Bobby Labonte

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

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Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

Amid iRacing spotlight, Timmy Hill ‘can’t stop’ working on real race team

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Exactly one year ago today, Timmy Hill debuted his own Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series team at Martinsville Speedway.

After competing in NASCAR at a national level since the day after he turned 18 in 2011, the Maryland native sought a little more “certainty” and  “exposure” for a career that’s been defined by racing underfunded equipment.

“Being a NASCAR owner was never a big dream of mine to do,” Hill told NBC Sports on Monday. “I just wanted to be a driver, I want to be the man who drives the cars. But this sport, there’s no certainty, at least for me and my career, there hasn’t been. I’ve been fortunate enough to where I’ve driven for other family teams.”

Added Hill: “This is a better way to control your own destiny by just doing it yourself.”

One year after his No. 56 Chevrolet finished 21st at Martinsville, Hill’s getting the most exposure of his career following a race.

But nobody could have predicted it would come as a result of a nationally televised iRacing event.

On Monday, the 27-year-old driver was scheduled for seven interviews with at least three more awaiting on Tuesday. All because he finished third in Sunday’s NASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series exhibition race, essentially the only brand new sporting event in the last week amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Held on a digital Homestead-Miami Speedway, Hill, who has been competing on iRacing for just over a decade, took on NASCAR All-Stars Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and others.

While some of the more well known drivers participated via expensive and fancy iRacing “rigs,” Hill’s setup reflected how he’s competed against powerhouse teams in the real world.

He sat at a desk he estimates he bought for $75 on Black Friday one year, the same desk he does his team’s business at. and uses a steering wheel he bought 12 years ago for $300.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. races Timmy Hill (66) during the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series on a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The 100-lap race started sloppy with multiple wrecks before it calmed down for a long green-flag run at the end, which saw Hamlin win over Earnhardt, Hill, Chase Briscoe and Garrett Smithley.

“I think some of these guys took for granted how much work and effort you still have put in to be competitive,” Hill said. “I could tell you just from watching (practice) what these guys would do … Bobby Labonte, I saw he ran several hundred laps of practice just in one day. Denny and different ones, they took it seriously and I really appreciate that, because I think the guys who did take it seriously, it really showed and they put on a good race.

“The guys who didn’t take it seriously, took it for granted and thought it would be easy. I think they were kind of surprised and shocked and taken off guard … You could see the different levels of experience in yesterday’s race … I think going forward to next weekend’s race, I think these guys will probably be practicing quite a bit more.”

This wasn’t the first time this year Hill has finished in the top five of a major racing event.

In February, Hill placed third in the Xfinity Series season-opener at Daytona, earning his second top five across 317 NASCAR national series starts.

“I think it’s (Daytona) probably my favorite weekend I’ve ever had in racing,” said Hill, who also qualified for his first Daytona 500. But even with the “big hype” around that weekend, Hill said “I’ve gotten more media requests, interview requests from (Sunday’s) race than for anything else I’ve ever done.

“It’s very new. With everything that’s new, everybody would love to know more about it.”

The invitational series will continue this weekend on a digital Texas Motor Speedway, but on Monday Hill was hard at work prepping his Truck Series team for a return to the real track.

Hill, who lives in High Point, North Carolina, drove roughly 60 miles to Mooresville to get parts for his trucks, which he hopes he’ll get to run in 10 races this season while the truck is fielded full-time.

Due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hill’s gotten the exposure he was seeking in creating the team, but like the rest of the sport, there’s not much certainty about what comes next.

With him is his lone employee, crew chief Greg Ely.

“We can’t stop,” Hill said. “Between him and I, everything that you see that comes to the race track … it’s just done between he and I. I don’t think most people realize that. I’m very hands on … Even though we’re not racing we’re preparing for what could be a very busy summer depending on how things shake out. When that gets here it’s going to be very busy for us, it’s going to be very tough to do.

“So we’re trying to get as far ahead as possible. We basically have two mile-and-a-half trucks done, ready to go. Got one short track truck that’s done and ready to go. I don’t know what our next race is going to be, what style of race track, we haven’t heard yet. We don’t have time to figure that out once the season gets here, we have to be prepared as possible now to be able to be ready to go.”

What drivers said after iRacing race at virtual Homestead

Photo: NASCAR/iRacing
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Denny Hamlin — Winner: “First thing I did, I got out of the rig and I came up and watched the last six laps to kind of see what was going on. I can’t see everything when I’m sitting in the car, but certainly I was intrigued to see the last six laps and see what it looked like on TV. I thought it looked great. My first reaction 10 seconds in to watching it was like, I asked the people around me, I was like, ‘Do you believe this is not real.’ Like it looks so real. That part was really cool. … I wanted the bottom, and he was really, really smart to ‑‑ I mean, he didn’t win, but he was smart to kind of block the bottom there because the bottom lane at Homestead on iRacing just has tremendous more grip than what the lane I was running in, but I knew that the difference in the two lanes was about a tenth and a half to two tenths, and I thought my tires were about three tenths better.  So I thought as long as I got beside him, I was going to be able to complete it, even though he was in the preferred groove.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Finished 2nd: “A lot of fun. Finished second. Got beat by Denny Hamlin, not the first time that he’s beat me on sim racing. The guy is pretty good. … A lot of guys put in a lot of work to get better in just a really short period of time. Denny doesn’t really race a lot but worked really hard this week to be able to be real competitive and it showed. A lot of the other guys did the same thing. … We took tires with 30 laps to and Denny took tires with about 20 laps to go and I think that was certainly a big advantage for him. We were racing really hard up front, too, burning our stuff up. I didn’t expect Denny to get up there and he did. Went to the bottom because if I go to the top he can pass me a whole lot easier. Plus, he wanted to, he could take the whole lane and knock me out of the way and I don’t even finish in the top five.”

Timmy Hill Finished 3rd“It was a really fun race. The top five did an excellent job all day long. I want to say thank you to NASCAR and iRacing for putting on this show. Today was a lot of fun. I did the best I could saving my tires at the end. We finally had our longest run of the day, 20 laps to the end. Didn’t take tires there and got beat. … I hope we get to do something like this again. These guys did a fantastic job with putting this race on. A lot of drivers put in a lot of time practicing.”

Chase Briscoe Finished 4th: “It was fun to get to do some type of racing, especially with the Cup guys and some others that I don’t get to race against a lot. Hopefully, it was a way for the fans to escape from everything that is going on and enjoy some good racing.”

Garrett Smithley Finished 5th: “Wow, that was fun, that was a lot of fun. I hope you guys enjoyed that. Cool deal. Started pole, finished fifth, led some laps. It was a good day. … It was a good day for the sim racing community. Cool to have some fun on these uncertain times but making the best of it. Hopefully we can get to the real racetrack soon.”

Alex Bowman Finished 6th:Heard the top 5 failed tech and I’ve been declared the official winner. I’d like to thank my sponsors, and most importantly my dog for taking over for a few laps.

Ryan Preece Finished 8th: My takeaways from today: iRacing is difficult. Easy to forget you’re on Live Video.”

Ty Majeski Finished 9th: “That was fun! P9 in the iRacing Pro Invitational. Got wrecked a couple of times and lost track position, had fun coming back up through the field!”

Erik Jones — Finished 10th: “Enjoyed myself more than I thought I would … Hope we get to do it again.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 11th: My crew chief, aka myself, made a bad call at the end. I stayed out and then I was kind of a rolling roadblock on the older tires and fell to 11th.”

Landon Cassill — Finished 12th: “We had a good solid race. I got tore up at the beginning and had to use a reset. From that point it was just trying to get some green laps going. I let a lot of aggressive drivers by on restarts that ultimately ended up wrecking themselves.  That last restart with about 15 to go, there was a crash in front of me and I got through it, but I had to slow down enough that it gave like a two-second gap to the cars in front of me. Once I got going again, I just worked on my line, worked on kind of burning the right rear tire a little bit so I could wear the tires evenly and started picking them off very carefully and caught the field on the last lap.”

Parker Kligerman — Finished 13th: “Just stayed out on two tires there. Probably should have pitted with Denny, probably could have raced for the win but we didn’t have any more resets after getting involved in two wrecks there, one at the front and one trying to come up through the pack.”

Joey Logano — Finished 15th: “I don’t play on the reg and I struggled a bit throughout the race, but overall that was fun!”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 16th: “Guys, I let you down. Heck, I let myself down. I let my fans down. I had sponsors in the stands, praying for a good showing, and I end up wrecking our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang and using both redos, as a matter of fact. I think the real takeaway is, obviously, I need a lot more practice. With everything going on in the country right now, I hope the fans were satisfied and I hope they got their minds off of things for a little bit. We will be back. I will be better and, I promise you, if you get on iRacing and get online, you’re gonna see these boys, probably tonight, battling it out again.”

Ryan Truex — Finished 17th: “Not the day I wanted for the boys back at the shop. We will go back home and get to work on the cars and (come) back stronger.”

BOBBY LABONTE — Finished 18th:I didn’t use up all my credits for damage, so that was good. I hope it was awesome to watch. It was a lot of fun to do. We will get better at this, being this the first one. … That was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.”

Justin Allgaier — Finished 20th: “Had damage at the end that kept us from finishing higher up, but what a heck of a race and a killer finish!”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 21st: “That was interesting. heck of a race for the win that was cool to see. I definitely needed more than a night of practice for this #ProInvitationalSeries race. Had a lot of fun learning the sim world with @iRacing . We finished 21st with our @kroger chevy by missing all the wrecks.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 22nd: “Last 10 laps was watching the TV more than track! Looked like a great show by the end. Fun to do something new.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 23rd: “That was fun.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 25th: I had a lot of fun, wrecked a lot. Congrats to Denny Hamlin. Great race for him. Drove to the front and won it, which is pretty cool with new tires. I tried to pit for new tires and be on the same strategy and got wrecked but that’s part of it. Hope you guys enjoyed.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 27th: “I didn’t do very well. We got up to the top 10. … We got some work to do. I’m going to practice this week for the next one. Hopefully this ties us over until we get to the real race track because I’m ready to go really racing. Thank you guys for all following it.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 29th: “We obviously didn’t qualify very good so we were kind of mired in the back. Guys were crashing and wrecking out and we were kind of moving our way up to the front. Restarted, I think 16th one time and was making up some positions and getting closer to the front and felt like we had a pretty good long-run speed that was going there, we were picking a couple of guys off and then a crash happened on the frontstretch … nowhere to go.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 31st: “Not a great showing. I’m going to take all the responsibility. I’ve not spent a lot of time in iRacing or really racing at all on sims. So I’m learning my way through that. Lots of things to learn within the race. I didn’t even have a spotter, which seemed to be a problem a couple of times with wrecks, race format, just a lot of race details.”

Anthony Alfredo — Finished 32nd: “I wish we didn’t have so many cautions, and I felt like I got caught up in just about every single one.  We used up both of our fast repairs, you were allowed two, by like 10 laps in. I was super cautious after that and made it all the way to the end and then I pitted with Denny Hamlin there from the top five, so we were on the same strategy and we were coming through the field and we got wrecked going into Turn 1 and I was out of fast repairs so couldn’t do anything.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 33rd: “Well that didn’t really work out. Hope everyone enjoyed watching though!”

William Byron — Finished 34th: “Really hope we continue doing this. I thought it was a lot of fun!

Kurt Busch — Finished 35th: What an experience. … Huge shoutout to David Gravel for letting me borrow his sim. I owe ya bro!”

FS1 to show iRacing Pro Invitational Series race with NASCAR drivers

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Fox Sports will broadcast Sunday’s iRacing Pro Invitational Series, an exhibition event featuring many current and former NASCAR drivers.

The multi-week series begins at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1 with a 100-lap race on a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR has postponed all races through the May 3 Cup race at Dover International Speedway because of the COVID-19 pandemic. NASCAR would have visited the real Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend.

The exhibition series will feature: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Christopher Bell.

Other drivers will include Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Timmy Hill, Michael McDowell, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Preece, Garrett Smithley, Erik Jones, Ross Chastain, Parker Kligerman, Landon Cassill and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The full field with Xfinity and Truck Series drivers will be announced on Sunday.

FOX NASCAR broadcasters Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds will call the action in the 90-minute broadcast.

Bowyer will serve as an in-race analyst.

“This is a unique opportunity to offer competitive and entertaining racing to our viewers as we all work through these challenging times together,” Brad Zager, FOX Sports Executive Producer, EVP/Head of Production & Operations said in a press release. “We are following CDC guidelines to maintain a safe work environment, as the well-being of all those involved is paramount. We value our relationships across the NASCAR community and appreciate all of the effort that it took in bringing this project to life.”

 

 

Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

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Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”