Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR

Reliving some of NASCAR’s most dramatic finishes

Leave a comment

The Minnesota Vikings’ win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday marked the first time in NFL history that a playoff game ended with a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.

NASCAR has had its share of dramatic finishes through the years. While it’s easy to debate which dramatic finishes rank among the all-time best, here’s a look at some of the most dramatic (and surprising) wins in NASCAR.

The first selection comes from what is now the Xfinity Series. It was the 2012 season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. Kurt Busch led with Kyle Busch pushing him as they entered Turn 3. Behind them were Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, Elliott SadlerRicky Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne, Cole Whitt and Brad Keselowski.

None of them won the race. 

James Buescher, who was 11th in Turn 4 won for his only Xfinity victory in 91 career starts. 

 

Carl Edwards had won the Xfinity race the day at Atlanta but had yet to win in 16 previous Cup starts before he cranked the engine at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2005. Edwards came from behind to beat Jimmie Johnson at the line in among the closest finishes in NASCAR.

 

Dale Earnhardt’s incredible ride from 18th to first in the final five laps in 2000 at Talladega Superspeedway is memorable for that alone but it also was his 76th and final Cup victory. When the video clip below starts, you don’t even see Earnhardt but he’s there lurking and works his way up the field. With two laps left, announcer Jerry Punch exclaims: “The Intimidator is scraped and beaten on the right side, but he will not be denied! “Mr. Restrictor Plate knows there are two laps to go! Earnhardt drives to the high side of Bobby Labonte. Wow.”

 

As they took the white flag at Watkins Glen International in 2012, Kyle Busch led, Brad Keselowski was second and Marcos Ambrose was third.

What followed was a chaotic final lap that ended with Ambrose winning. It led broadcaster Dale Jarrett to say about the beating, banging and battling: “A year’s worth of excitement in 2.45 miles. Incredible.”

 

Ricky Craven tried to make his move by Kurt Busch with two laps to go at Darlington Raceway in 2003 but slid up and made contact with Busch and lost his momentum. That allowed Busch to dive underneath and take the lead back. Craven persisted. As they came off the final corner, Craven went underneath Busch for a door-slamming drag race to the checkered flag, nipping Busch by 0.002 seconds to win.

Of course, one can’t include such a list without one of the sport’s most famous finishes. Donnie Allison led Cale Yarborough on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. Yarborough dived low on the backstretch to pass Allison, who blocked. They hit, bounced off each other and hit again before crashing in Turn 3. Richard Petty drove by several seconds later to take the lead and go on to win the event. As Petty celebrated, Allison, Yarborough and Bobby Allison, who had stopped to check on his brother, fought.

 

 and on Facebook

Darrell Wallace Jr. the start of a ‘completely different’ Richard Petty Motorsports

2 Comments

There are still a lot of blanks to be filled for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2018.

It’s not known what manufacturer logo will adorn the front of its famous No. 43 car when it’s unloaded for Darrell Wallace Jr. in February at Daytona International Speedway to begin his rookie Cup season.

In a Wednesday teleconference, Petty also gave no firm answer on a possible new technical alliance for the team.

On top of that, the team is still looking for a new home to replace the 80,000 square foot shop it’s vacating at the end of the year.

“All that stuff is still up in the air,” Petty said. “We’re doing one thing at a time. We decided just to go ahead and get Bubba all signed up, get that behind us, so that we can then sit down and say, ‘Okay, what is our next best move?’ Bubba will be involved in that part of it, too, because he’s going to be a big, big part of RPM for the coming years.”

There’s “a bunch of irons in the fire” for the team co-owned by the seven-time Cup champion, but “The King” proclaimed his organization is eager for all the changes.

“When you see us at Daytona … it’s going to be a completely different RPM than what it’s been in the past,” Petty said. “We’re looking forward to that.”

It all starts with Wallace. The 24-year-old driver will become to newest full-time pilot of the No. 43, replacing Aric Almirola, who has driven it since 2012 and won the 2014 Coke Zero 400.

RPM hired Wallace based off his four-race performance as a substitute for an injured Almirola this year. Wallace joins the team after three years with Roush Fenway Racing in the Xfinity Series.

“He really impressed me,” Petty said. “After seeing him operate with our crew chief and all the guys at the shop, with the sponsors and stuff like that, we want to have a whole new look at Richard Petty Motorsports for 2018 anyway. So we said, Let’s just look at Bubba and see if we can put him in the car. … A new page in the Petty deal.”

The new page is significant not just for RPM, but for NASCAR. Wallace will be the first full-time African-American Cup driver in NASCAR’s modern era, which began in 1972. He follows the likes of NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, Bill Lester, Willy T. Ribbs, Charlie Scott, Elias Bowie, Randy Bethea and George Wiltshire. 

But Petty, who raced against Scott, said the color of Wallace’s skin was “the least of my considerations” when determining who would inherit the number he made famous.

“We looked at the talent,” Petty said. “We looked at how we thought he handled the fans, how he handled the press, how he handled sponsor deals, all this kind of stuff. I didn’t care what color he was, where he come from, any of that.

“If you look back at the Petty history and stuff, we’ve had a driver from Brazil (Christian Fittipaldi) that drove for us for awhile, one from Mexico (Carlos Contreras) that drove (a season in the Camping World Truck Series) for us. It’s not anything different than what we’ve done before.”

Wallace also succeeds Almirola, who is of Cuban decent. From 2011-14 Marcos Ambrose, a native of Tasmania, drove the No. 9 for RPM.

Wallace will be one of the latest additions to rapidly growing youth movement in the Cup Series. He will race against drivers and friends he came up through the ranks with since before his days in the K&N Pro Series East series. He joins fellow young guns Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and more.

“This is a sport that a lot is based on patience,” Wallace said. “Everybody has different ways of getting to the level that I can now say that I’m at. It’s pretty special to be here. … We were all 10, 11, 12 years old running against each other here at Charlotte Motor Speedway, beating and banging with each other. Now we’re at the top-level. Each and every one of us have a different story of how we’ve gotten there.

“I’m just glad to share that spotlight with them.”

Wallace is also a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, which produced Larson, who is Asian-American, and Daniel Suarez, who is from Monterrey, Mexico. Suarez became the first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR title last year in the Xfinity Series.

“We all have special, unique talent,” Wallace said. “It comes in many different shapes and sizes and forms. Myself, Suarez come up through there, it’s pretty special to see how that has made us who we are today. I’m excited for that, excited to be racing with those guys. We’ve been doing it for a long time now, but now we can all say we’re at the Cup level.”

Wallace’s place in the youth movement and the evolution of the sport was a prominent factor for Petty in giving him the keys to the company car when the company has a lot of question marks with its future.

“It’s ready for a change,” Petty said of NASCAR’s current landscape. “We wanted to be involved in that part of it, felt like that Bubba was going to be our best bet to be right up to the cutting edge of what’s going on.”

and on Facebook

Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch spin after contact on Lap 45 at Watkins Glen

2 Comments

Long-time rivals Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski made contact in the bus stop on Lap 45 after a restart in Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International. It continued a trend of the two drivers making contact through the years on the road course.

Busch was on the inside of Keselowski when the latter made contact with Busch and caused them to slide off course. Both were able to continue.

“Y’all better keep me away from that (expletive) after this race,” Busch told his team after the accident. “I will kill that (expletive).”

This is not the first time the two drivers have had a run-in at the road course.

In 2012, Keselowski made contact with Busch on the last lap and spun him from the lead. The accident resulted in a dramatic duel between Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose.

The two also fought for the win in the closing laps of the 2013 race, with Busch fending Keselowski off for the victory.

Aggressive driving by both drivers on two late restarts last year kept them from contending for the win.

Ryan: How did debris yellows get a green flag? Tracking trash over the past 16 years

2 Comments

Debris or not debris?

The question plaguing NASCAR after Tony Stewart’s accusation of heavy-handed officiating teetering on race orchestration is a tangled mess to navigate, breaching the lines of credibility, entertainment and safety.

There is a clear line of demarcation indicating when the debris caution trend began, however.

Research by NBCSports.com of every Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race report since 1990 (the first season in which caution reasons were listed for every race on Racing-Reference.info) shows the 2001 season is when yellow flags for unsafe track conditions became standard practice in race officiating.

Since the 2001 Daytona 500, which marked the first race in a new era of national TV contracts and the most recent race in which a driver was killed in NASCAR’s premier series, NASCAR has averaged nearly 63 debris yellows per season, reaching a high of 85 in 2005.

Compare that to the 11-season stretch from 1990-2000, which produced an average of 15 debris cautions per season with a high of 20 in 1994 and a low of 11 in 1999.

That means there have been more than four times the number of debris cautions annually in 21st century NASCAR over the previous century’s final decade.

There haven’t been fewer than 40 debris yellows in a season since 2001 when there were 27 in the 35 races after Dale Earnhardt became the fourth prominent NASCAR driver to die of a skull fracture in 10 months. That helped spur a raft of safety advancements that included SAFER barriers, mandatory HANS device usage and enhanced driver cocoons with carbon-fiber seats and energy-absorbing foam.

But mostly overlooked is that NASCAR also took the liberty of being more aggressive in pausing races to clear the track of perceived hazards.

Where once only debris as blatant as a brake rotor lying in the groove might have necessitated a caution, the standards have expanded to include water bottles, balloons and garbage bags – with officials adamantly defending their decisions by noting they always would err on the side of safety.

It hasn’t quelled accusations from drivers – both publicly and privately – about the capriciousness of debris yellows and whether there’s an ulterior motive to keep the racing tight by re-racking the field for a double-file restart. The final yellow was thrown for debris in five of 13 season finales at Homestead-Miami Speedway (and two of the past three) since the advent of the playoffs.

Stewart’s Twitter outburst Sunday isn’t the first time the three-time champion has assailed NASCAR for debris yellows – in a noted April 2007 rant, he compared the officiating with pro wrestling and said officials were “playing God” – but the timing is notably different.

A decade ago, Stewart was angry after a Phoenix race with four debris cautions, which came on the heels of the only consecutive seasons with 80-plus yellows for debris.

Yet in 2017, NASCAR is on pace for possibly its lowest debris caution total since before Earnhardt’s death.

Through 15 races there have been 12 debris yellows – the lowest number to start a season in 14 years.

Subtract Texas Motor Speedway (which holds the all-time track trash record of seven debris cautions in the November 2014 race and is the annual leader with an average of 2.5 over the past 29 races), and there have been eight debris yellows in 2017, which is on par with the average of 7.8 over the first 15 races in the 1990-2000 seasons. The 2016 season also marked a six-year low for debris yellows with 51.

So is Stewart’s ire still justified in light of these declines?

Yes, because debris cautions should be on the wane regardless.

The debut of stage racing in ’17 has guaranteed at least two caution periods per race (and perhaps more next season) that ostensibly are to award points to the top 10 but also could be used to clear the track. Those yellows essentially produce the same outcome as a debris caution – a pause in the action (not because a car was damaged) followed by a restart.

It’s reasonable for drivers and teams to expect NASCAR to be more inclined to let a race naturally unfold with two predetermined breaks that allow for track maintenance. With the addition of a 5-minute clock on repairing damage, it also is logical there should be fewer wounded cars littering the track with jagged sheet metal or busted parts.

As noted by Steve Letarte and Parker Kligerman in a NASCAR America discussion Monday, it also is valid to ask whether NASCAR is using the most optimized technology to locate and classify debris on track. If transparency would help defuse the implication (by Stewart and others) that officials are tampering with a race’s rhythm to produce more scintillating action, NASCAR should consider releasing detailed explanations of the debris, possibly with visual evidence.

But the easiest way to end the controversy over debris yellows simply is by reducing them – and living with consequences that might be negligible anyway. Managing risk makes sense, but it also is a tricky line to walk with auto racing’s inherent danger.

How many times have drivers or fans been injured over the past 16 years by a piece of debris being hit – or in the 52 prior years when cautions to clean the track were much more infrequent?

Applying consistent criteria is difficult because debris cautions always will remain a judgment call – but there is opportunity to use greater discretion in keeping the yellow flag holstered unless incontrovertible evidence exists of a lurking danger, particularly late in the race.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: How do you strike the most judicious balance between upholding the sanctity of races while ensuring the safety of drivers?

That is the question.

XXX

After being critical of Kyle Larson’s inability to close out races on restarts earlier this season here, kudos to the Chip Ganassi Racing driver for pulling it off from the nonpreferrred line at Michigan International Speedway.

The ineffectiveness of the bottom lane on the 2-mile oval Sunday did illustrate an unintended consequence of track treatment in the current era of VHT and tire-dragging machines to improve traction. It seems all of the work on the Michigan surface might have made the outside line too good Sunday.

That bears remembering as tracks continue to be proactive with trying to facilitate passing.

XXX

Nothing says peaceful like a relaxing weekend of wine tasting in the picturesque solace of Napa Valley – but in NASCAR, this is usually the time of the year when the chatter over contracts gets cranked up.

Silly Season has hit a fever pitch before in Sonoma, where a more limited schedule of track activity, along with increased access and time for a bottle of Cab, seems conducive to setting tongues to wagging.

In 2008, word began to leak that Mark Martin was headed to Hendrick Motorsports to replace Casey Mears. Five years ago, news began to spread on race day about Matt Kenseth’s impending departure from Roush Fenway Racing (which broke a few days later).

There are no imminent signs of wildfire breaking this week, but there are enough possibilities (and beat reporters Jenna Fryer and Bob Pockrass floated a few more this week) to watch the kindling while the vino flows around the bonfires this weekend.

XXX

Jeff Gordon (a record nine road-course victories) and Tony Stewart (seven) have retired. Marcos Ambrose (two-time winner at the Glen) and Carl Edwards (Sonoma 2014 winner) are gone.

Who are the Cup road course experts now?

AJ Allmendinger would rank high on the list, but it’s hard to look past Joey Logano, who has four straight top fives on road courses (including a 2015 win at Watkins Glen International), Kyle Busch (four road-course wins) and Denny Hamlin, who was a final-turn mistake away from sweeping the road courses in 2016.

The right-turn narrative centered (with good reason) on Gordon and Stewart for so long, it seems odd to put that trio in the conversation for road-course greatness, but their results prove they deserve it.

XXX

If you’re keeping track – and we can’t blame you for having lost count given the preponderance of binkies, diapers and strollers in the motorhome lot over the past decade – the birth of Trevor Bayne’s second child and the impending arrival of Logano’s first will push the number of kids born to active Cup drivers since 2007 to more than 30 by the end of the season.

During the baby boom, 19 drivers have become fathers while racing in Cup. The first in that timeframe was Jeff Gordon, whose daughter, Ella, turned 10 this week.

Ryan Blaney gives Cup Series fifth first-time winner in two seasons

1 Comment

The NASCAR record books have changed a lot in the last two months.

When Ryan Blaney took the checkered flag to win Sunday’s Pocono 400, it continued an avalanche of first-time winners in the Cup Series.

Blaney is the third first-time winner in the last five races and the fifth in the last two years.

The current stretch began May 7 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won at Talladega, claiming his first victory in five full-time seasons on the circuit.

Two races later in the Coca-Cola 600 on May 28, Austin Dillon ended his long wait by successfully saving enough fuel to win the longest race in NASCAR. In the process, he also took the No. 3 to victory lane for the first time in the Cup Series since 2000.

Two weeks later, Blaney took Wood Brothers Racing to victory lane for just the third time since the turn of the century.

But the current trend of first-time winners began in Pocono last year on August 1. Chris Buescher, then driving for Front Row Motorsports, was in the lead under caution when rain and fog forced the race to be called on Lap 138. Unlike the other recent first timers, Buescher’s win came in just his 27th Cup start.

Three races later, Kyle Larson began to establish himself in the Cup Series by winning at Michigan International Speedway. The victory came in Larson’s third full-time season in the Cup Series.

Before their wins, the Cup circuit experienced a relatively long drought of first-time visitors to victory lane.

Before Buescher, the last first-timer was AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen International in August 2014, a stretch of 70 races between first-time winners.

A month before that, Aric Almirola was the winner of the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.

And before Almirola, the Cup series went two full seasons without a first-time winner. That drought was after five drivers broke through in 2011.

Trevor Bayne started off that year in the biggest way possible, winning the Daytona 500 in just his second Cup start. He would be joined that year by Regan Smith (Southern 500), David Ragan (Coke Zero 400), Paul Menard (Brickyard 400) and Marcos Ambrose (Watkins Glen).

With Blaney’s win, it puts a little more pressure on his fellow “young guns” to win. NASCAR is still waiting for the breakthrough of 2016 Rookie of the Year Chase Elliott and rookies Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and new arrival Darrell Wallace Jr.

“Ryan took that (first win) crown from us,” Jones said Sunday after finishing third. “It is great for the sport, honestly. I’m usually not very happy to see other people win, but I was happy to see Ryan win. It was really cool for him, and just really cool to see him get the win. I know how excited he probably is right now, and it really makes the other young guys, me, Chase, Daniel (Suarez), all feel like we do have a shot to go up and do it.”

and on Facebook