NASCAR on NBC podcast

Ryan: Can Kyle Busch find his happy place with less horsepower?

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Kyle Busch clearly has a problem with slower cars.

We don’t mean those that got in his way Sunday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the Joe Gibbs Racing driver angrily challenged and questioned the racing acumen and credentials of Garrett Smithley and Joey Gase.

No, it’s the speed in his own No. 18 Toyota that seems to have left Busch miffed many times during a season of too much discontent for the mercurial superstar.

It’s been almost a year since the die was cast on perhaps the most controversial competition decision during Busch’s 15 seasons of racing on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

The move in 2019 to a lower horsepower, higher downforce package (i.e., slower and more stable cars with 550 hp on big speedways and 750 on shorter tracks) – a sudden reversal after years of heading mostly in the opposite direction – initially wasn’t met well within the ranks, and Busch was among many big-name drivers who voiced staunch opposition.

A case can be made that a reason behind the dissolution of the Drivers Council was its inefficacy in blunting the momentum for adopting a rules configuration that inherently affects the ability to harness a 3,400-pound stock with first-class hand-eye coordination and throttle control.

But the public grumbling gradually has subsided this season. Many stopped swimming against the strong tide, choosing to focus on their teams’ results or simply swallow their pride and accept the new rules.

The most notable resistance remained from Busch, the driver who arguably has had the most success with the 2019 rules package as anyone.

It’s somewhat remarkable that Busch, the regular-season champion who entered the playoffs with four wins and a 45-point cushion that likely will carry him to the title round at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the fifth consecutive year, would be the most high-profile remaining holdout on buying into the package, which mostly was aimed at producing closer racing at 1.5-mile tracks such as Vegas (and at least seems to achieve that on restarts, more on that below).

But it’s also perfectly understandable in the context of Busch wanting to maximize a skillset tailored to outdrive anyone when the challenge is taming stock cars that aren’t glued to the pavement as much as they are in 2019.

When Busch pouts (as he did after Vegas) that it’s impossible to pass at any track anymore (mostly because of aerodynamic turbulence for a trailing car), he is both wrong (in that winning teammate Martin Truex Jr. proved Sunday that you still can gain positions) and right (in that Busch can’t advance through the field using the same manhandling style he once did).

That makes it doubly frustrating for an already emotionally charged personality who can fly off the handle even faster than he drives.

“Kyle is just plain and simple unhappy,” analyst Jeff Burton said in the NASCAR on NBC Splash & Go weekly feature Tuesday (video above). “He wants to race a certain way, and that’s not the way we’re racing. He’s going to have to find a way to get above it. He’s going to have to find a way to focus on performance and championships and do the things that he is so good at.

“I think Kyle has convinced himself that the things he’s so good at he can no longer do, but I’ve watched from the best seat in the house every week, and people do pass and people do find a way to make things happen, but they do it differently than two years ago. I feel bad for him because he is a hell of a race car driver. He wants to drive the thing a certain way, but that’s just not how it’s going to be. He’s going to have to find a way to embrace it, but it’s obviously hard for him to do.”

This is immaterial, by the way, to how Busch carried himself with his infamous truculence as he faced a barrage of questions (mostly fair and well-stated, by the way) after Sunday’s race.

Like Tony Stewart and A.J. Foyt before him (and Smoke’s unhappiness in 2004, when he clashed often with officials and peers, is reminiscent of the current situation for Rowdy), churlishness is a byproduct of Busch’s greatness … and for some fans, it’s also part of his appeal. Even if he were completely happy with the racing, there always will be regrettable moments in the media bullpen after a race that breaks badly for Busch.

It’s his essence, and it’s unfair to ask him to be someone else, especially when the biggest casualties of his combativeness are reporters’ feelings.

On the scale of bad behavior across professional sports, Busch has been a relative choirboy.

Should he be more cognizant that postrace interviews are as much about serving fans as the media (which often is the conduit to Rowdy Nation)?

Perhaps, but if he wants to be that way and can live with potential consequences (whether the ire of series officials or sponsors), he shouldn’t be asked to change by NASCAR and a fan base that wants its drivers candid and colorful.

Busch meets those standards better than any current star (in the right mood, his interviews are articulate, insightful and steeped in history). His issues with the package aren’t about his personality or how it’s impacted.

The much bigger concern is how the dissatisfaction with 550 horsepower affects his performance behind the wheel. From when he hit the wall in the opening laps while apparently pushing the envelope after starting 20th, Busch was the weak link in the No. 18 team at Las Vegas (as Steve Letarte said on the latest NASCAR on NBC Podcast).

That rarely happens with Busch, an elite talent who probably could have become a champion in any series he chose to race anywhere in the world.

But it has been true too many times this season as the 2015 series champion has seemed a victim of distracted driving on a semi-regular basis. He hit the wall with the fastest car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway two months ago and also seemed way off his game at Watkins Glen International with errors in the Xfinity and Cup races. On Monday’s NASCAR America, analysts Kyle Petty and Letarte said Busch’s problems with the lapped cars at Vegas were self-induced.

Drivers make mistakes, but these have been uncharacteristic for Busch, who is 13 races and more than three months removed from his most recent win.

There’s a NASCAR saying that drivers sometimes need to slow down in order to go faster.

But asking Kyle Busch to celebrate driving at medium instead of maximum power seems sacrilege.

It’s no wonder he’s struggling with it.


Chase Elliott’s move to slow down and help Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron under caution on Lap 181 was legal, but it came some risk and raises some interesting questions, as NASCAR on NBC analysts Letarte and Jeff Burton (above) explained.

After spinning in Turn 4, Byron was able to enter the pits immediately to change his flat left-side tires. But he stayed on the lead lap only because Elliott eased off the accelerator while leading and allowed the No. 24 Chevrolet to exit the pits ahead of the No. 9.

Though slowing to at least 200 feet behind the pace car, Elliott hadn’t been picked up yet as the leader under the yellow flag. Joey Logano, running second, actually accelerated past Elliot just past the finish line.

Though Burton advocated Logano speeding up even earlier to put greater pressure on NASCAR to make a call on whether Elliott was maintaining reasonable speed as the leader, NASCAR officials later relayed to Burton that Elliott would have remained in first even if Logano had made a more demonstrable challenge (because Elliott would have been ruled to be using a “cautious pace” to catch up to the pace car.

Still, NASCAR has penalized leaders for failure to maintain reasonable speed under yellow (notably Marcos Ambrose stalling on a hill at Sonoma Raceway in June 2010). And if Byron hadn’t been a teammate, or if it had been later in the playoffs, Elliott might have been on the pace car’s rear bumper to ensure trapping him a lap down.

“Chase Elliott has the ability to set that cautious pace,” Letarte said on the new playoff edition of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Did he set it to save William Byron a lap? Absolutely.

“I see a teammate playing nicer earlier in the playoff than perhaps we would have seen. If Hendrick Motorsports was dominant with 15 or 18 wins, I think Chase doesn’t care about (Byron) and tries to pin him because he sees him as (a threat). It shows perhaps Hendrick in their struggles, their relationship has been galvanized where they’re looking out for one another.”


Daniel, we hardly knew yet, but it’s fairly obvious what is coming next.

Ever since team owner Richard Childress essentially volunteered that Tyler Reddick was destined for a Cup ride during a July 30 interview, it was clear that Daniel Hemric was in trouble during a disappointing rookie season at Richard Childress Racing. Asked a few days later about Childress’ comments, Hemric seemed less than certain about his future at the team.

It also isn’t clear if the Kannapolis, North Carolina, native will remain in Cup, though there are a few lesser rides that could come open.

Hemric is unlikely to be considered for a potential top-flight opening next season, and the only vacancy likely would be at Stewart-Haas Racing, which has yet to confirm Clint Bowyer or Daniel Suarez as returning and probably would move in Cole Custer if either leaves. Things seem to be trending well for Bowyer, who won his first pole position in 12 years after making the playoffs and was ebullient in Vegas until his 25th place finish.

Suarez also ran well before finishing 20th after contact with Joey Logano, qualifying second and leading 29 laps. But he said he had no timeframe for learning if he would return to SHR for a second year. The past two seasons, the team has waited until the offseason to hire its No. 41 Ford driver.

“We’ll still working on a couple of things,” Suarez said of 2020. “We have some good opportunities sponsorship-wise. There are some good things coming, but you never know. This sport is extremely unpredictable. We’ll just have to take one day at a time.”

Though making the playoffs would have helped, Suarez believes he can make up for it with a  victory: “The past is the past. We can’t change that. What we can change is we have 10 more weeks to keep improving. We have nothing in our heads but to get wins. If we are able to make it to victory lane this year, I won’t even think about the playoffs. Who cares about the playoffs if we can make it to victory lane? If we win one of the next 10, believe me, nobody will remember that we didn’t make the playoffs.”


Also unsure of his status for next year is Ross Chastain, who is focused on trying to win a truck championship with team owner Al Niece.

“I got nothing” for next year, Chastain said last week. “No one is calling now to put me in a fast Cup car. I doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon. I’m racing my butt off trying to be the best I can be. I’ve got so much opportunity now.  I’ve got more races on the Xfinity side to compete and run up front. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. I’m making my living, paying my bills by driving race cars as fast as I can. And I’m driving for multiple people, and they all want me to drive.”

Chastain has maintained a working relationship at Chip Ganassi Racing despite losing an Xfinity ride with the team because of an offseason sponsor pullout. He said his job for now in Cup when he races for underfunded Premium Motorsports is “to not make the news or crash the car. Even if I don’t crash, getting in someone’s way or being in the leader’s way coming down to the end or hitting someone on pit road. All that stuff you think it’s easy, but it’s so hard to be a slow car. It’s hard. I learned a lot in doing it, and it helps when I get in something that’s fast.”


When the first NASCAR Playoff Media Day without Jimmie Johnson happened, the seven-time series champion took steps to ensure he avoided it.

Johnson shifted the days of a mountain bike trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, to try to forget being sidelined from championship contention with 10 races remaining for the first time in his 18 Cup seasons. Though hitting the trails helped, he couldn’t avoid seeing glimpses of the 16 playoff drivers making the rounds in Las Vegas when he opened social media last Thursday.

“Not being there, it stung,” Johnson said. “It’s probably good that it stung. It’s been a nice gut check for me. I should be part of that. I want to be part of that. All those things are there. In a weird way, I was glad to see the 16 drivers and all that went along with that.”

The goal the rest of the season for Johnson, who turned 44 Tuesday two days after an 11th at Vegas, is to end a two-year winless drought.

“We just have to put a stake in the ground that we’ve got to win,” he said. “We just need to see progress at a rapid pace in the right direction. We were making progress, but the sport evolves, the team evolves, and we need to take big chunks out of that gap. That’s ultimately what we need to do. If we continue to take chunks out of the gap as we have, we’ll ultimately be back in victory lane.

“It hurts not being in the playoffs. It really bothers me, but at the end of the day, it’s good to have that effect on me. I didn’t enjoy it. I’m mad I’m not in the playoffs. I’m going to use that as fuel to push us through and get us back to where we need to be.”


For this observer, Las Vegas offered the chance to watch the 550 horsepower package from a fresh vantage point. Here were a few modest observations from the 1.5-mile speedway’s frontstretch press box near the start-finish line:

–The term “Insane Restarts” (or crazy, or even psychotic, if you prefer) gets tossed around so much it probably should be trademarked, but the first few laps after every green flag are breathtaking – better than a classic restrictor-plate race at Daytona or Talladega, really.

–Five laps or so after the restart, though, the racing looked like it has for the bulk of 1.5-mile tracks for the last 25 years.

–If you’re looking, you can find passing throughout the field … just not necessarily at the point.

When Las Vegas Motor Speedway made its Cup debut on March 1, 1998 (a race also covered by this writer), it was met with mixed reviews before a sellout crowd of more than 120,000 that had been promised “insane” five-wide racing for three hours. Instead, the fans saw largely a snoozefest won by Mark Martin in which Fords took 13 of the top 15 spots and the yellow flew only twice (both for single-car spins).

Sunday’s race was much better and memorable than the debut 21 years ago, but when viewed through the prism of NASCAR’s incessant tinkering to enhance 1.5-mile racing, it loses luster. Witness the recent ranking in journalist Jeff Gluck’s poll.

Las Vegas was a crucial marker in the development of the 550 hp package because of a January test that produced spectacularly tight racing and raised hopes that this season’s races might replicate it for two to three hours at a time.

It hasn’t and probably for myriad reasons. Tests rarely simulate real-world conditions with the necessary accuracy, and teams have spent so much time developing car builds since then (and through the different routes of gaining downforce or lessening drag), that there’s likely much more disparity between drivers.

As discussed on the new NASCAR on NBC Podcast, though, the conclusion here is that three straight hours of “Insane Restarts” probably would be too much of a good thing anyway.

Short of adding more mandatory cautions to guarantee re-racking the field (that’s not a suggestion, by the way), there probably is little more that can be done to enhance racing at the ubiquitous multipurpose speedways that began littering the Cup schedule in the mid to late 1990s.

If NASCAR wants more slam-bang tight racing that is true to its roots, the solution is much simpler: Run more short tracks instead of trying to retrofit 1.5-mile ovals that always will produce a brand of racing regardless of what is done to the cars.


After qualifying Morgan Shepherd’s car in ninth with a lap for the “Qualifying Hall of Fame” (according to NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Dale Earnhardt Jr.), will Landon Cassill start more Xfinity races for Shepherd, who seems to be winding down his driving career?

“I’ll let him dictate that,” Cassill said of Shepherd, who turns 78 next month. “I talk to him a lot, and he’s very mindful of his future and what he wants to build. I think me driving and having some speed in his car has been a part of it. He could see himself as a car owner someday probably.”

Cassill, who made 20 laps at Vegas and finished 36th for Shepherd, also posted top-20 qualifying efforts in the No. 89 Chevrolet at Charlotte (13th) and Michigan (16th). The relationship with Shepherd began when Cassill qualified the car 24th in the 2018 season finale after it lacked speed to make the race in practice.

“He called me the hour before qualifying and asked me to hop in,” said Cassill, who was introduced to Shepherd by Xfinity team owner Johnny Davis. “Ever since then, built a relationship and a lot of trust in each other, and he’s asked me to drive it whenever I’m available.

“It definitely makes me feel good to run that well. The experience really helps me a lot and running both (Cup and Xfinity) helps a lot. The speed in his car for Morgan is encouraging. He’s trying to envision what he’s doing for the future. I think having that speed in his car can draw attention to sponsors and putting forth a full-time effort.”


Next season, Las Vegas Motor Speedway will move from opening the playoffs the past two years to opening the second round.

Though the Sept. 27 race will be nearly two weeks later and likely in cooler weather, it’s expected the track will keep the 7 p.m. ET starting time. Out of the oppressive early afternoon heat, the grandstands seemed less empty than then 2018 race, which started shortly at 3 p.m. ET.

Podcast: How sim racing might take a driver from 0 to 200 in real life

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Simulation racing might have saved Parker Kligerman’s career, and he believes it will jump-start someone else’s.

During the most recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Kligerman explained his role in the push behind bringing iRacing and eSports in NASCAR to a broader audience.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst began racing simulation racing at 13, the same year that he entered go-kart racing. When his family lacked the money to keep him in a go kart, Kligerman used sim racing as his path to fulfilling the “10,000 Hour Theory” of practicing enough to become an accomplished driver who has won in ARCA and also driven in NASCAR’s top three national series.

With iRacing’s Peak Series expanding into teams and a driver draft this season, Kligerman said the infrastructure has been built for someone to follow his path but without ever beginning in the real world as he did.

“Now there’s a formal way,” Kligerman said. “You’ll see someone with zero experience in real life find their way to a real car because of what we’re doing here.

“That’s the dream of it all. The biggest problem in motorsports is a massive barrier of entry for people. If you had this great linear feeder to the top (in sim racing), it’s a great thing and would get more people involved.”

He could play a role in that having formed Burton Kligerman ESports with fellow NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton. The team scored its first victory Tuesday at Darlington Raceway with driver Ashton Crowder, who also will be competing in the iRacing All-Star Race on NASCAR America today at 5 p.m. ET (NBCSN).

Kligerman also will be competing in the event, which will be held at Rockingham Speedway, through the iRacing simulator in the NASCAR America’s Stamford, Connecticut, studio.

“I fought so hard to be a part of this sport,” Kligerman said on the podcast. “(Sim racing) was the sole connection when I couldn’t drive anything real. I don’t care what walk of life or age, you can potentially be involved in a very high level of motorsports in the future and eventually become a career, a path, a destination. To bring motorsports to the masses, eSports has that ability. The growth been insane for iRacing this year, and the sky’s the limit on what we can achieve, and if we do it right, we can do something that helps the sport in the future.”

Steve Letarte also was a guest on the podcast to discuss the Peak Series team that he formed this season. Letarte’s interest was spurred in part because he was disappointed his daughter was required to know the rules of basketball, baseball and soccer to pass a seventh-grade course – but not racing.

“The best way to grow racing fans is to have them experience racing,” Letarte said. “Both console games and simulation racing have a place to spread that ability much like at a local go-kart track. As a racing community, we all have the obligation to get racing in front of as many young men and women as possible.”

Letarte also talked about being part of the first iRacing broadcast on NASCAR America last month with Burton, Kligerman, Krista Voda and A.J. Allmendinger. The presentation mirrored a NASCAR on NBC broadcast, and Letarte said it also felt like broadcasting a real-world event because of its realism.

“If you took live races and put them in standard definition, you couldn’t tell the difference” from sim racing, he said.

You can listen to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify or by clicking on the embed above.

The second iRacing NASCAR America broadcast from Rockingham Speedway will take place today at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN. If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream. Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Podcast: Life as a gay team member working in the NASCAR community

Ryan Hines
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As a racing fan growing up in rural Ohio, Ryan Hines heard the generalizations about intolerance in the testosterone-charged world of motorsports.

But his first-hand experience has been the opposite.

“I think NASCAR gets a generalized and stereotypical outlook that it’s homophobic and hypermasculine and there’s not any room for people who are gay to be in it,” Hines said during the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “From my experience, it’s really a great community. I’ve met nothing but love and respect from everyone I’ve come across in the sport.

“It’s crazy that growing up I never thought I could be gay and work in NASCAR. I feel a lot of people who may be gay and have aspirations probably have that same mindset that I had growing up. I think it’s important there are role models for those people. Being an example of this guy is gay and is working in NASCAR and able to be himself and do what he loves to do, people being able to see that and know they can do it, too, is a step in the right direction. Having that representation is important.”

Hines, 23, is a coordinator of Xfinity brand content at Stewart-Haas Racing, where he works primarily with handling Chase Briscoe’s schedule and also handles media requests, video content and the team’s podcast.

He entered the NASCAR industry a week after graduating from Ohio State in May 2018, starting at Hendrick Motorsports. The Pleasant Hill, Ohio, native has been around racing (also working at Eldora Speedway through high school and college) for longer than he began publicly talking about his sexuality.

Hines has been out as a gay man since his junior year of high school and initially was concerned about how that would be perceived by racing co-workers.

“You’re told the stereotype of what racing is, and that fans and people involved aren’t accepting,” he said. “You hear that it’s a ‘redneck’ sport, and you associate Southern redneck roots with homophobia, whether it’s true or not. Now that I’m working in the sport, I see past those stereotypes and generalizations and have come to realize that most people in the sport are average people. They don’t care. They want you to be you. If you are who are to them, they’ll respect you for that.”

Hines said his sexual orientation comes up in casual conversation with other team members and without “anyone reacting negatively to it.” In sharing his story on the podcast, Hines hopes to help make it easier for other gay members of the NASCAR community who are reticent about being comfortable enough to discuss it.

“People don’t realize how much effort it takes to hide,” he said. “It’s exhausting because you have to worry about what you do and say.”

NASCAR has launched many initiatives (most famously its Drive for Diversity) over the last 15 years aimed at increasing its fan base among minorities and women.

As Major League Baseball, the NBA and other pro sports leagues have held gay pride nights that help build audience inclusion, Hines would like to see the same in NASCAR but said it’s also trickier.

“You have to be careful with that because there’s the stereotype of what the fan base is,” he said. “You don’t want to seem opportunistic. Launching a clothing line or holding an initiative, you want it to be genuine. I think NASCAR definitely needs to show they are welcoming, but they are struggling with how they do that and don’t seem opportunistic.”

Hines isn’t the first to discuss being gay in the NASCAR industry, but there have been no high-profile members (such as drivers or crew chiefs). In auto racing, five-time Rolex 24 champion Hurley Haywood is likely the most famous driver to have come out (discussing it in a documentary this year that he talked about as a NASCAR on NBC Podcast guest in April).

Hines believes it would be difficult for a driver to come out, but “I think they could come forward and find a lot of acceptance. You’re always going to have people who will say negative things. You’ll have that in any aspect of life. I’d love to see a driver, crew chief or an engineer come forward and embrace who you are and being truthful and honest. You’ll find a lot more acceptance and respect than you’d ever think you could.

“By and large, most large companies in NASCAR sponsoring in some capacity, they wouldn’t bat an eye as long as you aren’t bringing negative publicity and being authentic to who you are. They won’t have an issue with it. As long as you’re performing and a good ambassador to the brand, I don’t think the sexuality really matters.”

Hines said it is a delicate issue to discuss because he doesn’t want to be viewed as “a huge agent of change.

“I don’t want to be this huge trailblazer and try to take on a huge campaign,” he said. “But it’s important to be open and honest about it. The more people who see it as everyday life, the easier it can be.”

To listen to the podcast, you can click on the embed above or via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you download podcasts.

‘You’re the dirtiest car owner in NASCAR’: An oral history of the night Dale Earnhardt spun Terry Labonte

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Richard Childress slipped into a Harley Davidson T-shirt and slipped out of the pits at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He snuck up to the press box with Dale Earnhardt, who also had changed out of his famous black and white firesuit, avoiding legions of angry fans still stewing about one of the most famous finishes in NASCAR history.

There was only so long the owner of the No. 3 Chevrolet could remain incognito, though, after Earnhardt spun Terry Labonte on the last lap to win the Aug. 28, 1999 race at the high-banked short track, and Childress’ luck ran out the next morning while getting breakfast at Hardee’s after a sponsor appearance in North Wilkesboro.

“I walked in, and there was a line, and this little old lady,” Childress said recently with a chuckle. “I never will forget it, she come up to me and said, ‘You’re Richard Childress, aren’t you? I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ She said, ‘You’re the dirtiest car owner in NASCAR, and you have the dirtiest race driver. Terry Labonte is the finest man out there and the best race driver. You should be ashamed of yourself.’

“That’s a true story. Never will forget that young lady.”

“Yeah, it might have been my aunt,” Labonte, who was sitting alongside, cracked. “I don’t know.”

The famous dustup between Earnhardt and Labonte, which left more than 140,000 fans screaming at full volume for nearly 20 minutes after the race, is the subject of a narrative edition of the latest NASCAR on NBC Podcast.

The episode recounts that fateful full-moon night at Bristol from the perspective of several on-track principals and behind-the-scenes players in the pits, victory lane, the scoring tower and the announcer’s booth.

The most memorable part of that Saturday night? The crowd, which mostly booed Earnhardt (a nine-time winner at Bristol).

“It was the loudest moment in sports by a group of fans,” Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Marcus Smith said. “It was absolutely amazing. It’s one of the most memorable moments in all of sports and certainly in NASCAR.”

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

Here are some highlights of what many people recalled about one of the most controversial and thrilling finishes in NASCAR history:


            THE SETUP AND THE SPIN

The Goody’s 500 began with rookie Tony Stewart on the pole position and leading 225 of the first 251 laps. He wouldn’t lead again after that, though, as the second half of the race became a duel between the two stars who had battled for a win at Bristol four years earlier (when Labonte crossed the finish line sideways after being wrecked by Earnhardt at the checkered flag).

Labonte took his first lead on Lap 300 and traded the lead with Earnhardt seven times over the final 200 laps.

Kevin Triplett, then-NASCAR director of operations who was one of the officials in the scoring tower: “It came down to Dale and Terry. They changed the lead several times. It was similar to a really close basketball game where the lead gets swapped a lot and Terry would take it for a while, Dale would take it for a while. There are all of these other things that go on in a race at Bristol, but they had settled in that this was going to be between the two of them. Little did we know at that point how much it was going to be between the two of them.”

Andy Graves, crew chief for Labonte: “Terry is one of the smartest drivers I’ve ever worked with. He’s one of those guys all of a sudden you look up with 100 laps to go, and there he is. He was just real quiet, methodical, going about his business. Took care of the car really good and always would be able to communicate back the changes that he knew he was going to need for the last 100 laps. We always had good finishes at the end.

“We really weren’t very good the first half of the race, but as the rubber laid down, and it started getting choppy that’s what we had tested for, and sure enough, our car came in, and I think from Lap 300 on, we definitely had a pretty good car.”

Labonte was pulling away from Earnhardt with 15 laps to go when smoke began trailing from the car of his younger brother, Bobby. Fluid on track from the expiring engine caused Jeremy Mayfield to spin, bringing out a yellow. As Labonte slowed down from the lead under caution, he was hit from behind by Darrell Waltrip, who was scrambling to get a lap back during an era in which NASCAR still allowed racing back to the caution flag.

Labonte: “Darrell said he sure was glad Dale spun me out, otherwise, he’d have been the one blamed for it. When the caution came out, you raced back to the caution. It was a gentleman’s agreement. You didn’t do that unless you were unlapping yourself or keep someone a lap down. I was lapping Brett Bodine, I eased off the gas, and Darrell ran into the back of me, turned us around. Sitting there backward thinking, ‘This is wonderful.’ With 10 laps to go, backward in 3 and 4.”

Graves: “It was really a no-brainer to pit at that point after getting spun out. He had already had flat-spotted the tires. That really wasn’t that much of a magic call. You pretty much had to do that. In those five laps of green for Terry to get back to Dale and get underneath him and clear him was pretty amazing. Terry was on a mission that night for sure.

Labonte restarted in fifth on the final green flag, quickly passing Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. He had gotten past Earnhardt off Turn 4 to take the white flag before they made contact.

Andy Graves: “Usually when you’re chasing down the leader and coming to the white flag off Turn 4, and you see your driver get underneath the leader, usually, you’re pretty happy. You’re thinking, “OK, we’ve got it.” Right then, I was like, ‘This is not going to end well at all.’ I had this weird gut feeling, and unfortunately, where we were pitted, I had a clear shot to see Terry drive into Turn 1. He had to enter lower because he was side by side by Dale, and unfortunately, the car bottomed out. If you watch the replay, sparks came out, which shot Terry up the track just enough that’s how Dale was able to really plant him in the left-rear corner. I think if Dale had hit him square in the back bumper, we would have been fine. But unfortunately with bottoming out and shooting up one groove, it was just enough. Of course we were upset, but I think my first reaction was, “Yep, I knew that was going to happen.’ ”

Labonte: “I got under Dale on the white flag. I had a bad angle, the car bottomed out, and Dale got in the back of me. We spun out off 2, and that was the end of race for us. Made for some exciting highlights.”

One final attempt at revenge backfired for Labonte after he was spun.

Labonte: “I was sitting there on the back straightaway and had my car running again and had it in reverse, and I saw him come off Turn 2, and he was rolling down the back straightaway, and I had it timed perfect, and I thought to myself, just like it was yesterday, I said, ‘Well that No. 3 might be going to victory lane, but this No. 5 is going to be stuck in the side of it.’ And I was going to back into him and T-bone him. And I had it timed perfect, and when I popped the clutch and gave it the gas, it tore reverse gear out, and the car moved about a half-inch. And just let all the wind out of my sail right there.

“I was like, ‘Well, guess that wasn’t meant to be, either.’ Probably a good thing looking back on it that reverse gear tore out of it, because we probably would have had a heck of a fight with our crews and stuff, so … that probably wouldn’t have been good for any of us.”


              THE AFTERMATH

A crowd of 140,000 remained riveted by the postrace scene, incessantly cheering and booing at ear-splitting volumes as replays and interviews were shown on the large video screen in the middle of the infield.

Dr. Jerry Punch, ESPN pit reporter who interviewed Earnhardt in victory lane: “Probably the most eerie time I’ve ever seen in a victory lane. Every word he said, it got a little bit louder. You know the end of a race, three hours of engine roaring. Thunder Valley, Bristol Motor Speedway, and it gets quiet when the race is over, the guy in victory lane cuts his engine off, everyone shuts their engines down, and it gets nice and quiet. It’s almost eerie. Well, that didn’t happen that night. Earnhardt comes in, the sparklers go off, he shuts the engine off, and it got loud. It got very, very loud.

I’m looking at him, and I probably did half of his 76 victory lane interviews. He’d be smiling and stroking that big bushy mustache. He looks around in a look of bewilderment like, ‘What’s that noise?’ Because literally, there were 140,000 people there, and every single one of them had an opinion on what had just happened. They weren’t all booing. There were a lot of diehard Earnhardt fans there, but there were probably 40,000 Earnhardt fans, and 100,000 who were fans of the other 41 drivers. They all had an opinion. Some were gesturing you’re No. 1 with different fingers. He climbs out of the car and almost before I can ask the first question, he’s apologetic. He says his first phrase, ‘I meant to pay him back,’ and then he goes on. ‘Really just meant to rattle his cage.’ It touched him these were people who were screaming, frustrated and angry. But within a few seconds, he’s Earnhardt, so he won the race and was going to enjoy victory lane, but for just a moment, there was that bewilderment and all the noise.”

Elliott Sadler, who was a rookie making his third Cup start at Bristol: “I remember it like it was yesterday.  What I remember the most is two things. One, Bristol has always done a great job of having the big video screen when they do interviews and stuff so the fans can be a part of the interviews after the race and stuff like that. I just remember how loud the fans were booing and all of that. Half of them cheering, half of them booing when Earnhardt was giving his explanation and all the stuff going to victory lane with Terry Labonte and all that. How loud that place was after the race. It’s probably as loud as it’s ever been at any racetrack that I’ve ever been to. And then people were throwing things. The fans were throwing things and not very happy about the outcome of the race. That’s what I remember was how loud it was. The emotion that was in that stadium after that race.

“I remember getting out of the car and the crowd was going crazy and reacting to everything going on. Loudest postrace I’ve ever been a part of. It was absolutely amazing. So much energy in that stadium. It was awesome.”

Dustin Long, NBCSports.com editor who covered the race in his first season on the NASCAR beat: “I remember being up in the press box 20 minutes later pounding on the keyboard, and I heard all this noise again. I looked up, and they were replaying the last lap of the race, and when it came to the bump, all the fans were booing. Three-fourths of the stands were still full, and no one wanted to leave.”

David McGee, Bristol announcer who interviewed Earnhardt on the track PA: “My biggest recollection of that night was the crowd. When the incident happened, 140,000 people or whatever capacity at that time. Most of them were cheering. But you could hear the boos 70-30, 60-40, whatever. And as events wore on over the next few minutes. The booing got louder. Earnhardt was always super popular at this racetrack, and to hear that kind of booing for Earnhardt here. That was remarkable.

“So he comes to victory lane, Jerry Punch does the first interview. We carried PRN over the PA. I go up and ask the same stupid question that he just answered twice. By now, the crowd is really into it. He says it again: ‘I didn’t mean to wreck him. I meant to rattle his cage.’ The crescendo of boos now is like 70-30 against Earnhardt. He was looking around like, ‘Wow, did I make people that mad?’ You could see the look on his face.

“My other vivid memory of that night is nobody left. We’re 10 minutes after the race, usually the crowd is flying out the gate. Everybody stayed. I don’t know what they were waiting for. I don’t know if they thought there was going to be a big fistfight. Finally, Terry Labonte finally came out of the hauler and talked to PRN. He made a comment about, ‘He never means to wreck anybody but he wrecked me anyway.’ The crowd is losing their mind at this point. Jeff Byrd, our general manager at the time, we’re standing in victory lane taking in this scene, and Jeff said, ‘Turn that off, we’ve got to get these people out of here. People are way too upset now.’ I go find our sound guy working in victory lane, and he cut everything off. Silence. Then the crowd starts to dissipate and everyone starts to leave. The energy was just … it was a full moon night. If we’d have kept interviewing people, people would have stayed to watch. They were expecting something else to happen.”

Triplett: “And as loud as it was in the grandstands, on the other side of that glass (in the control tower), I think I remember was a bit of silence from the rest of us just standing there like what just happened? And on the other side of the glass it was anything but silence. I mean this place … I’ve been in and around racing and watching races since ’86-87, and I’ve never heard a combination of cheers and boos and jeers that was that loud at one time in my life, and I don’t remember ever hearing Earnhardt getting booed. Now it wasn’t exclusive. There were cheers and people with 3 hats and black hats waving, before he even got back around on his cooldown lap, it was crazy. I guess the easiest way to explain it was sheer emotion. Regardless of if people were happy he won or mad, everybody, and I usually don’t like absolutes, but I think everyone in the grandstands was yelling something, whether positive or negative.”

George Shaw, Bristol fan who has been sitting in the Turn 1 grandstands since 1997: “I guess the one thing I remember the most, even Earnhardt fans were booing Earnhardt that night. Which kind of amazed me. Because he got booed a lot anyway, but for his own fans, some of them to be booing him, was something I’d never experienced before. One of my best friends was sitting in the row right in front of me and he’s a diehard Earnhardt fan, he’s probably got 300 Earnhardt diecasts and everything. He was booing him. Which absolutely shocked me.”

Chocolate Myers, gas man for Earnhardt: “All the cheers and boos from the fans, the one thing that Richard Childress told all of us, ‘Boys, you may want to take those Goodwrench shirts off before you leave here tonight.’ I took his advice. I had on a T-shirt. When we left that racetrack that night, there were so many people out there, that it was a little scary to be quite honest with you. Because I was so big, I could take my uniform off, and they could still spot me. So I was a little bit concerned. To be part of that back in those days and go there and now be friends and be able to relive those memories, it’s awesome.”

Childress: “Yeah, we had our concerns because there was people that were really upset. I put on a Harley-Davidson T-Shirt when I left. I actually wore it up to the press box with Dale. Yeah, there were some people that were upset. The little old lady the next day in North Wilkesboro who told me I was the dirtiest car owner that had ever been in NASCAR and had the dirtiest driver that had ever been. I thought she was going to whip on me right there at Hardee’s.”


              CRIME AND PUNISHMENT?

Would NASCAR penalize The Intimidator or even strip the victory? Was the move intentional enough to merit punishment? That was the discussion immediately after the race and in the days that followed among many.

Triplett: “We watched the replay. How do you make that decision of what was going through someone’s mind? There have been times I’ve been in the tower and it was fairly easy. There would be one driver who shall remain nameless, I think it was the last race he wore white gloves. We noticed on the replay there was a very distinct turn of the white gloves. I don’t think he ever wore white gloves after that. We were able to tell there was a very distinct movement of the steering wheel into the car beside him. So that was a much easier to decision to make. We felt confident there was intent there.

“This one, because of the emotion and the reaction, I don’t think we were prepared to do anything at that point anyway. I think it was we’re going to look at this, review this and take a look and see. Because you don’t want to add, regardless of booing or cheering, you don’t want to add fuel to that fire at that point. If you’re going to make a decision, it needs to be with all your faculties about you where it’s not on emotion. It’s on what you have in front of you. Anything that occurred that night would have been on emotion. That was an emotional night.

“It was one of those things like what is the basis (for a penalty)? There were double-digit cautions. How is that any different from the wreck that happened 10 laps earlier for Terry to get tires? We have to peel away all of these other layers of the onion and the emotion. We had to decide what did we know happened and how does that compare to any other racing incident coming to the checkered flag over the course of the years. We decided there’s no there there, or at least not enough to do anything. I think there was a reaction to that. I think some people were disappointed there wasn’t a fine. I don’t remember us ever discussing the win not being a good win. It was more is there a fine or probation. That sort of thing. I don’t ever discussing the win being part of the equation. Then it was how do we determine if there’s a penalty.

Larry McReynolds: “This was a Saturday night race, and on Monday, we were flying to St. Louis to do some more testing with the 2000 Monte Carlo. I got to the (airport) early Monday morning, and Dale drove up. I said, ‘That was an interesting finish, wasn’t it?’ And honestly, it was just him and I standing there, and he kind of dropped his head and said, ‘I’m telling you, that’s not the way I wanted to win that race. I’m not going to give the trophy back, I can promise you that. I really just wanted to nudge him and move him on up out of the way. I hate the outcome was what it was. I know everybody is upset with me. That’s not the way I wanted it.’ I said ‘Dale, I don’t know if I’m buying that or not. You may convince someone else.’ But he seemed very sincere that’s not the outcome he wanted. He was selling, but I wasn’t buying. Because I worked with him and knew what he was like at Bristol.”

Childress: “I talked to Dale the next morning. Honestly, he didn’t mean to wreck Terry. He meant to move him out of the way. The one thing I remember about it was how close we come to losing the race. I think it caught Dale a little off guard that he did wreck, and that Jimmy Spencer almost won the race that night.”

Labonte on when he talked with Earnhardt: “It was the next week at driver introductions. I never will forget it. We were sitting there, and it just so happens we had qualified kind of close to each other at Darlington, and we went to driver introductions, and everybody was standing around waiting for the time to get introduced, and I turned around, and he was standing there, and we kind of looked at each other, and John Andretti was standing there, and John looked at me and looked at Dale and said I’m standing in the wrong place, and that just broke the ice, and everyone kind of laughed about it. We went on around that race.”


              THE LEGACY AND THE WAY OF THE INTIMIDATOR

Triplett: “In the legend of NASCAR fandom, it’s become in some instances the legend of NASCAR Woodstock, where 600,000 people were at Woodstock, but 300 million people say they were there. The number of people who say they were at that ’99 race and talk about it is just amazing. And maybe they were I don’t know. It’s just crazy at what happened and the fact that 20 years later people are still talking about it

“I’ve seen a lot of sports, but I haven’t seen anything to compare it to that. You had a couple of legends. Guys now in the Hall of Fame who had won their share of championships and races here between them. 11 or 12 wins. It was just the unbelievable emotion and was sustained and lasted. There were people still buzzing about it. Especially living here in Bristol. It’s not uncommon over the years for people to say I was sitting in Turn 2 and know exactly where they were sitting. I spent 10 years at the speedway, we would talk to season ticket holders and get their memories of why they had season tickets at Bristol. And almost every one of them would say, at some point, they would talk about ’99. It was one of those I was at Woodstock moments.”

Childress: “Dale was a great driver everywhere, but he was really a master when it come to (Bristol) and Darlington. The toughest tracks to get around, Dale was one of the drivers who could manage. He had car control. He had the feel of the race cars, and he had the vision to be able to run as close and tight as he could with cars. That’s what it takes at Bristol.”

Graves: “I’ve never watched the whole race back. To be totally honest with you. Last night just watched a little bit so I didn’t sound totally stupid with my memory here today, but it’s something that I know it’s become one of the iconic finishes in the sport. I appreciate all the history with NASCAR, but I kind of wish that we were on the winning end of that one.

Labonte: “I loved everything about Bristol and still do. It’s one of my favorite races to watch, but it was one of those deals we didn’t come out on top that, but hey, that’s just how things happened. Doesn’t take long. You get over it. You move on. If you held a grudge about something like that, you’d be miserable. If you held a grudge for every little thing that went wrong. So I was always I didn’t hold grudges.

Larry McReynolds: “I worked with Dale for two seasons of 97-98, a) he loved that racetrack. He loved Daytona, loved Talladega, loved Darlington, but he loved Bristol. I saw it all the years of racing against him. How hard he would run you at that racetrack. My last year as a crew chief, 2000, we were leading the race and probably a straightaway lead. I bet Dale was 50 laps down, and he ran Mike Skinner from the wall to the apron for 20something laps. I finally went down there and about knocked Richard off the pit box. Are you not going to do anything? He looked at me, you tell him to move over, I ain’t telling him. That was just Dale. It didn’t matter if it was for the win. It didn’t matter if it was for 10th, 20th. Or he was 50 laps down, he didn’t discriminate. He raced everybody, even his teammates, just as hard.

“I remember one of the races I was working with him, we got ready to go out for final practice, and he was just about to back out, and I said hold on a minute, hold on a minute. Just sit tight a second. I went digging through the toolbox. He went, “What are you looking for?” I said a hammer. What do you want to do with a hammer? I said I’m going to go ahead and just beat the front end off it because I know that’s what I’m going to go tune to all night probably after Lap 10 or 15 because I know you’re going to beat the nose off and the complain about the way the car is driving. He definitely loved that little old half-mile racetrack.”

Richard Childress: “He wasn’t going to give up. He never gave up. One thing that made Dale so great. I remember talking to him about it. Sitting around at Daytona in a rain deal. I said Dale how in the hell do you go so good them last 50 laps or something. How do you get so strong at the very end? He said I want it worse than the rest of them. So that was the Dale Earnhardt I knew.”

Podcast: Rumors and the rise, fall and rebirth of Jayski’s Silly Season

Jayski
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The most famous – and at one point, the most powerful – website in NASCAR history started as a class project in a college computer lab.

While learning basic HTML programming in 1996, Jay Adamcyk was assigned to create a web page. Its focus was Ernie Irvan, his favorite NASCAR driver. In the infancy of Internet, it drew many questions from fans interested in the status of other drivers, or the annual movement between teams that is known colloquially as “Silly Season” in NASCAR.

Adamcyk made a chart to track drivers in the Cup Series and rechristened the page as “Jayski’s Silly Season” on Aug. 26, 1996.

The logo that has become synonymous with the Jayski Silly Season site is a caricature of its founder, Jay Adamcyk.

“That just frickin’ took off,” Adamcyk recalled during the most recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, which catalogs the history of a site that was named multiple times to the Charlotte Observer’s list of the 25 most influential, people, places and things in NASCAR.

By the end of 1996, Jayski.com (which was named after the nickname that Adamcyk had picked up while serving in the U.S. Air Force) was averaging an impressive 5,000 page views daily.

Within five years, it had become the primary clearinghouse for NASCAR news and information (as well as a vast gallery of more than 2,000 paint schemes) and drawn traffic in the seven figures on its most popular days.

Virtually every driver who currently races in NASCAR’s national series was affected by Jayski, whether as the subject of one of its reports or as a valuable resource tool.

“When I found out about Jayski and knew what Jayski was, I was on that thing whether it was daily or weekly,” Kyle Busch said on the podcast. “It was a religion going on there checking it out. My favorite, favorite, favorite time of year was December or January when everyone was coming out with new paint schemes for the next year. I’d go on there every day like, ‘Whose new paint scheme got released today?’”

Kevin Harvick was an admirer of the site but also wary of being connected with it during contract negotiations or team personnel changes.

“Man, a lot of secrets got out,” Harvick said. “For me, when I first started, I used to pull up Jayski every day. That was really where I went to get all my racing news, and as I got further into the sport, I realized that was not the place where I wanted to have my name at was on Jayski unless it was something really good.

“But if there were rumors on there, you knew they were coming from somewhere near your situation because they were usually true. It was a pretty valid place and source of information.”

NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton recalls that Jayski “was a shit stirrer. That was the site that would print anything, write rumors, if you wanted to hear a rumor that’s where you went. It was not without facts. I’m not saying they were always wrong. But they were willing to print the rumors and talk about the rumors about the sport in general. Driver changes, sponsors changes, crew member changes.

“They seemed to have an in with teams and the willingness to print things that other people wouldn’t print. When I think of Jayski, that’s what I think about. It turned and evolved into much more of a reference.”

During the podcast, Adamcyk recalled receiving 100 tips daily from the NASCAR industry when the site was at its peak (once drawing close to 100 million page views annually in 2005). He also lamented running rumors from sources who later turned out to be incorrect and occasionally angering some prominent people (“Richard Childress wanted to kill me at one time.”).

“When something came out, and it was totally wrong, I was not happy. I was very upset with myself for falling for it. But sometimes it might have been in the works, and then they decided not to do it.”

Jayski.com was acquired by ESPN.com in 2006. A site redesign and the rise of social media (which hampered Jayski’s ability to break news) led to a nearly 30 percent decline in page views. In January, ESPN.com shut down the site but eventually returned its rights to Adamcyk.

The site was relaunched May 13 with its throwback black and yellow background and goofy clip art that harkens to its mid-1990s origins. It also has restored its meticulous archive of paint schemes, which have become one of its primary drivers of traffic.

“It’s been really, really cool,” Adamcyk said of the relaunch. “We were known for being about rumors when we started the site. That’s no longer the case. There’s not a lot of rumors out there now. It’s a whole different world now.

“For a while there, I was wondering how relevant the site was even anymore. When everything went down this year, I guess people still liked us doing it.”

To listen to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast episode about Jayski, click on the embed above or listen via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you download podcasts.