Michael Annett

Friday 5: Did driver quit NASCAR race to watch man walk on moon?

Leave a comment

As the celebration of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon 50 years ago takes place Saturday, the event puts a spotlight on NASCAR folklore.

And an independent driver named Henley Gray.

The story goes that Gray pulled off the track and quit the Bristol race so he could return to his Rome, Georgia, home and watch man walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Here’s what is known: NASCAR raced that day at Bristol. The Volunteer 500 began at 1:30 p.m. ET. with a field that included Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker among the 32 drivers.

Pearson won. Runner-up Bobby Isaac finished three laps down. Gray placed 15th, completing 206 of 500 laps. The reason he did not finish is listed as “quit.”

The race ended just after 4:30 p.m. ET. The Eagle lunar module with Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed on the moon at the Sea of Tranquility at 4:17 p.m. ET. Armstrong didn’t step on to the moon until 10:56 p.m. ET.

Based solely on the timeline, the story is possible that Gray quit to watch man walk on the moon.

But there’s a problem.

“That didn’t happen,” Gray told NBC Sports this week. “I don’t know how that got started.”

Gray is 86 “I’ll be 86 and a half next month,“ he said. “Halves count when you get my age.” — and ran 374 Cup races from 1964-77. He never won.

His best finish was fourth at Nashville on July 30, 1966. Petty won the 400-lap race, leading every lap. Petty was followed by Buck Baker (five laps down), Allison (six laps down) and Gray (17 laps down) in a field of 28 cars. Henley went on to finish a career-high fourth in the points that season. It was the only season he placed in the top 10.

Since he wasn’t a “hot dog” as he called the factory-backed drivers of that era, Henley admits he quit some races. As an independent, he had to be wise with his money. Sometimes it wasn’t worth running 100 more laps in hopes of earning another $100 when the wear and tear on the car would be greater. So he packed up and headed to the next race.

“I was having a ball,” Gray said of his career. “I wasn’t making any money, but I was having a ball.”

After a crash at Michigan ended his driving career, Gray remained in the sport as an owner.

Dale Earnhardt drove for Gray in October 1977 at Charlotte. It was Earnhardt’s fourth career Cup start. He finished 38th after a rear end failure 25 laps into the race. Baker drove for Gray at Martinsville in April 1982, finishing 28th. Benny Parsons finished 28th at Daytona in July 1982 in Gray’s car.

Gray goes from one story to the next, recalling his career, laughing at the stories and times with drivers who have since passed.

But he is adamant. He didn’t leave Bristol early to watch man on the moon.

Now, there is one story that is true about Gray looking up to the heavens.

“(One) time, there were three of us on our way from Charlotte going down to Rockingham, an eclipse was going to happen at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” he said. “We pulled over on the side of the road and stood there for a while and watched all the eclipse and got back in the trucks and went on to the race.”

2. NASCAR is watching

Alex Bowman on the roof of his car after winning at Chicagoland Speedway. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Twice in the last three weeks, victory celebrations featured drivers standing on the roof of their car. Alex Bowman did it after he scored his first Cup win three weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway. Kurt Busch did it last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

In the early 2000s, NASCAR frowned upon drivers standing on the car’s roof after a victory. NASCAR penalized a team after its roof was found to be too low. It so happened that the team’s driver jumped on the roof after winning. That celebration went away.  

Kurt Busch celebrates his Kentucky win atop his car’s roof. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

What Bowman and Busch did evokes the spontaneity some suggest has been lost because of corporate sponsorship and the need for drivers to thank sponsors before relishing a victory.

Last week also saw five crew members ride on Kurt Busch’s winning car from the start/finish line after his celebration there. The moment was lauded on social media for how it resembled such celebrations decades ago. 

It’s a wonderful image. So is a driver standing on the roof of a car after winning. But both present potential problems for NASCAR.

In an era where a failure in post-race inspection can lead to a disqualification of any car, including the winner, NASCAR has to be mindful of ensuring the vehicle’s integrity while permitting celebrations that fans enjoy. 

On the recent celebrations by Bowman and Busch, a NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports: “Our inspectors are very good at their jobs, so it hasn’t been an issue thus far. We will continue to remind the teams about celebrating responsibly.

We will not hesitate to make a stand if celebrations turn nefarious, but the very recent trends of drivers being human and showing emotion over something they’ve worked so hard for isn’t hurting the integrity of the sport in our opinion.”

3. A new strategy

Since lightning stopped the Daytona race a couple of weeks ago and rain later finished it, some teams are taking a closer look at how they monitor weather.

Previously, many watched radars for when rain would arrive at the track. Now, teams have to be aware of NASCAR’s policy that any lightning strike within an 8-mile radius of the track will stop the action.

While there’s no way to predict when and where lightning will strike, if an approaching storm features lightning, teams will have to be aware of that.

Kurt Busch gave up the lead at Daytona under caution to pit when NASCAR announced that the restart would be on the next lap. Shortly after pitting, lightning struck 6.3 miles from the track and the race was stopped with Justin Haley in the lead. The race never resumed and Haley won.

“I asked NASCAR about their policy and how they handle things and what they look at so we are now making sure we copy everything the same,” Kurt Busch said. “That will help us gauge how to call a better race.”

Said Kyle Busch: “That’s certainly something that we all have to got to look at and think about now.”

Lightning won’t be an issue this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Instead, drivers will have to deal with the heat. Temperatures are expected to be in the 90s this weekend.

4. Beating the Big 3 in Xfinity 

Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick went 1-2-3 last weekend in the Kentucky Xfinity race, continuing their dominance this season. They’ve combined to win 10 of the last 11 races (Ross Chastain‘s win at Daytona was the exception). Twice, the trio took the top three spots in a race (Bristol and Kentucky). In seven of the last 11 races, the trio has taken at least two of the top three spots.

So, who can top them?

Michael Annett finished fourth at Kentucky and said that was a key performance for his JR Motorsports team.

“At least I’m able to be up there and see where they’re better,” said Annett, who won at Daytona and has 12 top 10s in 17 races this season. “I’m at least able to see that now in the race and just be able to put a whole weekend together. That’s what you’re going to have to do to beat those guys.”

Justin Allgaier, who has six top-three finishes this season, also sees the progress Annett, his teammate, sees.

“I felt (at Kentucky) we were way closer to them speed wise than we have been,” said Allgaier, who finished seventh. “We ran right there with (Custer and Bell) for quite a while.”

Allgaier admits that’s something he couldn’t say earlier in the season.

5. Sticky situation  

This marks the second of three consecutive weekends that a traction compound will be applied to a track surface. It was done last weekend at Kentucky, will be done this week at New Hampshire and also will be done at next week at Pocono.

Watkins Glen follows Pocono but the next oval after Pocono is Michigan. There are no plans at this time for Michigan to use the traction compound next month.

Cole Custer cruises to Xfinity victory at Kentucky

1 Comment

SPARTA, Ky. – Cole Custer scored his series-high fifth Xfinity victory of the season Friday night, winning at Kentucky Speedway.

The series’ three dominant drivers this season all finished in the top three. Christopher Bell, who won the first two stages, finished second. Tyler Reddick was third.

Michael Annett and Chase Briscoe completed the top five. Only the top five cars finished on the lead lap. Custer led 88 of the 200 laps.

MORE: Click here for race results

MORE: Click here for driver points

This is Custer’s second consecutive victory on a 1.5-mile track. He won at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago. This also is Custer’s third victory in the last six races.

“This one just goes to my team,” Custer said. “The car was unbelievable at the end. They knew exactly what to do with it when the track changed and I was just lucky to drive it there at the end.”

Stage 1 winner: Christopher Bell

Stage 2 winner: Christopher Bell

Who had a bad race: Austin Cindric started on the pole and was running in the top five when he got loose underneath Justin Haley‘s car and backed into the wall in Turn 3 on Lap 55. Cindric went on to finish 14th. … Brandon Jones ran in the top five much of the race until an engine issue on Lap 106 ended his race. Jones finished 30th.

Who had a good race: The Big 3 (Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick) went 1-2-3. Michael Annett’s fourth-place finish was his third top-five in the last five races. … Ryan Truex finished eighth in just his second start of the season. … Ryan Sieg‘s ninth-place run was his first top 10 in the last six races.

Notable: All five of Cole Custer’s wins this season have come in the last 13 races. He had two wins in his first 75 series starts.

Next: July 20 at New Hampshire at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Xfinity Series practice report from Kentucky

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Cole Custer was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Thursday at Kentucky Speedway.

Custer posted a top speed of 180.210 mph around the 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Christopher Bell (179.934 mph), Tyler Reddick (179.294), Noah Gragson (178.938) and Brandon Jones (178.902).

Custer recorded the most laps in the session with 52 and had the best 10-lap average at 178.875 mph.

The session was slowed once for Chad Finchum making contact with the wall.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Christopher Bell was fastest in the first practice session

Bell posted a top speed of 177.579 mph.

The top five was completed by John Hunter Nemechek (177.049 mph), Reddick (176.857), Custer (176.171) and Austin Cindric (175.970).

Cindric was in the top five after his crew chief, Brian Wilson, was ejected from the race weekend due to a L1 level penalty.

Michael Annett recorded the most laps in the session with 43. He was 11th on the speed chart.

Click here for the practice report.

The final practice session is scheduled for 6-6:50 p.m. ET.

 

Retro Rundown 2019: Southern 500 paint schemes

Joe Gibbs Racing
Leave a comment

We’re 54 days out from the Sept. 1 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, which will mark the fifth year of NASCAR’s official Throwback Weekend.

That means there will be a multitude of retro paint schemes racing around the 1.3-mile track in Darlington, South Carolina. You’ll be able to see all of them in action on NBCSN.

Here’s your guide to the paint schemes that have been announced so far for the weekend, including schemes for the Aug. 31 Xfinity Series race.

Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet – Dillon will boast a paint scheme that was driven by his grandfather and team owner Richard Childress in the late 1970s.

Ryan Newman, No. 6 Ford – With Oscar Mayer taking the place of Valvoline, Newman’s car will take its cue from the scheme Mark Martin raced in 1993 when he earned Roush Fenway Racing’s first Southern 500 victory.

Via Roush Fenway Racing

Daniel Hemric, No. 8 Chevrolet – Hemric will drive a car inspired by the design of CAT equipment and the logo used on them from its launch in 1925 until 1931.

Chase Elliott, No. 9 Chevrolet – Elliott will boast the scheme his father, Bill Elliott, claimed his first Cup pole with in 1981 at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota – Hamlin’s car will evoke Darrell Waltrip’s Western Auto paint scheme from the 1990s.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford – The Team Penske driver will have a scheme inspired by Michael Waltrip’s Pennzoil car from 1991-95.

Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Toyota – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will throwback to himself with the Bass Pro Shops paint scheme he drove during his 2004 Xfinity Series championship campaign. That year he drove for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Chance 2 Motorsports.

Paul Menard, No. 21 Ford – Wood Brothers Racing will pay tribute to late team founder Glen Wood with the paint scheme Wood drove himself in 1957, including in his only appearance as a driver at Darlington.

Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Ford – GoFas Racing’s car will be based on Dale Jarrett’s 1990-91 Nestle Crunch sponsored Xfinity car.

David Ragan, No. 38 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will drive a scheme inspired by David Pearson’s 1969 championship car.

Screenshot

Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet – Bowman’s Axalta-sponsored car is inspired by Tim Richmond‘s Folger’s Coffee scheme from 1986-87.

Stewart-Haas Racing – In celebration of co-owner Tony Stewart’s election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, three SHR drivers will have paint schemes based on the cars Stewart raced to his three Cup Series titles. Aric Almirola‘s No. 10 Ford will be based on Stewart’s 2002 car, Daniel Suarez‘s No. 41 Ford will be based on the 2005 season and Clint Bowyer‘s No. 14 Ford will look like the car Stewart drove to his 2011 title.

Xfinity Series

Michael Annett, No. 1 Chevrolet – The JR Motorsports driver will channel Jeff Gordon circa the 1992 Xfinity Series season with Gordon’s Baby Ruth paint scheme when he drove for Bill Davis Racing.

Via JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet – Earnhardt will pilot the scheme his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove in his first Cup start in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley, No. 11 Chevrolet – Kaulig Racing will boast Jeff Burton’s 1994 rookie Cup paint scheme with matching sponsorship from brake parts company Raybestos. It also serves as a tribute to team owner Matt Kaulig’s father and team chief financial officer, Bob Kaulig, who served as a vice president of Raybestos from 1985-2008.

Via Kaulig Racing

and on Facebook

Ross Chastain wins Xfinity race at Daytona

3 Comments

Ross Chastain held off teammates Justin Haley and AJ Allmendinger to win Friday night’s rain-delayed Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

It is the first NASCAR win for Kaulig Racing in 125 combined Xfinity Series starts since 2014. It is Chastain’s second career Xfinity Series win.

Chastain is a native of Alva, Florida, located 207 miles Southwest of Daytona Beach.

“Oh my gosh, we did it!” Chastain told NBCSN. “I sat here as a kid. I watched these races as a kid every Fourth of July, never could come in the spring because we were growing watermelons. These guys right here gave me a race car that, oh my gosh, could win a race at Daytona!”

Kaulig Racing entered three cars in a race for the first time and had all three cross the finish line first. Allmendinger, who made his first start of the year for the team, appeared to complete the sweep after he passed Christopher Bell on the last lap.

NASCAR announced after the race that Allmendinger’s third-place car had been disqualified for failing inspection.

Kaulig said they decided to field three cars in the race because neither of their cars wrecked in the Talladega race in April.

“The only reason we didn’t run four (cars) today was because we don’t have enough cars,” Kaulig said.

The top five was completed by Bell, Austin Cindric and Stephen Leicht.

The final 10-lap run was set up by a 15-car wreck with 14 laps to go that included Cole Custer, Michael Annett, Noah Gragson and Ryan Sieg and resulted in a 17 minute and 45 second red flag.

Pole-sitter Tyler Reddick finished 17th after he pit with four laps to go to repair damage. He was involved in a wreck with Chase Briscoe, Justin Allgaier and Ryan Sieg on Lap 46 in Stage 2. Briscoe was eliminated after he hit the inside wall nose-first. Reddick was able to continue despite his No. 2 Chevrolet sliding through the rain soaked infield grass.

MORE: Click here for revised results

MORE: Click here for revised points

STAGE 1 WINNER: Ross Chastain

STAGE 2 WINNER: AJ Allmendinger

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Stephen Leicht finished fifth for JD Motorsports, scoring his first top-five finish since 2007. … Brandon Brown finished sixth for his first career top-10 finish. … Jeff Green was seventh, scoring top 10s in both Daytona races this year.

WHAT’S NEXT: Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 12 on NBCSN