Ken Schrader

By the numbers: The first 100 Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway

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Talldega Superspeedway is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which included holding its 100th Cup Series race at the track in April.

Sunday’s race on the 2.66-mile track (2 p.m. ET on NBC) will be the 101st Cup event and represents the second race in the second round of this year’s playoffs.

The first Cup race on the Alabama track was held under controversial circumstances on Sept. 14, 1969.

NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. was forced to fill the field with drivers from the Grand American Series after many of NASCAR’s stars, including Richard Petty, boycotted the race over safety concerns.

The field was made up of 36 drivers – including future NASCAR team owner Richard Childress in his first career Cup start as a driver. Fifteen drivers made it to the finish as Richard Brickhouse took home the victory. It would be his only win in 39 Cup starts.

Here are some highlights and notes from the first 50 years of NASCAR racing at Talladega.

– Dale Earnhardt Sr. is the winningest driver in Talladega history with 10 wins. NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are tied for second with six.  Brad Keselowski leads active drivers with five wins.

– Six drivers have swept both races at Talladega in a season: Pete Hamilton (1970), Buddy Baker (1975), Darrell Waltrip (1982), Dale Earnhardt (1990 & 1999), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2002) and Jeff Gordon (2007).

– Eleven drivers have earned their first career Cup win at Talladega: Brickhouse, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017), Keselowski (2009), Brian Vickers (2006), Ken Schrader (1988), Phil Parsons (1988)*, Davey Allison (1987),  Bobby Hillin (1986)*, Ron Bouchard (1981)*, Lennie Pond (1978)* and Dick Brooks (1973)*. *Denotes their only Cup win

Keselowski’s win in 2009 is the only example in Cup Series history of a driver’s first career lap led being the final lap of a race.

– Of the Cup champions who have competed at Talladega, only seven have failed to win there: Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, Hall of Famer Benny Parsons, Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac and Hall of Famer Buck Baker.

– Of the 48 drivers who have won at Talladega, 11 will be in the field for Sunday’s race.

– The lowest a driver has started a race at Talladega and won was Jeff Gordon, who won the spring 2000 race after starting 36th.

– Sixty-nine drivers have dared to make their first career Cup start at Talladega.

– The record for most cars in a race was 60 on May 6, 1973.

– The record for most lead changes in a race is 88, which has occurred twice (most recent on April 17, 2011).

– While the record for cautions at Talladega is 11, the track has seen three caution-free races, in 1997, 2001 and 2002.

– The October 2018 race had only one DNF, the fewest in track history.

– Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has the best average finish among active drivers (11.8).

– Bill Elliott owns the track’s qualifying record, 212.809 mph, set on May 3, 1987. He also has the record for Talladega poles with eight.

– Speaking of Bill Elliott. In 1985, Elliott dramatically came back from being two laps down to win the Winston 500.

– The closest margin of victory is 0.002 seconds. It came on April 17, 2011 with Jimmie Johnson winning over Clint Bowyer.

Matt Tifft to drive third car for Front Row Motorsports in 2019

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Front Row Motorsports will field a third Cup car in 2019 driven by Matt Tifft, the team announced Tuesday.

Tifft, 22, makes the move to Cup after two full-time seasons in Xfinity, one with Joe Gibbs Racing and one with Richard Childress Racing.

Tifft has 77 Xfinity starts since 2015 with no wins, nine top fives and 38 top 10s. He finished seventh and sixth in the point standings.

Tifft joins Michael McDowell and David Ragan at Front Row Motorsports.

Sponsors and crew chief pairings will be announced at a later date.

Tifft will drive the No. 36 Ford, a number which has special meaning to him.

“I drove earlier in my career under Ken Schrader (in ARCA), that was his number back in the day,” Tifft said in a live video announcement on NASCAR’s YouTube page. “Obviously it fits into the 30 series of numbers for Front Row Motorsports. For him being my early mentor, the coincidence of that being my number now is really cool.”

David Ragan and Michael McDowell compete against each other in 2018. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Tifft will compete for Rookie of the Year against Ryan Preece and former RCR teammate Daniel Hemric.

In August, a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of BK Racing’s assets, including its charter, to FRM. The No. 23 team completed the season under the BK Racing banner, as required by the charter.

Owned by Bob Jenkins, FRM debuted in Cup in 2005 when it made 13 starts with seven drivers. It didn’t compete in a majority of the races with one driver until 2009 with John Andretti (34 starts).

David Gilliland was the first driver to start all 36 races for the team in 2011. Gilliland and Ragan were full-time in 2012 and the team has had two full-time cars each year since, culminating in Ragan and McDowell as its drivers in 2018.

“We’ve made it clear in recent years that it was our intent to continue to invest in NASCAR and expand to a three-car team,” Jenkins said in a press release. “Not only are we here to stay, we’re here to grow.

“We already have two proven veterans in our line-up, and now we’ll get to add an impressive young talent and championship contender who will inject some new energy into the group. With the introduction of the Ford Mustang into the Cup Series, 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting season for us.”

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.

 

Chase Elliott gives Hendrick Motorsports 250th Cup win

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Chase Elliott held off Martin Truex Jr. at Watkins Glen International Sunday and scored the 250th win for Hendrick Motorsports.

In addition to those wins, Hendrick owns 12 Cup titles.

Seventeen drivers have gone to Victory Lane for Rick Hendrick since Geoff Bodine first did it at Martinsville in 1984.

“On behalf of everyone at Chevrolet, I am extremely pleased to congratulate Rick and the entire Hendrick Motorsports family on this tremendous accomplishment of 250 race wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports in statement. “This major milestone is the result of years of passion, persistence, and teamwork to get the job done. We are especially proud of the fact that all 250 wins have been in Chevrolet race cars. Rick’s passion for the brand and dedication to putting Chevrolet in Victory Lane has been relentless. As a key partner and respected friend, we salute you.”

Here’s the complete list of Hendrick Cup winners.

Driver           Wins
Jeff Gordon    93
Jimmie Johnson    83
Terry Labonte    12
Dale Earnhardt Jr.    9
Darrell Waltrip    9
Tim Richmond    9
Geoff Bodine    7
Kasey Kahne    6
Mark Martin    5
Kyle Busch    4
Ken Schrader    4
Ricky Rudd    4
Casey Mears    1
Brian Vickers    1
Joe Nemechek    1
Jerry Nadeau    1
Chase Elliott 1

NASCAR Next’s Will Rodgers, Hailie Deegan get boost from Kevin Harvick

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Hailie Deegan and Will Rodgers are different, from each other and the typical NASCAR driver.

Of the nine NASCAR Next members revealed May 15, Deegan, 16, is the youngest and Rodgers, 23, is the oldest.

The daughter of action sports star Brian Deegan and a mother whose “full-time job” is taking her to races, Hailie is a Southern California native who came to NASCAR from off-road racing. She listens to rap and hip hop.

Rodgers, whose father owns a brewery and his mother is a clinical social worker, was born in Hawaii and has competed in sports cars, motocross and off-road racing. He listens to classic rock and punk rock.

The two drivers have one thing in common.

They have Kevin Harvick in their corner.

Hailie Deegan gets out of her car after a practice lap before the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Twin 100’s at Tucson Raceway Park on May 5. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Hailie Deegan has a brief audio recording that she’s listened to a handful of times.

It was recorded minutes after the conclusion of her K&N Pro Series West debut on March 15 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California.

The recording is of her father, Brian Deegan, talking to Harvick, who was fresh from finishing fourth in the race.

The 2014 Cup champion told Brian Deegan he was impressed by his daughter’s performance. She finished seventh in the 175-lap race after starting eighth. Harvick said he’d keep in touch with them.

“He still does to this day, which is really cool,” Deegan told NBC Sports. “He always asks how I’m doing at the track, how I am doing compared to the other competitors, which is really cool on a personal level and I think that it was just something that’s not a confidence booster but a motivator.”

The day after the Kern County race, Harvick was asked at Auto Club Speedway what driving talent he’d discovered in the race.

He singled Deegan as having the “most potential.”

“I think as far as potential and reach and racing knowledge and getting in the car as young as she is, that would be the one I would pluck out of the series and say that’s the one we want to be a part of,” Harvick said.

Since then Harvick has had Deegan on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours,” she’s graduated from high school and earned her first two top fives on May 19 at Orange Show Speedway and June 9 at Colorado National Speedway. She’s seventh in points through five races.

Harvick reaffirmed his praise of her after he won last month’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I think Brian is really good for her because of the fact she just needs to go race and learn the ins‑and‑outs, get with the right situations as she moves up, not move too fast,” Harvick said. “She has the most potential of a female racer because she gets it. She’s very into what she’s doing. It’s not about everything else. It’s really about the race car and ‘How do I drive it faster?’ She’s just got her stuff together.”

As the only woman in the NASCAR Next program, which highlights up and coming drivers in stock car racing, Deegan recognizes that NASCAR is a sport in search of “something unique” to build its future on.

“I know they’re looking and searching for these aspects of, their fan base right now is all these people, these older generations and right now they’re looking for the new, hip generation of kids and teens coming up,” Deegan said. “The NASCAR Next program kind of plucks those kids out and sees these people with personalities and (who) want it that bad and are willing to do the off-track work, and I think that’s what NASCAR needs right now.”

Does Deegan consider herself hip?

“I don’t know if I consider myself hip, but I consider myself different.”

Kevin Harvick during last year’s K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

For Rodgers, the most surreal moment of last June’s K&N West race at Sonoma Raceway was when spotter Rick Carelli came over the radio in the closing laps.

“Third place is nowhere to be found,” Rodgers recalls Carelli saying.

It was just Rodgers and the leader.

The leader was Harvick, who was making his first start in the series since 2007.

“Oh my gosh, we’re running toe-to-toe with a Cup champion right now,” Rodgers thought at the moment.

The race, essentially at Rodgers’ home track, was the one his team “had been building up to all year.”

He qualified on the pole. Harvick started sixth.

“Now if you had told me I would race toe-to-toe with Kevin Harvick all day, that might have been a scenario again where I wouldn’t have believed you,” Rodgers said.

Harvick won the race, but he made sure to bring attention to Rodgers, who like Deegan, he had as a guest on his radio show.

“Being able to race toe-to-toe with Kevin and pull away from everybody else in the field and then for him to get out of the car and rave about me was very unique,” Rodgers said. “I’d say that’s definitely the best second place I’ll probably ever get.”

Harvick then went out of his way to celebrate with Rodgers in victory lane two months later when Rodgers earned his first career win in the K&N East race at Watkins Glen.

Rodgers also tries to keep in touch with the SHR driver despite his busy schedule.

“Whether or not Kevin has a hand in (NASCAR Next) personally, just by him being an advocate for me and then voicing me to the media, that has really opened the eyes and ears of a lot of people within NASCAR, within the industry, sponsors,” Rodgers said. “It’s helped on many levels. … My credibility has just been elevated so high after he said those things.”

This season Rodgers has competed in four of the first five K&N East races, earning two top 10s. He’s also earned two top 10s in four ARCA starts racing for Ken Schrader.

Harvick expects Rodgers to continue to rise if given the opportunity, especially when it comes to road course racing.

“I don’t think anybody would have known Will Rogers‘ name if we hadn’t run the K&N West Series race last year,” Harvick said after his All-Star win. “He’s got his stuff together. He just needs an opportunity to come out and show what he’s got. When the road course stuff shows up, Will is probably capable of being in an Xfinity race or a Cup race. In the right equipment on a road course, he’d be a top-10 competitor.”

Harvick has only competed in two K&N races in the last year, but each one has benefited someone else.

“It’s interesting to see,” Harvick said. “That’s really been our goal running the K&N races, is to expose those drivers to get opportunities. Just glad that it’s working out for a couple of them.”