he’ll coach youth sports teams.

“My dad was a huge coach growing up,” Sadler said. “My brother is a wonderful coach and I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I love it. We’re at the facility every night hopefully changing kids’ lives. It would be hard for me to do both at 100 percent. It’s not really that I’m retiring from racing, I’m retiring to coaching and to my kids.”

2. What might have been

Jimmie Johnson has witnessed how fine a line it is between winning and finishing in the pack the past two weeks.

At Indianapolis and Las Vegas, Johnson ran with Brad Keselowski during parts of those races only to see Keselowski win both and Johnson finish far behind.

After the end of stage 2 at Indianapolis, Keselowski was 16th and Johnson was 17th. About 30 laps later, Keselowski was third and Johnson fifth. Keselowski went on to win and Johnson finished 16th.

At Las Vegas, Keselowski was sixth and Johnson seventh with just over 100 laps left. Keselowski won. Johnson was headed for a top-five finish before contact late in the race with Kurt Busch’s car cut a tire and forced Johnson to pit. Johnson finished 22nd.

Keselowski has said that he has not had the fastest car in each of the three races he’s won heading into Saturday night’s race at Richmond (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team seek to perform the way Keselowski’s team has.

“Drivers make mistakes,” Johnson said. “Pit stops can go wrong. Unfortunate racing luck can happen. To get all of that to rise together, it takes a little bit of time. We have made a nice jump in speed. I still think we have some room to go there, but now we need to execute on all levels and take advantages of those opportunities that (Keselowski) has.”

While the team seeks to find that speed and execute, Johnson has gone winless in a career-long 50 races.

“I’ve been in a deeper hole before, my own personal experiences in motorsports,” Johnson said, referring to early in his career in off-road racing and then in NASCAR when he “risked it all” and moved to North Carolina to pursue a career in stock car racing.

“I didn’t have as big a spotlight on me and wasn’t a seven-time champion, so nobody really remembers those except me. So I know I will get through this. I’ve been through worse.

“We are moving the right direction. I believe we have hit the valley and are climbing back out.”

He’ll need to do so to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Johnson enters Richmond six points behind teammate Alex Bowman for the final cutoff spot to the second round.

3. Cole Custer’s self-assessment

With no driver announced for the No. 41 Cup car next year at Stewart-Haas Racing, it was easy for some to think that Cole Custer could move up to that ride.

Car owner Gene Haas seemed to quell such talk last weekend at Las Vegas. While saying he believes Custer “is a good talent,” Haas said of the young driver: “He needs to prove that he can win consistently in Xfinity before I think we’ll consider him for a Cup ride.”

Custer has one Xfinity victory in 64 career series starts. He’s placed second or third in five races this season.

So where does Custer believe he needs to improve?

“I think there are little things that I can do better,” he said. “Having the Cup experience this year has helped me with what happens in that series.

“I think for the most part I have speed every single weekend (in Xfinity). It’s just a matter getting the restarts right and working traffic better and controlling the race when you have the fastest car.”

Custer, who is in the Xfinity playoffs, also will run in Saturday’s Cup race. He’ll drive the No. 51 for Rick Ware Racing. It will be Custer’s third career Cup start.

4. Going for 4 in a row

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are the only drivers to win four consecutive Cup races in the last 20 years. That’s the feat Brad Keselowski will seek to equal Saturday night at Richmond.

Since NSACAR’s modern era (1972), eight drivers have won four consecutive races: Cale Yarborough (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Dale Earnhardt (1987), Harry Gant (1991), Bill Elliott (1992), Mark Martin (1993), Gordon (1998) and Johnson (2007).

5. NASCAR’s 5th President

Steve Phelps will become the fifth president in NASCAR’s history on Oct. 1.

Bill France Sr. held the position from 1948-72. Bill France Jr. took over from his father until 2000. Mike Helton was in that role from 2000-2015 before he was promoted to Vice Chairman of NASCAR.

The president’s position was not filled after Helton’s promotion until Brent Dewar took over that role July 13, 2017. Phelps is replacing Dewar, who will remain with NASCAR through the end of the season and transition to a senior consulting and advisory role in 2019.

Phelps will oversee all competition and business operations for the sanctioning body in his new role.

He has been more visible at races lately and presented Kyle Busch the regular-season champion’s trophy at two weeks ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In January, Phelps, as NASCAR’s chief global sales and marketing officer at the time, was thrust into the controversy about how NASCAR marketed younger drivers after Busch complained about the tactics and Clint Bowyer raised questions about the sanctioning body’s actions.

In July, Phelps defended the sport’s ability to attract sponsors.

“I think there’s a misconception out there that sponsorship in NASCAR is not doing well, and that’s not true,” he said at Pocono Raceway during an announcement that Gander Mountain will sponsor the Truck Series beginning in 2019. “We have more sponsors in this sport today than we’ve ever had. We’ve got almost half the Fortune 100, almost a third of the Fortune 500. It’s a lot of large companies who are in the sport not because it would be really cool to go racing. It’s because it works.

“So people tend to focus on, ‘Oh, my gosh, sponsor A left and sponsor B left,’ and for us, it’s like, ‘Okay, well, C, D, E and F also came on board as brand new sponsors.’ And then a plethora of others have renewed or extended for a period of time.

“I think this industry tends to focus on the negative. I’m not really sure why.”

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NASCAR America: Brickyard 400 is barometer of success

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If one wants a good indicator of who is going to win the championship and who will eventually join NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, look to the Brickyard 400.

In 24 previous editions of this race, only five drivers have won multiple Brickyard 400s. Two of them are already in the Hall of Fame: Jeff Gordon with his five wins and Dale Jarrett with two. The other three multiple winners will almost certainly join them in the Hall. Jimmie Johnson has four Brickyard 400 wins with Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch at two each.

As Nate Ryan pointed out on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, it has also been a good way to determine who is going to win the championship.

“It’s been an excellent championship barometer,” Ryan said. “Nine times in 24 Brickyard 400s, the winner of this race has gone on to win the championship the same year.

“That tells you everything about how difficult it is to win. You have to be a team that is on its game in terms of horsepower, in terms of aerodynamics. The track is extremely difficult to drive … it’s not built for stock cars, you have to be very precise through every turn at extremely high rates of speed and that’s why the best drivers and the best teams win here.”

The list of multiple winners underscores the importance of winning a Brickyard 400. It is possible to win this race based on strategy, but repeating takes a special kind of driver.

“I think back to what Jeff Burton was saying about the Southern 500 this past weekend. … When you look at the Southern 500 winners list, there’s not a lot of flukes,” Parker Kligerman said. “And when you look at the Brickyard 400 – it’s not a lot of flukes. Yes, we’ve had some crazy one-offs here and there, but when you look at drivers like (the multiple winners) who are certain Hall of Famers … that tells you this race really allows drivers and teams to rise up. The cream is going to rise to the top in these bigger races.”

For more, watch the videos above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Indy in last three seasons

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On the heels of one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races – the Southern 500 – the series heads to another of its marquee events: the Brickyard 400.

Last week, Brad Keselowski joined Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones as recent winners among those who are not generally considered one of the Big 3.

The Brickyard 400 is the final regular season race of the 2018 season, which means there is only one more opportunity to win and get into the playoffs – and that may be one of the biggest factors in who should be on a fantasy roster. This race has been won by some surprising contenders in the past, including Kasey Kahne last year and Paul Menard in 2011 when he employed a fuel mileage strategy.

The entire field is ready to roll the dice and take some risks. That could make for one of the most interesting and chaotic finishes of 2018 and it is going to keep fantasy owners second-guessing the makeup of their NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster until the checkered flag waves.

1. Joey Logano (three-year average: 4.33)
Logano was happy to finish second at Darlington last week for more than one reason. That strong run gives him momentum entering a track on which he’s finished eighth or better in each of the last five years. He has not yet won at Indy, but a second-place finish to Kyle Busch in 2015 proves that he has a feel for the track.

2. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 4.67)
Kenseth has been unable to back up his previous numbers on any track since he re-entered the Cup series, but strong records typically predict a result in the teens. He enters this week with four top fives and a seventh in his last five starts at Indy. Depending on which game one is playing, Kenseth could be a great value.

3. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 5.00)
For the past three weeks, Harvick has been the top performing driver among the Big 3. Even so, he has not shown the same dominant form that he had earlier in the year. He could be in a similar situation this week where a finish just outside the top five allows him to earn a lot of points without challenging for the victory. At Indy, he’s finished in the top 10 in the last four races, but has only one top five.

4. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 8.67)
Hamlin was a victim of the general chaos that defined last year’s Brickyard 400 when he crashed on the final lap and finished 17th. Prior to that, he had three consecutive top fives plus a sixth in 2012. The trick for this team is going to be in managing a smart race without making any mistakes. If that happens, they should be right back among the top five.

5. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 9.67)
Keselowski’s win last week came at an opportune time. Team Penske has been as strong as any organization without at Big 3 member, but that has been obscured by the supremacy of The Dominators. By finishing 1-2 last week in the Southern 500, Keselowski and Logano have become part of the conversation when it matters – as they are trying to create and maintain momentum.

MORE: Rotoworld Brickyard 400 Cheat Sheet

6. Chris Buescher (three-year average: 11.50 in two starts)
Like Pocono, Indy is a rhythm track. Buescher’s victory on the Tricky Triangle was aided by strategy, but he has had other strong runs there as well. The same is true of the Brickyard where he has a perfect record of top 15s in two starts. If one is looking for a solid dark horse, the No. 37 fits the bill.

7. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 12.00)
Busch’s numbers are not at all indicative of how he will run this week. He was racing Truex for the lead last year when he crashed and failed to finish. Before that, he had back-to-back wins in 2015/2016 plus runner-up finishes in 2014 and 2012. He is the best opportunity for the Big 3 to get back into victory lane after getting shutout in consecutive races at Bristol and Darlington.

8. Paul Menard (three-year average: 13.33)
Seven years ago, Menard’s crew chief made a great call and helped the driver win the 2011 Brickyard 400 on fuel mileage. That was Menard’s second top 15 in five starts on this track. He has not earned another top five since, but he has been perennially in the top half of the field with five results of 10th through 16th in the past six races.

9. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 14.00)
Larson was another strong contender last year who ran into trouble. He finished 28th, which was the first time in four Indy starts that he failed to crack the top 10. Last week’s dominant performance in the Southern 500 will give him a lot of confidence. It should even help him earn a third straight top five for the first time since last October.

10. Kasey Kahne (three-year average: 14.33)
Kahne survived the carnage marking last year’s Brickyard 400 and got a great restart during a green-white-checkered attempt to beat Keselowski to the overtime line as Hamlin crashed behind him. While that was a surprise, astute fantasy players would note that he started his Indy career with back-to-back top fives and had a third-place finish as recently as 2013.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Prior to last year’s Brickyard 400, five consecutive Brickyard 400s were won from a top 10 starting position. On three occasions, the race was won from the front row with Ryan Newman winning from the pole in 2013 and Kyle Busch doing so in 2016. Jeff Gordon won from the outside pole in 2014. Kyle Busch won the last two poles on this track, but that does not necessarily mean he’s a favorite because the previous 12 editions were all won by a different driver.

Segment Winners: Kyle Busch won both segments of last year’s Brickyard 400. Truex finished second in both with Ryan Blaney third in each. If not for accidents, they would almost certainly have been among the top five at the end of the race. If one wants to disregard last year’s Indy results because the multitude of accidents that altered the finish, the top segment points earners at Pocono in the past two years have been Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Chase Elliott.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Retro Rundown 2018: Southern 500 paint schemes

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It’s finally here! The 69th running of the Southern 500 will be held at 6 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN.

The night will be a blast from the past with paint schemes representing NASCAR’s history as the track celebrates NASCAR’s seven decades.

Here’s a roundup of the paint schemes:

No. 00 – Landon Cassill: The StarCom Racing driver will pilot a car with Bobby Allison’s 1988 Miller High Life paint scheme. Derrike Cope, StarCom’s team manager, drove for Allison from 1994-96. Matt DiBenedetto drove the scheme in last year’s Southern 500.

No. 1 – Jamie McMurrayThe Chip Ganassi Racing driver will have a paint scheme based on one Bill Elliott drove in 1998. Instead of being dedicated to the 50th anniversary of NASCAR, it’s dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Big Mac.

No. 2 – Brad KeselowskiWill drive Rusty Wallace’s paint scheme from the 1990 Cup season.

Team Penske

No. 3 – Austin DillonRichard Childress Racing brings back the silver No. 3 that Dale Earnhardt debuted at the 1995 All-Star Race.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

No. 4 – Kevin Harvick: Will drive a scheme based on Busch Beer’s can design from 1996.

Stewart-Haas Racing

No. 6  – Matt Kenseth: The 2013 Southern 500 winner will be sponsored by Oscar Mayer, who was an associate sponsor of Roush Fenway Racing in the early 2000s.

Roush Fenway Racing

No. 9 – Chase Elliott: The Hendrick Motorsports driver will have a scheme based on one driven by his late cousin, Casey Elliott. He passed away from cancer in 1996.

Photo: Dustin Long

No. 10 – Aric Almirola: The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will have Helping Hungry Homes, Smithfield’s initiative focused on alleviating hunger & helping Americans become more food secure.

No. 11 – Denny Hamlin: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will throwback to his his short track days with the paint scheme he competed in mini-stocks with in 1997.

No. 12 – Ryan Blaney: Will drive a scheme based on the car his father, Dave Blaney, raced in the 2003 Cup season.

No. 13 – Ty Dillon: Germain Racing will have its original GEICO paint scheme from the 2009 season when the car was driven by Max Papis.

No. 14 – Clint BowyerBowyer will driver a paint scheme based on the car NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett drove to a win in the 1965 Southern 500.

 

No. 17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr: The Roush Fenway Racing driver will have the John Deere paint scheme driven by Chad Little from 1997-2000.

Top: Roush Fenway Racing/Bottom: Getty Images

No. 18 – Kyle Busch: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will pilot the original Skittles paint scheme first driven by Ernie Irvan in 1997.

No. 20 – Erik Jones: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will pay tribute to the Camping World Truck Series career of his spotter, Rick Carelli.

No. 21 – Paul Menard: Wood Brothers Racing will pay tribute to Cale Yarborough’s win in the 1968 Southern 500, which was the first for the team and Yarborough.

No. 22 – Joey Logano: The Team Penske driver will pay tribute to Steve Park with the Pennzoil scheme Park drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the early 2000s and won two races with.

Logano picture: NBCSN/Steve Park picture: Getty Images

No. 23 – Joey GaseHis car duplicates the paint scheme his father, Bob, had when he won the 2003 championship in his modified at Hawkeye Downs Speedway.

No. 24 – William Byron: Will drive Jeff Gordon‘s iconic DuPont “Rainbow Warriors” scheme he raced full-time from 1993 -2000.

Hendrick Motorsports

No. 31 – Ryan Newman: The Richard Childress Racing driver will honor the late Neil Bonnett with his scheme. The car will be painted like the Mom & Pop’s sponsored car Bonnett drove in two Cup races in 1993. He was the first RCR driver to drive the No. 31.

RCR

No. 32 – Matt DiBenedetto: Will drive Jeff Burton‘s paint scheme from the 2000 Cup season.

No. 34 – Michael McDowellThis look replicates the color scheme for the first Love’s Travel Stop in 1981 in Amarillo, Texas.

 

No. 37 – Chris Buescher: The JTG Daugherty Racing driver’s car will have a scheme dedicated to the 110th anniversary of Busch’s Best Beans.

No. 38 – David RaganWill drive a paint scheme reminiscent of Dale Jarrett’s victory in the 1991 Champion Spark Plug 400 over Davey Allison. 

No. 41 – Kurt BuschWill drive his own paint scheme from the 2003 season when he was part of one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history at Darlington Raceway, losing to Ricky Craven by 0.002 seconds. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the race.

 

No. 42 – Kyle Larson: The Chip Ganassi Racing car will have a scheme based on Davey Allison’s 1988 rookie paint scheme.

 

No. 43 – Bubba Wallace: Richard Petty Motorsports changed its throwback scheme Sunday morning to include more of STP Day-Glo red on the car.

No. 47 – AJ Allmendinger: JTG Daugherty Racing will pay tribute to one of their early entries. Allmendinger’s No. 47 boasts the colors from Robert Pressley’s 1998 car in what was then the Busch Series (Xfinity today).

 

No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson: The three-time Darlington winner will drive the scheme he used in 2012 when he won the Southern 500 and gave Hendrick Motorsports its 200th victory.

Hendrick Motorsports

No. 66: Timmy HillHill’s car will be a tribute to Darrell Waltrip’s farewell scheme from his final Cup campaign in 2000.

No. 72 – Corey LaJoieHe pays tribute to his father, Randy, a two-time Xfinity Series champion. The No. 72 will paint scheme mirrors the paint scheme on Randy’s cars when he had FINA has a sponsor.

 

No. 88 – Alex BowmanThe Hendrick Motorsports driver is sponsored by Llumar, but does not have a throwback scheme.

No. 95 – Kasey Kahne: The Leavine Family Racing driver will boast the paint scheme from his 2006 Cup season, when he won a career-best six races and claimed six poles.

No. 96 – Jeffrey Earnhardt – The grandson of Dale Earnhardt Sr. will drive a scheme that the seven-time champion drove in 1978.

No. 99 – Derrike Cope: Cope will be sponsored by Bojangles and will have the paint scheme Cope drove in the Cup Series in 1993 when sponsored by the company.

StarCom Racing

 

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What the world was like when Kurt Busch last won at Bristol

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The jokes and observations began flying in the Bristol Motor Speedway media center not long after Kurt Busch won Saturday night’s Cup race.

It had been how long since Busch visited Victory Lane at the half-mile track?

Some media members had covered that race. Others – specifically this writer – had been *checks notes* a freshman in high school when Busch won the Food City 500 on March 26, 2006.

Oh, that long.

Twelve years have passed between Busch’s Bristol wins, the latest bringing him six career wins in “Thunder Valley.”

That fifth win, in Team Penske’s No. 2 Dodge, came in a very different time in NASCAR.

For one, that was two versions of Bristol ago. A year after his win, the track added progressive banking in the turns. That was then retrofitted in 2012, which resulted in the top groove often being the preferred lane.

“This track has been kicking my butt since they redid the concrete, reground the outside lane, then have been throwing the traction compound on the bottom lane,” Busch said. “It’s great to win on the old one and the new one.  It’s been a while.”

What else was going on in NASCAR when Busch claimed his fifth Bristol win? Get ready to feel the kind of nostalgia that will make you feel old in all the wrong ways.

– Even if you don’t remember Busch’s win in 2006, you might remember what happened on pit road after it. Jeff Gordon showed off his temper for the first time, when he shoved Matt Kenseth after Kenseth spun him with two laps to go.

Jimmie Johnson hadn’t even claimed his first of a record-tying seven Cup championships. He would go on to do so that year, beginning his stretch of five titles in a row.

– In the field for the Bristol race were three rookies by the name of Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.

– Also in the field: Sterling Marlin, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield and Kyle Petty.

Ken Schrader was driving the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing.

– Nextel was the title sponsor for the Cup Series and would be through 2007. Sprint took over in 2008.

– The much maligned Car of Tomorrow was exactly a year away. It would make its part-time debut in the Food City 500, and race winner Kyle Busch (his first of seven wins at Bristol) did not like it.

Chase Elliott, Cup’s most recent first-time winner, was 9-years-old.

Pop Culture

Music

This is what was hot in the world of pop culture on March 26, 2008.

The No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “So Sick” by Ne-Yo, an artist I don’t remember and a song title I couldn’t have told you. But I definitely remember hearing this on the radio.

If that doesn’t jolt your memory of the time, “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt was the previous No. 1 song for a week and two weeks later, Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” would start a five-week run as at the top before being the year-end No. 1 song.

2006 was a bad year for music.

Film

– The No. 1 movie at the box office that weekend was Denzel Washington’s “Inside Man.” It made $28.9 million and beat out Natalie Portman’s “V for for Vendetta” and the video game horror film “Stay Alive.”

Video Games

The Play Station 2 was in its last months as Sony’s primary gaming console. The Play Station 3 wouldn’t be released until November of that year.

Books

The top book on the New York Times’ bestseller list was “The 5th Horseman” James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. The following week, “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown would start its second, two-week stretch at the No. 1 book.