BK Racing

Friday 5: Recent winners share long journey to Victory Lane

Leave a comment

Recent races reaffirm Ross Chastain’s message to young drivers.

“I still tell people to chase it,” he said of going after their dreams of competing at racing’s highest levels.

Chastain is among three drivers who overcame long odds early in their careers to win NASCAR races within the last month. Coincidence? Sure, but it also shows how perseverance can be rewarded.

Chastain, who has driven for low-budget teams and saw a full-time Xfinity ride go away in the offseason because of a sponsor’s legal issues, won last weekend’s Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway and won a Gander Outdoors Truck Series race last month at Gateway.

Brett Moffitt, the reigning Truck champion whose career early was plagued by lack of funds, won last month at Chicagoland Speedway.

Alex Bowman, who once found out he had lost a Cup ride on Twitter and spent time as a sim driver for Hendrick Motorsports, scored his first Cup victory at Chicagoland Speedway.

“All of us … have been in bad situations in their career,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “Some people, they get that good opportunity, and when that falls through, they just don’t have the willpower to fight back and do what you have to do to survive. It sucks, I’ll admit it.

“I’ve been in really bad equipment at times and it’s really frustrating and you find yourself asking why you’re doing this, and you just keep working away and hoping the right opportunity comes back.

“I think that’s what you’ve seen between Alex, Ross and myself. We’ve all paid our dues and done the bad stuff. Fortunately, we all find ourselves in a good position now.”

Chastain admits there is no guarantee that someone can climb the ranks that he, Moffitt and Bowman have, but the odds are worse if one doesn’t try.

“It might be six months, it might be six years, it might never happen,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s the same way if you graduate college today and you try to go get a job. You’re not guaranteed to go find a job, not the one you want. So you might have to take a start-and-park job.”

Chastain had to start and park in the Truck Series, but he doesn’t regret it.

“You run 10 laps all weekend, but … you have a whole year to think about the track,” he said. “I see so much value in track time and laps on track.”

Moffitt was without a ride in 2017 when Red Horse Racing shut down after the fifth race of the Truck season. He later ran seven races for BK Racing in Cup.

“You’re just doing it for money,” Moffitt said of taking a ride with the low-budget Cup team that went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy before being sold during the 2018 season. “I did it at the end of ’17 after Red Horse shut down and I went and raced for BK Racing simply to pay bills. You’ve got to do what you’ve go to do to pay rent and to keep yourself relevant in the sport. It kept me going through the offseason and fortunately I landed the job at Hattori (Racing) the following year.”

That led to the Truck Series title.

It’s a crown he looks to defend with GMS Racing. One of his main challengers will be Chastain, who is with Niece Motorsports.

Chastain admits Bowman provides a lesson even for him.

“Something like Alex, I’d always heard him for years say Mr. (Rick) Hendrick is not going to call me, but (Hendrick) did,” Chastain said. “I think the same thing. Chip Ganassi is not going to ask to be in his Cup car. The Xfinity car, yeah, but that was a whole different situation. He’s never going to ask me to be in his Cup car, but I’ve got to keep trying. I’ll be there if they ever need me.

“Running this truck race and the Cup race Saturday night and running in the 30s will help me if that day ever comes. If not, I got to run a freaking Cup race and I got to come here with the opportunity to win in the Trucks.”

Chastain also has a sense of perspective when he looks at where he’s come.

“Go back one year and look at all that has happened,” he said, standing on pit road at Kentucky Speedway. “One year ago … I was just racing and having fun.”

Now he’s having more fun winning. Just like Moffitt and Bowman.

2. Lightning strikes at Daytona

More than 40 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes were recorded within an 8-mile radius of Daytona International Speedway during a two-hour period Sunday, according to data from Earth Networks and the company’s Total Lightning Network.

The lightning strikes were recorded from just before NASCAR stopped last weekend’s Cup race to shortly before series officials declared the race finished.

NASCAR’s policy is to stop all activity at a track for any lightning within an 8-mile radius of the facility.

Randy Smith, Homeland Security Specialist for Earth Networks, told NBC Sports that the first lightning strike within an 8-mile radius of Daytona International Speedway was recorded at 3:12 p.m. ET. That strike was located about 6.3 miles east of the track in the Ormond Beach area.

Cars were called to pit road soon after and the race was stopped at 3:18 p.m. ET, according to NASCAR.

There were nearly 30 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes from 3:12 – 3:45 p.m. ET Smith said, according to data from Earth Networks’ Total Lightning Network.

The network recorded no cloud-to-ground lightning strikes from 3:46 – 4:23 p.m. Drivers were back in their cars and close to restarting their engines when another lightning strike hit within the 8-mile radius.

Smith said data showed there was a lightning strike 6.7 miles south of the track at 4:23 p.m. About 10 lightning strikes within the 8-mile radius soon followed. Rain later followed.

NASCAR receives direct notifications from The Weather Company in Atlanta throughout a race weekend. There is a dedicated senior meteorologist at The Weather Company who is on call throughout the weekend with NASCAR. NASCAR also is in contact with representatives from law enforcement, medical support and other local, state and federal agencies monitoring weather conditions.

3. New Daytona class

This season’s Daytona points races saw a unique winning class.

Three of the five points race winners at Daytona International Speedway this year scored their first series win: Austin Hill in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Michael Annett in the February Xfinity race, and Justin Haley in the July Cup race.

Ross Chastain won the July Xfinity race, giving him his second career series victory. The outlier this year was Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, who scored his 32nd career win with that victory.

Since 2017, five of the 15 points race winners at Daytona scored their first series win. Joining Hill, Annett and Haley on that list are Erik Jones (2018 July Cup race) and Kaz Grala (2017 Truck race).

Since 2017, 11 of the 15 points race winners at Daytona scored either their first or second series win with the victory. Those that scored their second career series win at Daytona were: Chastain, Tyler Reddick (2018 February Xfinity race), Austin Dillon (2018 Daytona 500), Ryan Reed (2017 February Xfinity race), William Byron (2017 July Xfinity race) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017 July Cup race).

4. Deal or no deal?

Justin Haley said he’s received offers for additional Cup races since he won last weekend’s rain-shortened race at Daytona International Speedway.

But Haley has said no deal to all of them. He’s not scheduled to run another Cup race this year and that’s fine with him.

“I’m so focused on the Xfinity stuff, and I really don’t like jumping out and doing a lot of extra races,” he said. “I just like to focus where my job is at.”

But what about the extra track time he could get?

“In my deal, I think the only place I can be super competitive (with Spire Motorsports) are the super speedways because of the 10-inch spoiler,” he said. “I think we saw at Talladega I was very competitive and I wrecked the race car that was our backup car that we took to Daytona. It was just as fast. I could have went up there and raced. I could have competed in the top 10 all day, but they were three wide and I didn’t want to put myself in that position because I already wrecked one of their car cars.

“It was so hard to keep in the back because I definitely could have went up there and raced. Everyone was like a back marker won … it was a personal and team decision to run in the back because we knew there would be a big one. I think taking that car to a mile and a-half probably wouldn’t be helpful for me. And those cars are so much easier to drive than Xfinity cars with the downforce and everything, you’re pretty much wide open. The Xfinity cars are the hardest cars to drive right now.”

The deal Haley wants is on the winning car. He wants to buy it but the team has such few cars it’s not willing to part with the car at this time.

“I’m in talks to get it,” Haley said. “It’s my first win car. I don’t care what it takes. I’ll probably end up with it somehow, if I have to buy another car (for the team) or whatnot.

Once Haley gets the car, where will he put it?

“I’d probably knock a wall down,” he said, “and put it in my living room.”

5. How times change

This weekend marks the ninth year Cup has raced at Kentucky Speedway but only about a third of the drivers who competed in that inaugural Cup race in 2011 are still in the series.

Twenty-nine of the 43 starts are no longer competing in Cup. That includes drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and David Reutimann, who finished second in that race to Kyle Busch.

The 14 drivers who ran in that race and remain in the series are Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Landon Cassill, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell.

 and on Facebook

Long: Cup victory marks giant step forward for Alex Bowman

Leave a comment

JOLIET, Ill. — Alex Bowman climbed from his car, which was stuck in the mud, and steadied himself on the door. The next step he took elevated him into a moment of a lifetime.

There on the car’s roof, Bowman stood, a Cup winner for the first time.

As he relished the feeling, the 26-year-old shed the doubt, disrespect and disappointment that has followed him in his career.

“I feel like I’m so used to being disappointed in a way after Cup races and stock car races in general,” Bowman said after winning Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. “My career hasn’t been what I would have hoped it would have been as a kid.”

If you get beat down enough, sometimes it’s hard to truly revel when things go so well. Runner-up Kyle Larson noted how Bowman’s celebration seemed muted.

“Looking at the big screen, he’s like the most unexcited person I’ve ever seen in my life to get his first Cup win,” Larson said.

Larson went to victory lane to congratulate Bowman and told his friend how calm he looked. Bowman said he didn’t know what to do.

“I’m so happy, and I feel like I’m not really showing it because I just don’t really know what to say,” Bowman later said.

Bowman’s voyage to this victory was an odyssey that no one will ever repeat. He was not ordained in the way others have been, their paths to Cup paved with the proper funding and elite rides.

“His story in climbing up through the ranks … is like the workingman’s story,” teammate Jimmie Johnson said.

Nine years ago, Bowman was in an intensive care unit, eyes swollen shut, ribs and collarbones broken after a vicious crash in a midget car. Told he’d be out eight weeks, he returned in half that time.

Bowman was the K&N Pro Series East rookie of the year in 2011, beating Chase Elliott for that honor, and won that same award the next year in the ARCA Series to earn a ride in the Xfinity Series in 2013.

The rise to Cup was quick but the rides were unremarkable. He drove for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, two teams that no longer exist, in 2014-15. He was prepared to run for Baldwin’s team in 2016 until he found out on Twitter less than a month before the Daytona 500 he was no longer with the team.

Bowman ran only nine Xfinity races in 2016 and returned to Cup only after Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the second half of the season because of concussion symptoms. Bowman filled in for Earnhardt for 10 races. When Earnhardt returned in 2017, Bowman ran no Cup races, two Xfinity races (with one win) and one Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. Instead, his time was spent mostly in Chevrolet’s simulator working for Hendrick Motorsports.

When Bowman was selected to take over the No. 88 after Earnhardt’s retirement in 2018, some people thought Bowman was a Cup rookie unaware he had run two full seasons.

“I feel like people question me a lot, and if I deserve to be here or not,” Bowman said. “Just based on the fact that I don’t have a big resume to fall back on. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities throughout my career, but when we went stock car racing, those opportunities got pretty slim.

“Just getting a Cup win is something that kind of relaxes me in the sense that I feel like I can finally say I deserve to be here. But there were definitely some times I was very worried about it. It made going to the race track not a lot of fun. But glad we’re having a lot of fun now.”

Crew chief Greg Ives understands the questions. There were those who wondered about him being paired with Earnhardt in 2015 even though Ives didn’t have experience as a crew chief in Cup.

“Sometimes respect is what you’ve got to go and get, and I think (Bowman) has been capable of doing that,” said Ives, who won three Cup races with Earnhardt in 2015 but none since until Sunday. “I feel like I’ve underperformed a little bit with the cars and been able to over the course of the last month and a half, two months been able to give (Bowman) an opportunity to run up front and show what he’s made of.”

Bowman scored consecutive runner-up finishes at Talladega, Dover and Kansas.

Bowman said the Talladega finish was good since he hadn’t placed better than 11th to that point in the season. The Dover result also felt good after he started at the rear. The Kansas finish was the most disappointing, he admits.

“I’m super bummed on that one,” Bowman said. “My family is from there, and I really wanted to win that race. I was pretty upset with myself, and I got back to the lounge, and one of our engineers, Tim (O’Brien), he’s like, ‘Just wait until Chicago, we’re going to go haul ass there,’ and we were able to do that.”

All four Hendrick Motorsports cars were strong Sunday but Bowman had to take this win from Larson after Larson chased him down and took the lead with eight laps to go. Tired of those runner-up finishes this season, Bowman pursued, pressured and persevered, passing Larson with an aggressive side draft and slight contact with six laps to go.

“The contact was pretty unintentional,” Bowman said. “That was just hard racing, and I think it’s a lot of fun to race Kyle like that.”

And even more fun winning.

“It’s something that,” Bowman said, “that’s all I’ve wanted my whole life.”

 and on Facebook

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

Getty Images
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.