BK Racing

Getty Images

Friday 5: Jeffrey Earnhardt ready for challenge of winning Xfinity races

Leave a comment

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Jeffrey Earnhardt sighs and says “too long.”

He rests his head in his hand and stares ahead.

“It’s been too long,” Earnhardt says since he last won a race. “Hell, I can’t remember. That’s pretty sad. It’s been a while.”

A journey that started with racing a Yugo — yes, a Yugo — and later moved from small team to small team in NASCAR, now has its reward more than a decade later.

Earnhardt will drive in nine Xfinity races for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, beginning with the Feb. 16 season opener at Daytona International Speedway. 

The expectations are high — “it’s wins or nothing” he saidbut the pressure can’t compare to what Earnhardt faced to reach this point.

“The pressure to go and get in a car that is capable of winning, that’s the pressure I’ve been looking for my whole life,” he said, wearing a black Joe Gibbs Racing T-shirt in a conference room at the team’s Cup headquarters.

Instead, the pressure has been to survive in the sport. Beginning with the Yugo.

He begged his father for a couple of years to let him race. His dad eventually relented, saying Earnhardt could compete if he found a car and sponsorship to pay for it. Earnhardt got the Yugo and sponsorship for it.

He never won in that car. But he didn’t drive it long.

“I ended up flipping it,” Earnhardt said of a race at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Virginia. “Because it was so slow. A guy shoved me off in the corner and turned me sideways and another car came and hit the front end of the car … and turned me head-on into the outside wall. Flipped. Landed on its roof.

“I was like, ‘Man, this thing is going to catch on fire.’ I’d seen too many movies. I ended up getting my shoelace hung on the brake pedal and didn’t think I was going to make it out alive. Everyone was like, ‘You’re fine, we’ve got you.’ ”

He thought everything would be fine when he joined Dale Earnhardt Inc. and drove in what is now the K&N Pro Series East Series in 2007-08.

“Signed a four-year contract at 17 years old and thought, this is going to be a walk in the park,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports. “Everything is going to be taken care of.”

But his ride went away after DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing in November 2008. The struggle to find rides began. Earnhardt ran one K&N Pro Series East race and two Xfinity races in 2009. He ran five Truck races in 2010. In 2011, he drove in two Xfinity races and five Truck races.

Earnhardt fought in one MMA bout in 2012 — he won — but realized afterward that he still wanted to race.

“I did the MMA thing to try to find something that gave me that rush that I get in a race car and it still wasn’t the equivalent,” Earnhardt said.

He continued to search for rides.

“What my grandfather did and his legacy means the world to me,” Earnhardt said of the late Dale Earnhardt. “I would hate to not think that I gave literally everything I possibly could to make it continue.”

He’s driven in 151 races in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks but never with a team that could compete for wins. His best Xfinity finish is 12th at Bristol (2014) and Talladega (2015). His best Cup finish is 11th in last July’s Daytona race.

With JGR, top 10s should be common. Earnhardt will drive the No. 18, a car that won twice last year with Ryan Preece at Bristol and Kyle Busch at Pocono and saw Noah Gragson finish second with in his Xfinity debut at Richmond last year.

“I was talking on the phone with my manager and I was like, I’ve gone from the struggle of trying to keep the car under me for the whole entire race and not wreck to now the struggle is going to be those late-race restarts when you’re on the front row,” Earnhardt said. “That’s a new challenge, it’s a good challenge.”

2. Reversal of fortune

What would have happened had NASCAR disqualified cars last year that failed inspection after a race instead of doing it this season?

Two Cup races would have had different winners.

Kyle Busch would have finished the season with a series-high nine wins instead of being tied with Kevin Harvick at eight.

Harvick would have lost his win at Las Vegas after his car was found to have an issue with the rear window during an inspection at NASCAR’s R&D Center. That would have given Busch, the runner-up, the win.

Also, Harvick would have lost his Texas win for an issue with the spoiler — also discovered at the R&D Center. But runner-up Ryan Blaney was penalized because his car failed inspection and the win would have gone to Joey Logano, who finished third in that race.

Nine cars that finished in the top four in a Cup race last year failed inspection after the event and would have been disqualified under this year’s rules.

3. Disqualification penalty appeals

Should a vehicle be disqualified after failing inspection after the race, the team can appeal. They will have to pay a non-refundable appeal filing fee of $5,000.

Unlike a regular appeal, which features a panel of three people, the race disqualification appeal will be heard by one person. It could be one of the 28 people listed in the rule book as appeal panelists or it could be the Final Appeal Officer or their alternate.

One thing to note in this particular type of case is that the decision of that one panelist is final. The decision cannot be appealed to the Final Appeal Officer.

4. Charter transfers

With a new season, comes the transfer of charters in Cup.

Six of the 36 charters have changed teams for this season.

The charter that was with BK Racing’s No. 23 car last year, which Front Row Motorsports purchased, will be with the No. 38 car of David Ragan.

The charter that had been with Ragan’s team goes to teammate Matt Tifft. Front Row Motorsports added a car, growing to a third team this season.

The charter with Richard Petty Motorsport’s No. 43 car with Bubba Wallace goes to Rick Ware Racing and will be aligned with the No. 51 car and driven by B.J. McLeod in the Daytona 500.

The charter that was with Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 car last year goes to RPM’s No. 43 car this season.

Furniture Row Racing’s charter was purchased by Spire Motorsports and be used with the No. 77 car. That will be No. 40 for Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500 and then go back to No. 77 the rest of the season. 

The charter that had been with the No. 72 car of TriStar Motorsports moves to the No. 52 car at Rick Ware Racing.

5. Rule changes

NASCAR came out with a bulletin this week that updated its rule book.

Among some of the changes:

— Drivers must have all four tires below the orange box at the commitment line to enter pit road. That had been the case last year at all tracks except Martinsville. Drivers needed to only put two tires under the orange box there. Now, they will have to adjust at Martinsville.

— A pit crew member’s foot must not touch pit road before the vehicle is one pit box away from its assigned pit box or the equivalent marked distance. Should a crew member’s foot or both feet touch the pit road surface too early, the pit crew member can re-establish their position back to or behind the pit wall before servicing the car to avoid a penalty.

— A sixth person can go over the wall during a pit stop but that person’s duties are limited to servicing the driver in their health and well-being, assisting with safety systems, window net, helmet and cooling ventilation hose, radio system replacement, steering wheel wiring, providing personal medical supplies and cleaning the windshield. Such a person, though, is not allowed to help repair the body and/or mechanical components on the car.

 and on Facebook

Corey LaJoie to drive for Go Fas Racing

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
1 Comment

Corey LaJoie will race full time in 2019 for Go Fas Racing in the No. 32 Ford, the team announced on Thursday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I’ve always respected Archie (St. Hilaire), Mason (St. Hilaire) and everyone at Go Fas Racing because they are constantly building their race team better every year,” LaJoie said in a release. “I’m glad to be part of that continued growth for 2019 and look forward to getting on track and being in a position to show more of my potential.

“The most success in my career has been behind the wheel of a Ford from the ARCA and K&N series so I’m ready to jump into that mean looking Ford Mustang this season. Also, some of my best results in the Cup series have been with (crew chief) Randy (Cox) on the box. There couldn’t be a better guy to lead our team!”

LaJoie has 57 previous starts in Cup competition with a career-best 11th at Daytona in the 2017 Coke Zero 400 while driving for BK Racing.

LaJoie has six wins in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and three in the ARCA Series.

Last year, Go Fas Racing earned one top 10 – also in the Coke Zero 400. Matt DiBenedetto finished seventh in that event.

“Every year we feel like our program takes a step forward and securing Corey should help us continue to move that direction,” Go Fas Racing general manager Mason St. Hilaire said in a release. “We’ve learned and grown a lot in our time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and I believe our results reflect that growth.

“We’re very excited about the potential our team has this year. Every year we’ve been able to improve our program in different areas, and we fully believe that this coming season will be no different. Corey is a driver we’ve kept our eyes on for several years, and he’s impressed and delivered when given the opportunity. We think he’s a great fit for our program and can’t wait to get this season under way.”

Go Fas Racing is using a charter from the No. 33 Circle Sport team.

St. Hilaire said the team still has 10 races of sponsorship to fill.

Go Fas Racing has also partnered with Team Penske to use one of its pit crews.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

 

 

New owners purchase Furniture Row Racing’s charter

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
6 Comments

Spire Sports + Entertainment, an agency that represents drivers and sponsors and works with some NASCAR teams, has purchased Furniture Row Racing’s charter, NBC Sports confirmed Tuesday.

The new team’s car number will be 77. The team will field Chevrolets. Driver, sponsor and an alliance will be announced at a later date.

The team will be co-owned by Jeff Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr, among the founders of Spire.

“We think this is the perfect time to buy in,” Dickerson told NBC Sports about why the company was moving into the role of a car owner and purchasing a charter. “Our guys sit in board rooms and tell people how much they believe in the sport. We believe in this sport. We believe in the leadership.”

The Furniture Row Racing charter is the most valuable charter to be sold. Part of the money paid to teams with charters is based off performance the past three years. With a championship and runner-up finish the past two years, the Furniture Row Racing charter will provide more money than any of the previous charters that have been sold. Furniture Row Racing ceased operations after this season.

A NASCAR spokesperson said that the sanctioning body does not reveal the price of charters but NBC Sports has learned that this is the most paid for a charter. The only charter price that has been revealed came from the sale of BK Racing’s charter through bankruptcy court in August. Front Row Motorsports purchased that charter and team equipment for $2.08 million.

There are 36 charters in Cup. A charter team is guaranteed a starting spot each race. To maintain the charter, a team must compete in every race.

This will be the first time for Dickerson and Puchyr to be Cup car owners. They can provide the new ownership that some have questioned for the sport as the current group of owners age.

Spire Sports + Entertainment was founded in 2010. Among the drivers the company represents are: Kyle Larson, James Hinchcliffe, Landon Cassill, Ross Chastain, Todd Gilliland, Justin Haley, Vinnie Miller and Garrett Smithley.

Spire Sports + Entertainment also provides services to Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, GMS Racing and Toyota Racing Development.

 

 

Friday 5: What Joey Logano has in common with other champions

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
2 Comments

While Joey Logano might not have had the best season statistically, he left Miami as the Cup champion.

For those who question Logano’s merits as a champ because he didn’t win the most races, understand that it is common for the champion to not have the most wins in a season.

In the last 20 years, the champion has not had the most wins 65 percent of the time. That’s a stretch that includes when the championship was decided by season-long points total, when the Chase was created and when the elimination format debuted in 2014 that led to the one-race championship.

Logano admits that he didn’t think he was a title contender in the first third of the season.

“I thought, man, if we get to the Round of Eight, that’s pretty good this year for where we were at the time,” Logano said. “We were consistent, that’s what kept us up in the points all year long. We didn’t have many bad races throughout the season.

“But I guess just as the playoffs went, everyone rose to the occasion. You always talk about how you have to find another little bit inside of you to just maintain when the playoffs starts because everyone is able to get a little bit better, and then as we do that, we started running better, and we were running top five and winning stages.”

And becoming a champion.

Logano is in some good company among champions who didn’t win the most races in their title season.

In four of Jimmie Johnson’s seven championship years, he did not have the most wins those seasons. In two of Tony Stewart’s three championship years, he did not have the most wins those years.

Logano’s three wins this season are the fewest for a champion since Kurt Busch won three times in 2004. Matt Kenseth has the fewest wins for a champion in the last 20 years with one when he won the title in 2003 — the last championship determined by the season-long points total.

2. Changes coming?

While the idea of a spending limit for teams was discussed in the recent owners meeting a few days before the season finale in Miami, nothing is expected for next year.

“I think there’s two things when you start to consider financial stuff,” car owner Joe Gibbs told NBC Sports. “There’s cut and revenue. I think that’s where we are, trying to get those two to meet so you have healthy owners, healthy sport and you’re inviting new people to come in, all those things are a part of it.

“I think right now is a critical time. Maybe I look at every year that way, but right now is a big, big, critical time for our sport, where we’re going. I think there will be some big decisions within the next year.”

Gibbs said the owners and NASCAR also discussed how to get more fans to attend races.

“There’s all kinds of things that affect that, our racing on the track, what it takes to come to the race, our venue, where we go racing some places are obviously better than others,” Gibbs said. “All those kind of things are wrapped into it. The one thing I’m really thankful for is NASCAR and now Jim (France, interim Chairman) being involved the way he is, they’ve been pretty aggressive on not being afraid to go after stuff and change stuff, which I think is good.”

3. What a difference a year makes

After last year’s season finale in Miami, Brad Keselowski noted Toyota’s dominance and looked ahead to a 2018 that featured a new car for Chevrolet.

“As to what will happen for 2018, you know, I don’t know,” Keselowski said after the race a year ago. “I would assume that Chevrolet will be allowed to design a car the same way that Toyota was for this one, but Ford doesn’t have any current plans for that. If that’s the case, we’re going to take a drubbing next year, so we’ll have to see.”

This year featured the debut of the Optical Scanning Station, a camera-based inspection station that scrutinized the car in a way it hadn’t before. Ford teams hoped before the season that it would keep all three manufacturers close.

When the checkered flag waved in Miami last weekend, Keselowski’s teammate, Joey Logano, won the race for Ford — the company’s 19th Cup victory in 36 points races. Logano’s championship marked the first time since 1999 that Ford won the driver and manufacturer’s title in Cup in the same year.

“I’m certain that the inspection process … that changes part of it because any time you go through a big change like that, it does affect how the teams prepare the cars and bring the cars to the track,” Mark Rushbrook, Global Director of Ford Performance said of what led to the manufacturer’s success this season.

“But I think the biggest part is the advanced tools that we’ve developed over the last couple years have really matured to the point that they were able to help us, especially in the area of CFD, where we use that advanced computational fluid dynamics tool, the same tool that we use on our road cars and road trucks to make them better. 

“We have turned that and applied it into racing starting two years ago, and it took a little bit of time to adjust those tools, test those tools in this environment to make them even better, and now that is paying off on the performance on the track with the Fusion with what we’ve seen, hopefully contributing to the Mustang to come strong out of the box at Daytona next year.”

4. Gone but not forgotten

Overlooked Sunday was JJ Yeley’s 32nd-place finish with the team that once was BK Racing.

Days before the Daytona 500, BK Racing owner Ron Devine put his team in Chapter 11 bankruptcy to keep a bank that stated it was owed more than $8 million from taking the team’s charter.

So began numerous court hearings over the year that eventually led to a judge approving a Trustee to run the team instead of Devine and eventually the sale of the team in August. Front Row Motorsports purchased BK Racing for $2.08 million and kept the team intact.

During all that and after the sale, the team ran every race — as required by the charter it had.

It wasn’t pretty. The team finished 35th among the 36 charter teams in owner points, but the team made it to the end.

5. Something to ponder

Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, which owns, among other things, Formula One and the Atlanta Braves, gave a wide-ranging interview with NBC News this week.

Maffei was asked about NASCAR possibly being on the market.

“We like motor sports,” Maffei said. “If NASCAR were available, we’d certainly take a look.”

During an investor analysts call May 10, Maffei responded to a question about if NASCAR in light of the reports then that NASCAR could be for sale.

“I think it’s not as clear what the synergies are between the two assets (Formula One and NASCAR), and I would note the trends have not been perfect in NASCAR,” Maffei said. “Unless we had a good thesis on how and why we could fix them, it’s not an obvious to us.” 

Long: Is Talladega supposed to look like this?

11 Comments

So what is NASCAR? Is it a sport? Or is it a show?

Admittedly, those in the NASCAR offices likely will view its racing as both. But that creates a conflict over how to look at Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

If one views it as a sporting event, Stewart-Haas Racing’s domination — qualifying all of its cars in the top four, running there much of the race and Aric Almirola winning with Clint Bowyer second — should be celebrated because SHR did what every team hopes to do every weekend.

But that performance doesn’t play well to the overall view of the race (or show). With SHR controlling the front and drivers battling ill-handling cars, the two- and three-wide racing so common at Talladega often was replaced by single-file racing.

The 15 lead changes were the fewest at Talladega since 1973.

Green flag passes — a stat NASCAR tracks based on position changes over each scoring loop on every lap — were down 54.4 percent from last fall’s playoff race at Talladega.

Think about that … lead changes at its lowest level since before any driver in Sunday’s race was born and green-flag passes down more than 50 percent from the previous year.

Is that something fans want to see more of?

Doesn’t seem to be the case based on Jeff Gluck’s weekly Twitter poll. He stated that only 42 percent of those who voted this week thought Talladega was a good race.

Fewer than 50 percent of the voters said either Talladega race this year was a good one in Gluck’s poll. The April race had 24 lead changes — the fewest for that event since 19 lead changes in the 1998 race — and saw a 57.8 percent decline in green-flag passes.

There’s an expectation when NASCAR races at Daytona and Talladega of pack racing, passing and wild action.

Such was in limited supply at both Talladega races this year. But it wasn’t just there. The four plate races (Daytona and Talladega) saw 89 lead changes this season — down 29.4 percent from last year’s plate races.

While three of the four plate races this year ended with a last-lap pass (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500, Erik Jones at Daytona in July and Aric Almirola at Talladega last weekend), not everyone may be willing to wait through the racing to those final laps.

With the 2019 rules package, NASCAR anticipates pack racing to remain key at Daytona and Talladega but Sunday’s race might force series officials to make some additional changes to ensure the pack is back next year.


Questions have been raised about how NASCAR officiated the end of the Truck and Cup races this weekend at Talladega.

Kurt Busch was critical of NASCAR’s decision. Had NASCAR called a caution for the crash in Turn 1 on the last lap, Busch likely would have won. Instead, he ran out of fuel and Aric Almirola won.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, explained Monday on SirusXM NASCAR Radio how series officials made the call on if to throw the caution in either race.

“Our first job is to always make sure everybody is safe, and we felt we did that in this case,” O’Donnell said about letting the Cup race finish under green.

While each last-lap scenario presents different challenges, NASCAR must remain steadfast in following what O’Donnell said in terms of driver safety. That must be No. 1 regardless of it is the last lap at Talladega, the last lap of the Daytona 500 or the last lap of the championship race in Miami.

NASCAR must be consistent with that. And that may mean calling for a caution instead of a dramatic race to the finish line.


It won’t be next year but maybe someday GMS Racing likely will field a Cup team.

GMS Racing, owned by Maury Gallagher, was in talks with Furniture Row Racing earlier this year to purchase the team’s charter, align with Joe Gibbs Racing and move to Cup next season. It’s one of the reasons why the team, through Mike Beam, didn’t try to top Front Row Motorsports’ bid for BK Racing’s charter and equipment in a court-appointed auction in August.

After examining all the costs, Gallagher decided not to pursue the Furniture Row Racing charter and equipment.

“We’re still talking and thinking about it, but first things first, we’re trying to get through this year and do some good things, particularly winning the (Truck) championship,” Gallagher said after Timothy Peters won the Truck race at Talladega.

Spencer Gallagher called the deal not working out a “tempered disappointment” but added “we got into that deal and we realized that we were going to have to undertake some additional complications with it. More than anything, if and when we make the decision to go Cup racing, I’d like to think that if we have one true luxury it is that we get to choose when and where we get to do it, which means that we’re committed to only doing it if it can be done right.

“As Maury likes to say, there’s always another deal that comes along. Patience is our watchword for getting ourselves into Cup.”

 and on Facebook