Alan Kulwicki

Bump & Run: Recounting most memorable Cup races

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What are the two or three most memorable NASCAR races you attended?

Nate Ryan: June 21, 1997, California Speedway: New NASCAR sensation Jeff Gordon christens Roger Penske’s new racing palace with a victory in its inaugural race weekend that also was the first Cup experience for many in attendance (including this writer). July 7, 2001, Daytona International Speedway: In one of the most feel-good moments in NASCAR history, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the first Cup race held at the track since his father’s death there five months earlier. Aug. 7, 2005, Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Tony Stewart finally breaks through at the hometown track that tormented him for a decade, climbing the fence after a Brickyard victory that became the signature moment of his second championship season. 

Dustin Long: The inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indy in 1994 with that massive crowd, Dale Earnhardt trying to lead that opening lap, the Bodine brothers brouhaha and Jeff Gordon winning it. The October 2000 Talladega race that Earnhardt rallied from 18th with five laps left to win. July 2001 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the first Cup race at Daytona after his father’s death.

Daniel McFadin: My first NASCAR race ever in 1997 with the inaugural Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway when I was 6. Flash forward to 2011 for my first race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I witnessed Paul Menard‘s surprise Brickyard 400 win over Jeff Gordon. But as an adult, the most exciting race I’ve ever attended was last year’s inaugural Cup event on the Charlotte Roval. The final lap is one of the wildest things I’ve ever seen and probably will see in the near future.

Jerry Bonkowski: The 1988 Checker 500 at the then-Phoenix International Raceway. It was Alan Kulwicki’s first career Winston Cup win and he celebrated by performing the first-ever “Polish Victory Lap,” where he drove in the opposite direction around the 1-mile track before going on to victory lane. The 1994 Brickyard 400. It was near-magical with a sellout crowd watching the first time NASCAR had ever raced upon the greatest racetrack in the world. The 2011 Ford 400. Tony Stewart won the race and captured his third career NASCAR Cup championship. But after the race was the most surreal setting I’ve ever seen in racing. As Stewart celebrated his win, it was also announced that crew chief Darian Grubb was being fired. It was such an awkward scene, but to Grubb’s credit, he handled it like the true pro he is, answering all questions — even the ones that involved his firing.

 

Talladega, Dover, Kansas, All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 are the next five Cup events. What will you be watching for in this next stretch?

Nate Ryan: Whether the Gibbs-Penske stranglehold is broken.

Dustin Long: What team or teams can get to victory lane that don’t run for Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. Can Kyle Larson shake his poor start and be a factor? Also will be curious to see how the package fares in these races, particularly the 1.5-mile tracks. 

Daniel McFadin: I’m interested to see how the rules package performs at Charlotte a year after its early draft was introduced in the All-Star Race. This package was introduced to improve competition on 1.5-mile tracks, with Charlotte being one of the main culprits. The All-Star Race and the Coke 600 will be the most significant tests for the package yet for me.

Jerry Bonkowski: Whether teams that have struggled or haven’t enjoyed better overall success in the first quarter of the season start to rebound. Will we see upward movement in the standings and better performance from guys like Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Daniel Hemric, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman and others? To me, the key race will be the 600. If teams that have struggled up to now don’t start turning things around by the Memorial Day weekend race, will their seasons essentially be lost by then?

 

Talladega is Dash 4 Cash race in the Xfinity Series. Drivers earning Cup points are barred from competing in 12 of 33 Xfinity races (Dash 4 Cash races and final eight races of the year). Is that enough?

Nate Ryan: Too many. Would prefer to see the trend toward restricting lower-level starts be reversed. 

Dustin Long: Don’t need to further bar drivers scoring Cup points from any other Xfinity races.

Daniel McFadin: I’m for limiting Cup drivers as much as possible in Xfinity, but the 12 races overall is reasonable given the significance of those races. Only alteration I’d propose: Outside those races, Cup drivers with more than five years of experience can’t compete in consecutive races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Given that Cup regulars with more than five years of full-time experience in the series are even more restricted — to just seven starts per season in the Xfinity Series — yes, I feel that’s enough. Cup drivers doing any more than seven Xfinity starts — not including Cup regulars with less than five years of full-time Cup experience — would water down the chance for the Xfinity regulars to shine on their own.

 

Matt Kenseth to race at Slinger Nationals in July

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Former Cup champion Matt Kenseth plans to compete in the July 9 Slinger Nationals at Slinger Speedway, the track announced on its Facebook page.

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, ran 665 races in his Cup career, winning 39 times. The two-time Daytona 500 champion competed in 15 Cup races last year for Roush Fenway Racing to help the organization improve its cars. His last Cup race was in the 2018 season finale in Miami.

In a statement to the track, Kenseth said of returning to run the Slinger Nationals:

“I can’t think of a better place for me to get back in a race car than Slinger. It’s been a good track for me throughout my career. We’ve had a lot of success there, a lot of memorable moments, and I’m looking forward to going back.

“The Nationals have always been one of the major events in all of short track racing. Certainly it was the one you wanted to win growing up in Wisconsin. Throughout the years, a lot of big names in NASCAR have raced in the Nationals. That’s a testament to how big of a race this has been for some time.”

Kenseth is a seven-time Slinger Nationals champion, winning the event in 1994, 2002, ’06, ’08, ’09, ’12, ’16.

Among those who have won the Slinger Nationals are Alan Kulwicki, Dick Trickle, Mark Martin and Kyle Busch

Watch NASCAR Hall of Fame induction at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The 10th NASCAR Hall of Fame class will be inducted tonight, with the ceremony beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

This year’s five-member class is one of the most prolific and is headlined by four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

Gordon’s induction comes four years after he ended his full-time career at the end of 2015.

“It’s been a hell of a ride, I can tell you that,” Gordon said on Sunday prior to his induction into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame. “Each year that I’m out of being in a competitive environment I appreciate the career I had, the time that I came into the sport, the people I was able to connect with. The media, how the press treated me over the years and told my story. I now look back on it and go, ‘Damn, did all that really happen?’ It just seemed like it flew by in the moments that I was competing.”

Here’s who will join the Gordon in the Hall of Fame.

Alan Kulwicki – The 1992 Cup champion won five career Cup races before he was killed in a plane crash in 1993 on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway from a sponsor appearance.

Davey Allison – The son of Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, Davey won 19 races, including the 1992 Daytona 500 and was the 1987 Cup Rookie of the Year. Three months after Kulwicki’s death, Allison died from injures suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Jack Roush – Owner of Roush Fenway Racing, Roush has scored a record 325 victories across NASCAR’s national series. He won his first Cup title in 2003 with Matt Kenseth and won the 2004 title with Kurt Busch. Roush has five Xfinity championships and one Camping World Truck Series title.

Roger Penske – The owner of Team Penske, “The Captain” is a two-time Cup championship owner with Brad Keselowski (2012) and Joey Logano (2018). Penske built Auto Club Speedway and once owned Michigan International Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway. 

Click here at 8 p.m. ET to watch online.

Friday 5: Davey Allison makes one Cup driver’s Dream Team

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The NASCAR Hall of Fame celebrates its 10th class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and while the spotlight may be on Jeff Gordon, there’s one inductee who is special to Ryan Blaney.

Asked this week who he would have on a four-driver fantasy team if he could choose competitors from any era, Blaney told NBC Sports that he would have Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Jimmie Johnson.

Allison will join Gordon, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush in the Hall of Fame tonight.

So why did Blaney choose Allison for his dream team?

“I watched all of his races and heard stories about him,” Blaney said. “He obviously came from a great racing family. He was so successful in the short time he was around the sport. He was definitely taken too soon. You never know what his potential could have been.”

Allison won 19 times in 191 starts, including the 1992 Daytona 500. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1987 and finished second to his father, Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, in the 1988 Daytona 500. Davey Allison died July 13, 1993, from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway. He was 32.

“I got to know the Allison family a little bit and just hearing some stories about him and how he was always one of the nicest guys in the garage and his skill behind the wheel was pretty amazing and what he fought through,” Blaney said of what stands out to him about Allison. “There was a year when he was almost hurt about every single week and he made a run for the championship. That dedication is pretty amazing. I just would have loved to have seen his potential and seen what would have been. I think he definitely would have been a multiple-time champion.”

2. New year, new address

Ryan Newman has switched teams before but he says his move to Roush Fenway Racing this season is unique.

“Everything is new for me,” Newman told NBC Sports. “Absolutely everything. Every aspect of what I’ll be doing from the manufacturer, the team, the car owner, crew chief, pit crew, there’s not a single person that I’ve really worked with, that I know of, in the shop throughout my racing career, which I think is a good thing.

“It keeps everything fresh. It gives me opportunity to build new chemistry and that chemistry, we all know, is so powerful in our sport.

“I know there’s a lot of work that goes into it because I’ve been in this position before but not to this extent. We’re building a new team. It’s not like I’m going into the organization that I left from where we had an existing team and I was just a plug and play driver. This is plug and play everyone and I think it comes with a lot of responsibility.”

What does he mean by responsibility?

“Just everybody has to do their job,” he said. “It’s like building that chemistry. Everybody on the team has to take responsibility for their 100 percent for everybody to have that collective 100 percent. I think of as a driver I’ve got to do my job, my crew chief has to do his job, pit crew has to do their job, Jack Roush has to do his job. Collectively, we can all do our jobs and still be a seventh-place car that day, so we have to figure out how to be better than everybody else, commit to 100 percent, deliver 100 percent and take responsibility for it.”

3. Adjusting to the new rules

Jimmie Johnson is in Las Vegas to complete the second day of testing with the new rules package today.

Before he left for the test, he talked about how with less horsepower, drivers are in the gas more. He told NBC Sports how he has used the throttle in the past to control the car and this will be an adjustment.

“I think it’s less natural for me,” he said of staying on the throttle more. “ I’ve always been better with more power and trying to control wheel spin. You think about my dirt days and we always had way more power than traction. So that environment is good for me. When you take power away, that’s just not the way I grew up racing. I always had way too much power and not enough traction. This, technically I think works against me.”

We’ll see how the seven-time champion adjusts.

4. A memorable experience (for the wrong reason)

Kevin Harvick has been in the Rolex 24 once, or so the records state, listing him as finishing 69th in 2002.

“My first experience was a bad experience,” he told NBC Sports. “It was kind of a last-minute deal. I qualified the car and got to practice and got all the way up to the race. Whoever was driving first, it wound up blowing up, so I never actually got to participate in the race.

“I would say that that door is not closed (to running in that race again). I wouldn’t say that it’s high on the priority list currently at this particular time just because If I ever go do it again … I want to be in the fastest class because I don’t want to have to look at my mirror all day because it’s definitely not something that I would be looking forward to do.

“(Competing in that race) would definitely be something that would be interesting if the right opportunity came about but not something I’m actively seeking.”

5. One final weekend

This marks the final weekend before Cup cars are on track. Teams take to the track Feb. 9 for practice for the Clash and for Daytona 500 qualifying. The Clash is Feb. 10.

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Sorry, LeBron: Kyle Busch says ‘you can’t self-proclaim’ as greatest ever

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If we were choosing a fantasy team of four drivers across any era in NASCAR, Kyle Busch would list himself with David Pearson, Tim Flock and Dale Earnhardt.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the 2015 champion considers himself one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history yet.

“I’m not going to answer that question,” Busch told NBC Sports when asked during an interview this week. “Because it’s not for me to answer.”

The 2015 series champion was one of a few dozen drivers who sat down with a crew from NASCAR America to answer a series of questions, one of which was: What four drivers are on your NASCAR fantasy team?

Busch was the only NASCAR driver in his answer to cite LeBron James, who recently proclaimed himself to be the greatest NBA player of all time. Leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 championship after falling behind 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors made him The Greatest, James said, though others took umbrage at the assessment.

“Everybody was like how they’re the greatest team of all-time, they were the greatest team ever assembled,” James said. “And for us to come back, the way we came back in that fashion, I was like ‘You did something special.’ ”

Busch said he wouldn’t allow himself that declaration as NASCAR star.

“I’m kinda weirded out by what LeBron James had to say a few weeks ago about he feels as though he’s the greatest of all time,” Busch said. “You can’t self-proclaim that. I’ll never self-proclaim myself as the greatest of all time.”

The decided lack of hubris might seem discordant with the self-proclaimed “KB Show” who takes a bow to the grandstands after each of his victories and regularly challenges his detractors on social media. Busch seems to relish being the center of attention as one of the more polarizing drivers in the Cup Series.

But Busch, who has 194 victories across the top three series (including 51 in Cup), takes a more modest view in ranking his own accomplishments.

“Will I put myself in the discussion and say am I one of (the greatest ever)? Yes,” he said. “Do I feel as though I could be one of the greatest of all time, like if it’s top five that you’re talking about? I would say yes.

“But never the No. 1.”

NASCAR America will return to NBCSN at 5 p.m. on Feb. 11. Stay tuned for how drivers answered that question along with many others.

And watch this Friday at 8 p.m. on NBCSN as the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 2019 class (Jeff Gordon, Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison) is inducted in Charlotte.

Regardless of how he ranks himself, Busch undoubtedly will be enshrined there someday.