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Podcast: Rick Hendrick on his happy place and ‘toughest year’ for his team

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There is a 60,000-square-foot happy place at Hendrick Motorsports where the team’s founder and owner goes for reflection and solace.

Inside his Heritage Center, Rick Hendrick has more than 200 vintage cars, about as many guitars and some life-size reminders of the people and places that have shaped his life.

“I can come over here, have lunch and look out among the cars, and it’s almost as good as the ocean, but in a different way,” Hendrick said in discussing the museum and its many artifacts on the latest NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “That place I can see my mom, dad, granddad, brother, son and all the folks that aren’t here anymore. And my first Corvette, my first car, my first toolbox.

“You kind of pinch yourself and say when you were walking through a tobacco field when you were 12 years old, you were dreaming some of this, not this big, but you were dreaming, and this dream has come true.”

From the humble beginnings of his family’s tobacco farm in tiny Palmer Springs, Virginia, Hendrick has built a $9 billion automotive dealership empire with 11,000 employees and a NASCAR team that has won 12 Cup championships.

But Hendrick Motorsports also has been stuck on 249 victories in NASCAR’s premier series for more than a year. Kasey Kahne‘s July 23, 2017 win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the team’s most recent trip to victory lane in Cup as the move to the Camaro model has been more challenging than expected.

“I didn’t think it would be this tough,” Hendrick said. “I underestimated the car change. We definitely are not used to this kind of year. I think we won 17 (races in 2007). That was like it’s automatic. Four championships back to back with (Jeff) Gordon and Terry (Labonte) and five with Jimmie, and you think, ‘Hey, this is easy.’

“We underestimated how much better the competition was going to be, and how much work we needed to do to the new car.”

There have been signs recently of a turnaround. Chase Elliott earned the team’s first two stage wins this season in consecutive races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Alex Bowman (third) and William Byron (sixth), both in their first Cup seasons with Hendrick, also turned in season-best results at Pocono.

Beyond adapting to the Camaro, Hendrick also overhauled its processes for building cars and moved all four of its teams into the same building.

“(The Camaro) is a great piece, but we decided at the end of the year, we were going to change the way we did things, rework the facility, change the way we operated,” Hendrick said. “Well with that and the new car and shifting drivers and teams and crew chiefs around, it was a load. And we got behind.

“We’re trying to catch up. It’s been the toughest year, one of the toughest years I can ever remember. But I feel like we’ve got the best effort (and) organization of people working together in the face of not being successful as we want to be, but we’ll get there. That’s what I tell the folks. Surrender is not in our book. We keep seeing a little better, little better, little better. You don’t go from running 15th to winning.”

Hendrick, who recently turned 69 has made a similarly long climb through life, which the Heritage Center tracks in vivid detail. The building has replicas of the general store where he built his first race car (a 1931 Chevrolet that he drag raced), the bank where his mother worked (and provided loans for his first dealership) and the Citgo station where he met his wife, Linda, 46 years ago.

The building grew out of a difficult 2004 for Hendrick, who endured the death of his father a few months before losing his son, brother, two nieces and six other people connected to Hendrick Motorsports in a plane crash. “How do I remember all these people and all this stuff?” Hendrick remembers asking.

“That building is a timeline of my life,” he said.

It’s also a pristine warehouse for what some have called the world’s best Corvette collection (Hendrick owns more than 130, including 40 of his favorite 1967 model) and a second-floor nook that houses a diverse lineup of music memorabilia.

Among the featured artists are the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, Iron Maiden, Brad Paisley, Zac Brown, Darius Rucker and Steve Winwood, who is among a few musicians to make an in-person appearance at the museum (“Higher Love” is Hendrick’s favorite song).

“I listen to music all the time,” said Hendrick, who has taken guitar lessons but gave up quickly on mastering the instrument. “I like a little bit of everything.”

You can listen to Hendrick on the podcast via the embed below or on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or Google Play.

Podcast: Impact of limiting Cup drivers on smaller Xfinity teams

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Wednesday’s NASCAR America saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett discuss whether further limits should be imposed on Cup drivers competing in the Xfinity Series.

The conversation carried over to the latest NASCAR America Debrief podcast, with Earnhardt further examining the issue.

Earnhardt, who owns JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, said the issue will eventually “funnel all the way down to the fan’s opinion” of what they want to watch.

But Earnhardt expressed a desire to know what mid-pack teams, those unaffiliated to a Cup organization like JD Motorsports and Jeremy Clements Racing, feel about Cup drivers in the series.

“I haven’t heard a good, solid idea of where those teams are, the teams that are vested in that series … What do they think about the Cup drivers coming in there and knowing that knocks them down a few pegs?” Earnhardt said. “What do they think about the Cup drivers coming in there and knowing that knocks them down a few pegs? What does that matter to them as far as their bottom dollar over the course of a season and does it help them that they’re or not? To hear their opinion doesn’t really change the whole argument because it’s always going to come down to what the fan thinks. I think it would help to understand if it’s hurting. If it’s not hurting them, that’s good to know. But if it does hurt them, if it does make it more challenging for them financially, then that’s also important information to know.”

Earnhardt returned to the idea he visited on NASCAR America about changing the narrative from “limiting” Cup drivers to “inviting” them to compete in big race, like Daytona, Charlotte, Darlington and Indianapolis.

“That way the fans know what they’re getting,” Earnhardt said. “‘Man, when I go to this race there’ll be Cup guys there. When I go to this race, there won’t be any Cup guys there.’ It’s cut and dry.”

Earnhardt added: “I don’t like saying, ‘You can’t do this’ or ‘You’re not allowed’ is never going to win, is never going to be a good look for anybody. To turn it around maybe and make it more of an invitational kind of thing. … I think that’s a better direction to appease everyone.”

The discussion then moved to whether the Xfinity Series should return to smaller tracks, like Lucas Oil Raceway, the short track in Indianapolis the Xfinity Series raced at before moving to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012.

Earnhardt would “love” to take his four cars to compete at the short track, but it would be a “step backwards” for his company’s business plan.

“When we go to the big track at Indy … we’re going to get a bigger number in our partnership with our sponsors than if we raced at (Lucas Oil Raceway),” Earnhardt said. “Because Indy’s a big track and we’re racing with the Cup teams, it’s bigger exposure because of the history of the track. It’s harder to sell this race to a sponsor at (Raceway Park). Even though I think the majority of everyone that you might poll might say they’d rather watch that race! It’s strange because it’s a bit of (between) a rock and a hard place. I would love to take my cars and race at (Raceway Park). As an owner, I’d love to go over there and race there instead than the big Indy track.

“But I know for our business and our business model it’s better for us to be at the big track.”

Earnhardt does believe smaller teams like JD Motorsports could “survive a change” like a move back to smaller tracks.

“It would be more difficult for the bigger teams who are budgeted at a bigger number to take that hit,” Earnhardt said. “These smaller teams are resilient. They are creative. They make so little work and go so far for them they’d be able to make that adjustment more confidently than I would as an owner.”

You can listen to the full podcast below and watch the NASCAR America segment on the subject above.

Ryan: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick could be turning playoff race into mad scramble

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Halfway to the playoffs, and two stories are emerging in NASCAR’s premier series with one common theme: Points.

There are the playoff points that Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are accumulating at a rate quick enough that half of this year’s championship field might be sewed up by September.

And then there are the “regular” points that will become even more of a scramble over the next 13 races to snatch whatever berths remain in the 16-driver playoff field.

There have been six winners through the first 13 races, mostly because of Busch (four victories) and Harvick (five). If the two hottest drivers in NASCAR’s premier series can maintain their torrid pace, and if some combination of Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon also can repeat (which seems likely), there probably will be more spots available on points than ever in the five seasons the playoffs were reconfigured in 2014.

The playoff lineup is filled first by winners, and if there are fewer than 16, the remaining slots are awarded on points. The record for most points-eligible qualifiers was five in 2015 (Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Bowyer), and there seems a good chance for at least as many or more this year.

As NASCAR grinds through the grueling summer stretch with slick racetracks and oppressive heat, the tension could ratchet up against the backdrop of a points race – particularly with a fresh 2018 schedule that includes another 1.5-mile track (Chicagoland) and a new cutoff race.

In the regular-season finale Sept. 9 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NASCAR seems to be learning toward using the All-Star Race rules package that mixes restrictor plates and aero ducts to bunch the field.

The current championship standings should make it a no-brainer, given there is virtually no chance of having 16 playoff berths for 16 winners.

If there is a points battle of, say, more than a dozen drivers vying for the last six or seven playoff berths, it could turn the Brickyard into the free-for-all that the 2.5-mile track desperately needs to help reinvigorate dwindling crowds.

Though last year’s race was among the most memorable because of the three-wide battles for the lead at the front, it could be even more captivating to watch several drivers duel for positions within the pack in the waning laps if the racing resembles the action produced in the All-Star Race.

Thus, Busch and Harvick inadvertently could make the Brickyard a must-watch event this season – while simultaneously turning the playoffs into a frenzied scrum of 14 drivers for two spots in Miami.

While it isn’t a foregone conclusion that they will be in the championship finale, Busch (25 playoff points) and Harvick (24) are tracking ahead of where defending series champion Truex was last season (16 after 13 races). At this rate, both will claim mega-bonuses from their regular-season standings and would enter the playoffs as co-favorites.


Kyle Busch has won at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which means he has won at every track on the Cup circuit.

This STILL will be true Sept. 30 when the first race is run on Charlotte’s road course. Yes, the track will carry a “Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval” designation on the schedule, and its debut will mean that he won’t have won at every Cup layout.

But Busch still will have won at every track for several reasons.

Start with the fact that the “Roval” course will use all but 400 feet of the 1.5-mile oval that Busch finally conquered Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600.

And let’s remember that many famous ovals also have road courses that hold races, and there is little distinction made in designating them.

Jeff Gordon and Michael Schumacher are both five-time winners at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Will Power became a first-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 but is a four-time winner at IMS. Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Jamie McMurray have multiple signature victories at Daytona International Speedway – in the Daytona 500 and Rolex 24.

NASCAR apparently will be recognizing the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval as a “new” track, which opens a Pandora’s box of questions about retrofitting its record books.

Tracks rarely are given such reclassifications after repaves or reconfigurations that change the complexions of their races. The Roval layout might be on a different level, but so is Richmond Raceway’s 65-year evolution.

It started as a half-mile dirt track before being paved in 1968. Two decades later, it was torn down and rebuilt as the current 0.75-mile track.

None of this is abundantly obvious (unless you have an eagle eye for varying distances) on Racing-Reference.info, the deservedly respected bible of NASCAR historical information. Richard Petty has 13 wins at Richmond – not 10 on pavement and three on dirt (which should count as much as a “new” track as turning a 1.5-mile oval into a road course).

Busch apparently was told less than an hour after becoming the first driver of the modern era to win at every track that (because NASCAR is counting the Charlotte roval as a “new” track) the record would last for four months .

How about letting him enjoy it for much longer than that? As in, until the next time a new track actually is added to the schedule?


There’s always annual talk about which NASCAR driver might be the next to attempt the Indianapolis 500-Coca-Cola 600 doubleheader.

But how about IndyCar drivers coming the other direction?

Power’s Indy 500 win, coupled with his 2014 championship, should allow him to write his own ticket with team owner Roger Penske, who has IndyCar and NASCAR teams under the same roof in Mooresville, North Carolina. Power has expressed a desire to race a stock car, as have teammates Simon Pagenaud and Josesf Newgarden (who also have IndyCar titles).

“Hell, yes,” Newgarden said last week. “I love NASCAR. I think it’s awesome. Open wheel cars captured me as a kid. That doesn’t mean I don’t like stock cars. But I also like this resurgence of drivers who say they want to do everything. I think there’s a lot of guys who do want to do everything and always have.

Joked Pagenaud: “I’m very French but could do it. I can drink coffee while I drive, no problem. I can do it.”

Newgarden is frustrated by how segmented racing has become for drivers in the 21st century. “You have to have a side,” he said. “You have to choose one. I think it’s so stupid. I like it all. I watch everything. I watch NASCAR stuff. We all do. We all follow that stuff. We’d all love to try it.

“When you drive for Roger, you have to first focus on what you’re hired for, and you’re hired to win the Indianapolis 500 and the championship, and if you do a great job at that, maybe one day you’ll get an opportunity to try a stock car. I hope that happens.”

The growth of road courses in both the Xfinity (Road America is a longtime IndyCar venue) and Cup series also could offer more opportunities. James Hinchcliffe is among the IndyCar drivers who reportedly has been exploring one-off road-course rides in NASCAR.

And based how he handled single-file restarts Sunday in Indy, we wouldn’t mind seeing Alexander Rossi getting a shot, too.


For the second time this season, four Chevrolet drivers (Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman) finished in the top 10 at Charlotte. It also happened at Bristol Motor Speedway, but accomplishing the feat at a 1.5-mile track is an encouraging sign for a new Camaro that has seemed to lack the aerodynamic advantage of Ford and Toyota.

The impact of NASCAR’s new Optical Scanning Station certainly seems to have helped Ford drivers, who have been hinting since the preseason that the new inspection system would benefit their Fusions with more rear downforce.

But the OSS also might have had an opposite effect on the Camaro, whose design and development was initiated before teams saw the system in action for the first time last fall (in demonstration mode during the playoffs).

Hendrick Motorsports recently acquired an OSS for its shop, joining several powerhouse teams that purchased theirs before the season. NASCAR managing director of competition and innovation John Probst said as many as 10 teams have OSS systems.

That isn’t unusual given that teams would have their own sets of templates when NASCAR used the metal silhouettes for measurements, but Probst said the efficiency and accuracy of the OSS (which relies on two dozen high-definition cameras and projectors) makes it a more attractive option for teams.

Though NASCAR offers an OSS for teams’ use at its R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, many rely on OSS in their shops because they take measurements throughout the car-building process.

“I think we anticipated teams would buy this,” Probst said on last week’s episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Teams measuring (cars) multiple times as it goes throughout the shop, that’s a very reasonable thing to do.

“There are a lot of reasons to buy the technology. It’s relatively simple, the results are fairly quick and accurate. It’s relatively cheaper compared to many other solutions. It’s a more efficient system in general.”

Listen to Probst on the podcast via the embed below or on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or Google Play.


Erik Jones had a miserable night in the pits with a magnificent car Sunday at Charlotte, and it was the pit stop between Stages 3 and 4 that really had to hurt.

Jones’ No. 20 Toyota entered in second place but left in 19th because of a stop that went several seconds longer because his front tire changer switched to a backup pit gun.

The reason? Kasey Kahne ran over the primary gun’s hose while entering his stall just ahead, ripping it from changer Houston Stamper’s hands.

It would seem unfair to suffer because of the actions of a rival driver who faces no repercussions at all. But there are two important rules of thumb to consider.

–A driver entering his stall has every right to enter as sharply and swiftly as desired (without intentionally and blatantly violating the boundaries of another car’s pit box).

–Each pit crew is responsible for keeping its equipment out of harm’s way.

The only feasible way that NASCAR could have penalized Kahne would be if he’d gone out of his way to affect Jones’ stop.


In two of the past three seasons, the Coca-Cola 600 has been a runaway in which the winner has led at least 94 percent of the laps.

The record for highest percentage of laps led in the previous 55 years of NASCAR’s longest race was 83 percent (Jim Paschal in 1967).

How is this dominance possible in a race that historically has demanded constant adjustments to keep up with a temperature-sensitive surface that can vary wildly over the course of four hours in the transition from blazing hot sun to a cool evening?

The simplest explanation might be that the Charlotte reigns of Truex in 2016 and Busch this year underscore the importance of being in clean air on an aerodynamic superspeedway.

Crew chiefs Cole Pearn and Adam Stevens can tune the car better with their championship-caliber stars able to provide the best feedback in static conditions. And with teams running high-fidelity simulations nonstop, there is more information on making strong setup calls than ever.


Sunday’s race sadly marked the third time in four years that a fan has climbed a catchfence during a Cup race. While it thankfully didn’t necessitate a race stoppage at Charlotte (unlike an infamous incident at Richmond and similar to one at Dover last year) because it was defused so quickly, it still begs the question: Why is this still happening?

We’ve written this before, but having a fan fall onto a hot track on national TV would be a really bad thing, not just for the event but racing in general. Whatever tracks have to spend to rectify this so that fans stay off the chain link in the future, it’s worth it.

Podcast: Denny Hamlin on his sitdown with Joe Gibbs about speeding penalties

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Denny Hamlin’s penchant for pushing the accelerator too much in the pits recently earned “a sitdown with the boss.”

On the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Hamlin said team owner Joe Gibbs recently admonished him for accumulating four speeding penalties through the first 10 races of the season.

“I think he’s offended a little bit when they kind of make jokes on TV about it,” Hamlin said with a laugh about the meeting with Gibbs. “He’s like, ‘This is not a joking matter. This is costing you finishes.’

“It’s amazing we’ve had the finishes we’ve had with the penalties we’ve had. I think if we can just tighten things up a little bit. Honestly, we have not had many mistake-free races this year. I think once I have a race where there’s nothing going on that doesn’t set me to the back of the pack, middle of the race, results are going to show a lot better.”

Hamlin was caught for speeding at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and twice at Talladega Superspeedway. Each penalty occurred on entry to the pits.

The No. 11 Toyota driver said that’s been a consistency in his long history of getting caught for speeding.

“Most of our penalties has been entering the pits,” Hamlin said. “There’s so much data out there, I’m learning from it and trying to get better at it.”

One method for improvement is trying to understand how much reward and risk there is within the system used by drivers to stay under the limit. Cars don’t have speedometers, so a system of lights helps indicate when they are near the limit.

“Being more informed of that extra light, what does that amount to in feet,” Hamlin said. “Tell me is it a car length? Two feet? That will help manage my risk as well.”

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, here for Spotifyhere for Stitcher, here for Google Play or play the Art19 embed below:

Podcast: Denny Hamlin on his business career past, present and future

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., — If life as a full-time NASCAR driver hadn’t worked out, Denny Hamlin probably would be selling trailer hitches.

But his family’s business instead sustained the Chesterfield, Virginia, native’s Late Model career, helping secure the breaks to get hired by Joe Gibbs Racing.

Hamlin, 37, has 31 victories through 12-plus seasons in NASCAR’s premier series, and though he plans to race for several more years, he eventually will retire.

What will he be doing then?

Maybe selling trailer hitches.

“I really want to run a day-to-day business,” Hamlin said on the 138th episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast about his post-NASCAR career. “I don’t want to be there at 6 a.m. and open the doors, but I want to be there 9 to 3, checking on things, running things, making sure everyone’s happy.

“I just don’t know what kind it is. It might be a trailer shop. I loved going to work at the trailer shop with my dad when I was 17 years old. I knew everything about the business, I knew how to sell trailers. I knew how to build them. I knew how to install the hitches, do all the wiring. I knew how to do everything in that business. Maybe that’s something I go back to when I’m done.”

Hamlin, who had a brief run as the owner of a Charlotte nightclub, said he will open a new hamburger joint (a Little Big Burger franchise) soon near his home in Cornelius, North Carolina.

From left, Billy Horschel, Shannon Miller, Rosa Santos, Mary Lynn Schroeder and Denny Hamlin after Santos was selected by the panel as the winner of a Junior Business Challenge qualifier (Associated Press).

That made him a qualified candidate to help as a judge last week in sponsor FedEx’s Junior Business Challenge (with Junior Achievement Worldwide). The program, which runs in conjunction with PGA Tour events, relies on a high-profile panel to judge business concepts from a group of JA students with entrepreneurial aspirations. In an event before last weekend’s Players Championship, Hamlin judged entries along with Olympic medal gymnast and PGA golfer Billy Horschel (who joined Hamlin on the podcast).

In his evaluation, the 2016 Daytona 500 winner probably applied some lessons from his teenage years working for his father.

“I’d always complain to him that our business says we close at 5 o’clock, and yet if someone pulls in at 5:02 and needs something fixed on their trailer, if we’re here, we’re working,” he said. “The hours on the door were theoretical. He was all about making the customer happy. I don’t care how long it takes, we’re going to stay here and finish the job.

“If we told someone we get it done on this day, then it’s done. Whatever it takes. People really came back to our business a lot because of my dad and his mentality that they knew we’ll do the job and fix it no matter what the hours were. That hard work was infectious and reminded me that if I ever got back into running a business it would be that type of feeling of going to your buddy’s place to get your stuff fixed, not a business.”

But Hamlin, who signed a multiyear contract extension with JGR before last season, said he doesn’t have a timeline for when he’ll return to regular hours.

“The current contract goes quite a ways, and I probably want to do one more after that,” he said. “As long as I can win races, be competitive and be up front, I don’t know how long I’ll race.

“But I want to be busy outside racing. I’ll be stir crazy. I can only play golf so much. Basketball, my body will only go so long.”

In the podcast, Hamlin also discusses:

–His 2018 season, in which decent speed has been muted by a lack of execution (such as speeding penalties);

–How the professional rhythm of a golfer differs from a race car driver (with Horschel also offering his perspective);

–The return of Matt Kenseth and how JGR has adapted without him;

–What Denny would shoot at TPC Sawgrass.

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, here for Spotifyhere for Stitcher, here for Google Play or play the Art19 embed below: