Bump & Run: Favorite Bristol memories

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What is your favorite Bristol memory?

Kyle Petty: Watching Harry Gant show those high school boys in Grand National/Busch series how to get it done at Bristol. We would sit on the hill on the backstretch and cheer him on!

Parker Kligerman: My first race there was in 2010. We wrecked in qualifying at the spring race because of a mechanical issue and missed the race. I was doing a part-time schedule in NXS & had good runs but failed to get a top 10. So when we came back in August I really wanted/needed a good run and we had an awesome race and finished in the top 10 for my first time. This was the start of many good races for myself there including second place in trucks in 2012. … Some of my favorite memories growing up were the onboard cameras looking backward at the cars following where at Bristol you could see how much undulation the car was going through and how close they would get to each other’s bumpers. It was awesome and really made me want to race there one day. I miss the old track and think I would have been really good on it. 

Nate Ryan: The first night race I ever covered there, when Jimmie Johnson flipped off Robby Gordon, an angry Elliott Sadler punched the side of an ambulance, and Ward Burton threw his heel pads at Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then said he wished he would have had “something else to have shot” through his window. Oh, and Jeff Gordon bumped Rusty Wallace aside with two laps remaining to end a 31-race winless streak. All that happened on Aug. 24, 2002.

Dustin Long: The 1999 night race when Dale Earnhardt “rattled the cage” of Terry Labonte and spun him out of the lead. What was so memorable wasn’t the incident but the reaction. Several minutes after the race ended, they played the radio call of the final lap on the track’s pa system and the fans — it seemed more than half were still in the stands at the time — booed the moment Earnhardt’s hit wrecked Labonte. Incredible atmosphere.

Daniel McFadin: Covering my first race there last August. The track sneaks up on you, as there’s not much in the town to suggest one of NASCAR’s most famous tracks is located there. It suddenly appears around a bend as you approach it. Then walking up out of the tunnel in the infield was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Bristol is a wonder.

Dan Beaver: The 1996 Night Race. Until this year, that race always fell on or near my father’s birthday. That year the race landed on his birthday and I got a chance to take him for our first trip to a track that had always been one of our favorites. 

We know who the Big 3 are. Who would be your pick to make it the Big 4 right now?

Kyle Petty: There is no Big 4 … and it’s too late for someone to join the Party. Harvick, Busch and Truex are in a league of their own. Someone would have to win 40% of the remaining races (5) for me to consider them a part of this group.

Parker Kligerman: Brad Keselowski. I’ve been saying it for months, that the 2 car is the best at executing and using strategy to steal track position from faster cars. As of this time, barring disaster, they are the fourth best team. 

Nate Ryan: If forced to pick a fourth who will race for the championship, it would be Kurt Busch based on his recent results and veteran experience. But after Michigan, the separation between Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. and the rest of the field seems as wide as ever. There is little confidence in picking a fourth driver to join them.

Dustin Long: Although he hasn’t won this year, I’d make Kurt Busch as the fourth based on recent performance. His sixth-place finish at Michigan was his fifth consecutive top-10 result.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Chase Elliott. His win at Watkins Glen is one of four consecutive top 10s. My midseason pick, Kyle Larson, has basically disappeared since his runner-up finish at Chicagoland with just two top 10s in the last six races.

Dan Beaver: I don’t think anyone belongs in their league or is likely to get there. The way the playoffs work, someone will join them with a theoretical chance for the championship at Homestead, but no one is going to seriously challenge. 

What is a racing event that you’ve never attended but is on your bucket list and why?

Kyle Petty: Isle Of Man TT races! If you know what it is, you know why … nuff said.

Parker Kligerman: 24 Hours of Le Mans. Apparently it’s an incredible festival and there is just something sacred about that race. Though I don’t want to just attend but definitely race in it … one day … one day. 

Nate Ryan: The 24 Hours of Le Mans because of its history, tradition and fan appeal. Having written about the race so many times from afar (through advance stories about American teams preparing for the spectacle), I’d love to see it in person.

Dustin Long: Growing up in the Midwest and attending numerous sprint car races with my dad, I’ve always wanted to attend the Knoxville Nationals and experience what makes that event special.

Daniel McFadin: I could say the Daytona 500, but I’ll go all out and say Speedweeks. Give me a RV and a prime spot in the Daytona infield for two weeks. Seems like heaven.

Dan Beaver: The Hell Tour: DIRTcar’s Summer Nationals that feature almost 30 races in a span of 30 days during the summer. It may well be racing’s last true endurance event.

Chase Elliott heads to best track after first Cup win

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Chase Elliott couldn’t have asked for a better track to come immediately after he earned his first Cup win.

That track is Michigan International Speedway, the 2-mile facility that hosts Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has yet to have a bad race in five starts Michigan. He’s had winning runs ruined by bad restarts late in races, but no bad races.

His first three Michigan visits ended in runner-up finishes. That matches Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Martin Truex Jr.‘s number of second-place finishes at MIS before a win. Gordon is the only one of those who has a Michigan win.

Elliott has also yet to finish outside the top 10 at Michigan.

According to Racing Insights, Elliott is third on the list of drivers in number of Michigan starts prior to their first finish outside the top 10. Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker have the most with six.

Elliott has led 66 laps at Michigan, but those all came in his first two starts.

Elliott has the best all-time average finish at Michigan at 4.6. That’s ahead of Sam Sommers (sixth, two starts), Carl Edwards (9.4 in 25 starts) and Cale Yarborough (9.61 in 36 starts).

Among active drivers, Erik Jones has the second best average finish at 10.33 in three starts.

Sunday also marks Elliott’s 100th Cup Series start. Should he finally claim a Michigan win, he’d be the sixth driver to win in his 100th start.

Elliott would also be the fifth driver in Cup history to earn his first and second wins in consecutive races.

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

Martin Truex Jr: ‘I still pinch myself’ three years into dominance with Furniture Row

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As Martin Truex Jr. stood in the back of a truck riding around Kentucky Speedway before last Saturday’s Cup race, a fan called out to the 2017 champion.

“Let somebody else win!” he yelled.

After a beat, Truex responded with a chuckle, “No!”

Truex stayed true to his word. A few hours later, the Furniture Row Racing driver took the checkered flag to claim his fourth win of the season.

His triumph over Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski took his career win total to 19 – tying him on the all-time wins list with Joey Logano, 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Davey Allison, Greg Biffle, Hall of Famer Buddy Baker and Fonty Flock.

The victory is the 17th for the No. 78 team since 2015. Truex leads all drivers in wins since 2016 with 16.

For a driver who only won twice in his first nine full-time seasons, Truex said “I still pinch myself” over his dominance of the sport.

He doesn’t lead the series in wins after 19 races. That goes to Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, who are tied at five wins each.

This marks the first time since 1974 that three drivers have won four or more races at this point in a season.

“I think all three of us have great teams,” Truex said after his win. “Those two guys are great drivers. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for them. It’s pretty amazing to be a part of this group, honestly. I think when I was a kid and you (saw) Dale (Earnhardt) and Rusty (Wallace) and guys like that, Terry Labonte and you had guys that just dominated and won everything, and watching them, it was like, ‘Man, that’s so cool, they’re heroes and they’re such a big deal,’ and to think that I’m one of those guys this year and I guess last year, too, is just ‑‑ it’s amazing to me.”

Even after he won his first Cup title last November, it didn’t occur to him until almost a month later that he will one day be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame alongside Earnhardt, Wallace and Labonte.

Truex joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014 after losing his ride at Michael Waltrip Racing, a casualty of the race manipulation scandal involving MWR in the 2013 regular season finale at Richmond Raceway.

That year, Truex went winless, led one lap and finished 24th in the standings.

The following season Truex was paired with rookie crew chief Cole Pearn. The duo won one race, earned eight top fives and made the Championship 4.

In their 126 races together, the duo has put together a record comparable to other great driver-crew chief parings in Cup history.

“Really the last three years have been just having the time of my life and just lucky to have great people around us, a great car owner (Barney Visser),” Truex said. “Just feel really lucky.  I’ve been on the other side of it before where teams were struggling and struggled to get in position to win races, and having a lot of things kind of going against you and kind of fighting that uphill battle.

“So it’s amazing to be on this side of it. I can’t tell you how proud I am of all the guys on our team and what they’ve done, and I honestly just enjoy every single one of these wins like it’s my first because you never know when they’re going to come to an end.  You never know when you’re going to have your last one. You never know what’s going to happen next. Just trying to ride the wave of momentum and enjoy it all, and my team is just so badass, I can’t even explain it.”

Truex, 38, “always felt” he “could get the job done” during the early years of his Cup career, spent with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and then MWR.

“I had enough glimpses of really good days or glimpses of greatness that I think it just kept me alive, kept me hungry enough to keep fighting for it,” said Truex, who won two Xfinity championships before moving to Cup. “I think through the years there was just ‑‑ for me personally, and I don’t know what everybody else thought, I know I had some people that probably didn’t think I was that good.

“That’s part of this deal.  You’re only as good as your last race. And if you’re not getting results now, people question your ability.  … For me personally, I always (felt) like I could be a good driver, be a great driver.  I never knew I’d get to where I was last year, and I never really knew I could go on a championship run and win (16) races in three years … That’s been amazing.”

 

NASCAR fan prepares to attend 1,000th Cup race Sunday at Michigan

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Imagine doing one activity.

Then picture doing that activity religiously, 1,000 times from February 1963 to June 2018.

Joe Baumann is preparing fulfill that this weekend at Michigan International Speedway when he attends his 1,000th NASCAR Cup race.

Baumann, 79, is a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, and owner of a carpeting and flooring company, something his family has done since 1885.

But Baumann has made NASCAR his weekend business.

After getting out of the Navy in 1960, Baumann had his own brief racing career until life got in the way.

“I raced a couple of years in late models at our home track here in Erie,” Baumann told NBC Sports. “Went into drag racing a couple years after that. Started having a big family and that was the end of everything. I become a spectator because I figured there’s no way I can afford a family and the cost to race race cars.”

Baumann’s first time in the grandstands of a NASCAR Cup event came at the 1963 Daytona 500, when Tiny Lund won for the Wood Brothers.

“I loved what I saw when I got to Daytona,” Baumann said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Baumann has seen everything in the 998 races that have followed.

It’s documented in the couple hundred race programs that line his office and in the diary he decided to start keeping about a decade ago.

Joe Baumann sits in his office filled with NASCAR race programs. (Courtesy of Cale Baumann).

Baumann was there in 1969 when Talladega Superspeedway opened its doors for the first time.

He was also present in 1996 when North Wilkesboro Speedway said goodbye to NASCAR racing. He has “everything from the last race there,” including commemorative hats, unused tickets and the program.

Just a year before he experienced his “all-time No. 1” race.

You may have seen the highlights, but Baumann was sitting in Turn 3 of Bristol Motor Speedway the night of the 1995 Food City 500.

“Dale Earnhardt. Terry Labonte. Unfriggin’ believable,” declared Baumann, who was an Earnhardt fan. “I’ll never forget it. (Earnhardt) got black flagged at least twice, maybe three times for rough driving. They sent him to the back of the pack and oh my God, he was hell-bent to get back up front again. He did and it comes down to the last lap and they come off Turn 4 just slam banging each other, side by side and Earnhardt smashed him sideways.

“… I think the people went completely crazy. It was just phenomenal.

“That was tops.”

Baumann racked up races in the 70s, 80s and 90s while owning permanent seats at 10 tracks that hosted two races a year, including Bristol, Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, Atlanta and Talladega in addition to his visits to other tracks.

In 2004, he put a big dent in his total by attending all 36 Cup races, from Daytona to Homestead, with roughly 100 friends joining him over the course of the year.

At his peak, many race weekends saw Baumann and a group of six to 12 friends make the pilgrimage.

“Most of us worked six days a week, we’d leave Saturday night,” Baumann said. “We would leave Erie and drive straight to the track.”

One track, the one in South Carolina that’s Too Tough to Tame, really spoke to him.

Since 1964, when Buck Baker won in Baumann’s first visit to Darlington Raceway, he hasn’t missed a Southern 500.

The custom shirt Baumann and his friends and family will wear this weekend (Courtesy of Cale Baumann).

“The people and the good-hearted racing, it was just amazing they could run 500 miles at that speed and then it had the full metal roof over the top of the whole front straightaway and that made it even worse on your ears probably,” Baumann said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to miss one of these things.’ Back then tickets were like $10 or less and fuel was reasonable. We took a half a dozen guys, normally starting with a pickups truck, campers and things like that to go down. Motels in that day and age were few and far between. … Then my wife (Jackie, who passed away in 2015) got interested, so then her and I started going together. Next thing you know we got into motor homes and things like that. … It’s a great weekend now and everywhere we go it’s the same way. NASCAR people are just unbelievable.”

Baumann’s dedication to Darlington was rewarded last year when he was one of three people inducted into the track’s Fan Hall of Fame.

“That was pretty neat. They took care of me,” Baumann said. “The ring is like a Super Bowl ring.”

Baumann, who named his youngest daughter Allison after his favorite driver, Bobby Allison, and his youngest son Cale after Cale Yarborough, wanted his 1,000th race to come at Darlington.

But knee-replacement surgery last year shortened his schedule.

Instead, he’ll reach the 1,000 race mark Sunday with the FireKeepers Casino 400. The drive to Brooklyn, Michigan, is a much easier trip for the roughly 50 people who will camp with him for the weekend.

What festivities will there be to mark the occasion?

“My friends are full of surprises, believe me,” Baumann said. “Something’s going to happen.”

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