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Crew chief Barry Dodson, led Rusty Wallace to 1989 Cup championship, dies at 64

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Veteran NASCAR crew chief Barry Dodson passed away Wednesday at the age of 64.

Barry Dodson’s brother, John Dodson, issued a family statement: “Barry’s passing leaves us all with heavy hearts. He left his mark in the NASCAR history books and he served the sport with a passion that few will ever match. We love him and we miss him.”

Dodson was crew chief for several drivers in NASCAR’s premier series, including the late Tim Richmond, NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip and Kyle Petty.

But it was with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace that Dodson enjoyed his greatest success.

Dodson and Wallace combined for 18 of Wallace’s 55 career Cup wins and earned nine poles during a five-season tenure from 1986 through 1990.

The highlight of their time together was 1989, when with Dodson aboard the pit box, Wallace won his lone Winston Cup championship.

Wallace and Dodson also recorded a second-place finish in 1988, a fifth-place showing in 1987 and sixth-place finishes in their first and final seasons together, 1986 and 1990.

Dodson was unique in that not only was he Wallace’s crew chief, he also spent much of his time serving as part of the over-the-wall pit crew that serviced the Raymond Beadle-owned No. 27 Pontiac that Wallace piloted.

Dodson’s other Cup win was with Kyle Petty. He also earned six wins with driver Mike Bliss in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (1995-98).

Sadly, two of Dodson’s children, 17-year-old son Trey and 16-year-old daughter Tia, were killed in a one-car accident in 1994 in Darlington, South Carolina.

Fellow NASCAR crew chief and stepson Trent Owens took to Twitter to memorialize Dodson.

Dodson also served as general manager when Wallace began a NASCAR Xfinity Series team in 2004.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Bootie Barker to finish season, but Germain Racing will have new crew chief in 2018

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Germain Racing announced Tuesday that veteran NASCAR Cup crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker will finish the season with the team in that position, “but will not be with Germain Racing in 2018.”

Barker, 46, has been crew chief at Germain Racing, primarily for the No. 13 car, since 2010. Ty Dillon replaced Casey Mears as driver of the No. 13 Chevrolet this season. Dillon has struggled; his best finish in his first full Cup season has been 11th at Talladega four weeks ago.

The team did not state who would replace Barker.

Barker has served as a crew chief primarily in the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series since 2001. Drivers he has worked with include Dave Blaney, Mike Bliss, Ward Burton, Jason Leffler, Jeff Green, Johnny Sauter, Jeremy Mayfield, Scott Wimmer, Blake Feese, Scott Riggs, Patrick Carpentier, Max Papis, Michael Waltrip, Casey Mears and Dillon.

In 479 Cup races as a crew chief, Barker has no wins, three top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. In 94 Xfinity Series races, he has four wins, 20 top fives and 39 top 10s. He also served as a crew chief in the Truck series for three races.

UPDATE: The team announced Wednesday that, like Barker, technical director Chris Andrews and engineer Scott Whitehead will complete the current season but will not return in 2018.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is a tough place to win for Xfinity regulars

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If you’re hoping to see a Xfinity Series regular driver win this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway,  you may want to temper your expectations.

In the last 25 Xfinity races at the 1.5-mile track, only one Xfinity regular has visited victory lane.

That honor belongs to Mike Bliss.

Bliss only won twice in 359 Xfinity starts, both coming at Charlotte in 2004 and 2009.

Other than that, NASCAR’s home track has been a haven for Cup drivers in the Xfinity Series in recent memory.

In the last 11 Xfinity races there, Austin Dillon (two), Joey Logano (two), Brad Keselowski (two) and Kyle Busch (two) combined to win eight times. Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson won the other three.

Of those, only Dillon and Blaney are entered in this weekend’s race. They join Cup regulars Ty DillonDaniel Suarez and Erik Jones.

Three times a Cup driver has completed the weekend sweep at the track, but none have done it since Mark Martin in 1995.

One stat going in favor of Xfinity drivers is in the recent past at 1.5-mile tracks. In the last six races at that type of track, there have been six different winners. The last two were won by non-Cup drivers, Justin Allgaier (Chicago) and Tyler Reddick (Kentucky).

Here’s some more interesting stats ahead of the Drive for the Cure 300.

  • Only three of the last 33 races at Charlotte were won from the pole. Two of the three came in 2015 when Austin Dillon won both races from the pole.
  • There were 12 cautions at Charlotte in May, the most in a race this season and the most in the last 17 races at Charlotte.
  • The driver leading the most laps failed to win the last four October races.
  • The final green flag stretch at Kentucky, the last race on a 1.5 mile track, was 104 laps, the longest green flag stretch to end a race on a 1.5 mile track in the last 70 races
  • Justin Allgaier won from 14th at Chicagoland in September, the only race on a 1.5 mile track won from a starting position outside the top 10 in the last 25 races.

Cole Whitt joins TriStar Motorsports for full-time Cup ride

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cole-whittCole Whitt will drive full-time for TriStar Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series this season in the No. 72. TriStar returns to the Cup level after a three-year absence.

It will be Whitt’s third full-time Cup season in four years. He ran 26 races in 2016 for Premium Motorsports and in two Xfinity Series races for TriStar.

Whitt, 25, will be sponsored by the Florida Lottery for the Daytona 500 and by RTIC Coolers, Rinnai and Carolina Skiff throughout the season. Frank Kerr will be the crew chief.

TriStar and Whitt are guaranteed a starting spot in the 40-car field after leasing a charter from Front Row Motorsports that it acquired BK Racing.

“I’m looking forward to being back in the seat at TriStar Motorsports for the Monster Energy Cup Series for 2017,” Whitt said in a press release. “We are glad to have Florida Lottery back with us for the season opener at Daytona and are fortunate to continue and expand our relationship with Rinnai, RTIC Coolers and Carolina Skiff throughout the year.”

Whitt has 112 starts in the Cup Series since 2011, but has yet to record any top five or top-10 finishes.

Owned by Mark Smith, TriStar Motorsports has fielded cars in 197 Cup Series races since 1989. In 2013, it competed in 15 races with Mike Bliss, Alex Kennedy and Jason Leffler, who was killed three days after his lone start at Pocono Raceway in a sprint car race at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey.

“We are taking a different approach and expanding our competitive platform for 2017,” Smith said in a press release. “It is an opportunity we feel is the best direction for this season and we are pleased to have Cole and his partners involved in those efforts.”

Whitt will attempt to make the Daytona 500 in one of the Feb. 23 qualifying duels.

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Tony Stewart retirement leaves one less driver who was ever Intimidated

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When NASCAR’s best gather in Las Vegas this weekend for the Sprint Cup Awards, someone needs to take a very specific picture.

The people who pose for the picture are part of a very exclusive club. It’s a club that stopped accepting members on Feb. 18, 2001 and loses members almost every year.

This picture would feature full-time Sprint Cup drivers who once raced against seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Had the club portrait been taken just last year the group of drivers would have included Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip,  Jeff Gordon (with the knowledge he’d be a substitute driver in 2016) and Tony Stewart.

Now Stewart is retired from NASCAR competition and Gordon is really retired. Labonte and Waltrip have not announced plans for next season.

How large is the club’s membership now 15 years after Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500?

When the green flag drops on the 59th Daytona 500 on Feb. 26, only four drivers in the field – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch – will be able to boast that.

The last addition to the club of the four was Newman.

Two years before his rookie season in 2002, Newman made his Cup debut in the Checker Auto Parts / Dura Lube 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. At 22, Newman started 10th and finished 41st after engine problems. Earnhardt started 31st and finished ninth.

Busch made eight starts against Earnhardt, the first coming on Sept. 24, 2000 in the MBNA.com 400 at Dover International Speedway.

His eighth start was the 2001 Daytona 500. Years later, Busch proudly lays claim to being one of, if not the last driver, to ever be Intimidated.

The moment came on Lap 85, with Busch and Earnhardt running next to each other in the top five. Busch was driving the No. 97 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

“My ‘Welcome to NASCAR Moment’ was probably the finger out the window from Dale at Daytona,” Busch told the Las-Vegas Review Journal in 2011. “It was my first Daytona 500, and I got the finger out the window. I thought I was minding my own business in the middle lane, but when it’s Senior, you gotta move over and let him through.

“He was on his way to the front.”

Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth will be the only full-time Cup drivers in 2017 who competed in a full season against Earnhardt Sr.

Both drivers had their rookie seasons in 2000, with Kenseth winning Rookie of the Year. But both made five starts in 1999, with Earnhardt Jr.’s first coming in the Coca-Cola 600.

However it’s Kenseth, now 44, who made the earliest start against the Man in Black.

On Sept. 20, 1998, at the age of 26, Kenseth was called on to substitute for Bill Elliott in the MBNA Gold 400 at Dover.

Driving Elliott’s No. 94 McDonald’s Ford, Kenseth started 16th and finished sixth. Earnhardt, starting last, finished 23rd.

Other active NASCAR drivers (in 2016) who competed against Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Elliott Sadler (33 Xfinity Series in 2016)

Morgan Shepherd (23 Xfinity starts in 2016)

Jeff Green (29 Xfinity starts in 2016)

Derrike Cope (24 Xfinity starts in 2016)

Mike Bliss (Three Xfinity and Truck Series starts in 2016)

Joe Nemechek (Two Xfinity starts in 2016)

Hermie Sadler (Two Xfinity starts in 2016)

Todd Bodine (One Xfinity start in 2016)

Ken Schrader (One Truck start in 2016)