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March 25 in NASCAR history: Car of Tomorrow makes debut

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After years of development with the intention of making stock car racing safer, NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow” or the Gen 5 car if you’re into that – made its debut on the Cup Series stage on March 25, 2007 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The race featured a thrilling green-white-checkered finish, as Kyle Busch held off Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon to win the Food City 500.

Then Busch, who’d led the final 20 laps, thew water on NASCAR’s new toy after the usual post-race interview pleasantries.

“I’m still not a big of these things,” Busch told Fox. “I can’t stand to drive them, they suck.”

Busch and the rest of the Cup Series would be stuck with that generation of car, and its ugly rear wing for a few more years. After rolling out full-time in 2008, the “Car of Tomorrow” stuck around through the 2012 season.

Even today, the well intentioned car leaves a bad taste for some.

Also on this date:

1973: Cale Yarborough led all 500 laps to claim a Cup win at Bristol Motor Speedway. For Yarborough, it was his first Cup win since returning to NASCAR full-time after two years spent competing in USAC Champ Cars. Yarborough finished two laps ahead of second-place finisher Richard Petty.

March 24 in NASCAR History: Buddy Baker breaks 200 mph barrier

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Earlier this year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the pole for the Daytona 500 with a qualifying speed of 194.582 mph.

That’s fast.

But that’s how fast today’s Cup Series cars go on superspeedways with tapered spacers restricting engines.

On this day 50 years ago, Buddy Baker got to go really fast.

On Tuesday, March 24, 1970, Baker strapped into a blue Dodge Daytona during a tire test at Talladega Superspeedway, the largest oval track in NASCAR. During the test, Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier on a closed circuit.

His fastest lap around the 2.66-mile oval was recorded at 200.447 mph.

“Gosh, it’s the most wonderful feeling I’ve had in a long, long time,” Baker said after the test. “This is something nobody can ever take from you, being the first guy to run 200 mph on a close course circuit. Gosh, I’m just tickled to death.”

Baker said when you’re going 200 mph, the track’s high-banked turns “feels just like it’s flat. Because it takes every bit of the banking to run this speed. ”

Of course, stock cars would only get faster over the ensuing decades.

By 1987, Bill Elliott would establish the qualifying speed records at Daytona (210.364 mph) and Talladega (212.809 mph).

In 1988, following a violent Bobby Allison wreck at Talladega in 1987, NASCAR instituted restrictor plates for races at Daytona and Talladega. They’d be used through the 2019 Daytona 500 before being replaced by tapered spacers.

Other tracks have seen the 200 mph qualifying barrier broken since then, but we’ll likely never see it again at Daytona and Talladega.

UPDATE: According to allpar.com, Larry Rathgeb, the Chrysler engineer who led the test session to reach the 200 mph barrier, died Sunday as a result of the coronavirus.

Also on this date:

1991: Kenny Wallace, the younger brother to Rusty and Mike Wallace, won his first career Xfinity Series race at Volusia County Speedway in Barberville, Florida. The series would make its fourth and final visit to the half-mile track the next year.

2002: Kurt Busch executed a bump-and-run on Jimmy Spencer with 56 laps to go to take the lead in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch led the rest of the way, surviving a restart with 15 laps to go, and scored his first Cup Series win. Busch would win three of the next four Cup races at Bristol.

NASCAR postpones five more races; looks to return in May

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NASCAR announced Monday that it will postpone five more race weekends because of COVID-19 with the hope of returning to racing May 8-9 at Martinsville Speedway.

Race weekends postponed will be Texas (March 27-29), Bristol (April 3-5), Richmond (April 17-19), Talladega (April 24-26) and Dover (May 1-3).

NASCAR stated Monday:

“The health and safety of our fans, industry and the communities in which we race is our most important priority, so in accordance with recent CDC guidance, NASCAR is currently postponing all race events through May 3rd, with plans to return racing in Martinsville. We appreciate the patience of our fans and we look forward to returning to the racetrack. We intend to hold all 36 races this season, with future rescheduling soon to be determined as we continue to monitor this situation closely with public health officials and medical experts. What is important now transcends the world of sports and our focus is on everyone’s safety and well-being as we navigate this challenging time together.”

MORE: Latest coronavirus coverage from NBC News

Previously, NASCAR postponed last weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and this weekend’s races at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

No makeup dates have been set.

NASCAR’s move comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that that organizers cancel or postpone events for the next eight weeks that consist of 50 people or more in the United States. According to John Hopkins University and Medicine, there were 4,287 confirmed cases in the U.S. as of Monday afternoon with 74 deaths.

The White House released new coronavirus guidelines Monday afternoon that included “avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.”

Bristol Motor Speedway stated that ticketholders on file at Bristol Motor Speedway and through Food City stores may use their April 3 – 5, 2020 tickets for the postponed event, choose to receive an event credit for the full amount paid plus an additional 20% or choose to receive a full refund of their purchase price. The event credit can be applied towards any admissions, including, but not limited to, grandstand seating, infield tickets, camping, fan hospitality and pit passes. The 120% event credit can be used during the remaining 2020 or 2021 seasons for a NASCAR sanctioned event at any Speedway Motorsports owned track, subject to availability.

Also Monday, NHRA announced that it was suspending all events for 30 days because of COVID-19. NHRA said in a release that it plans to resume its schedule April 17-19 with the NHRA SpringNationals at Houston Raceway Park.

Major League Baseball announced Monday it will adhere to the CDC’s recommendation and that the opening of the 2020 season would be pushed back in accordance with those guidelines, meaning the season would not begin until mid-May.

 

 

Jimmie Johnson to test McLaren IndyCar on April 6

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said he’s scheduled to test an IndyCar for McLaren on April 6 at Barber Motorsports Park.

The test will take place a day after the NTT IndyCar Series race at the 2.38-mile, 17-turn course, which is about 50 miles from Talladega Superspeedway.

“I’m thankful that I’m going to get a proper test and look at it and kind of re-evaluate it after that,” Johnson said Saturday at Phoenix Raceway.

MORE: McLaren SP engineer believes Jimmie Johnson would adapt well to IndyCar

The test also will come the day after Johnson races in the Cup event at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I think Bristol is NASCAR’s most physical track and then Barber is IndyCar’s most physical track,” Johnson said. “I’m working hard to make sure my neck is prepared and certainly my shoulders. There’s no power steering in those IndyCars. I’m told when the rubber is down from the IndyCar race, the grip level is going to be higher, the demands on the driver are going to be higher. I’ll be coming in after our toughest race. I love a good physical challenge and here we go.”

Johnson, who is in his final full-time Cup season, has expressed an interest in racing in IndyCar on a road course, among other forms of racing. Johnson attended the first day of IndyCar preseason testing Feb. 11 at Circuit of the Americas as a guest of Arrow McLaren SP’s Zak Brown, who also oversees McLaren’s F1 team.

“Jimmie has been talking about it for a little while and looking at different options,” five-time NTT IndyCar champion Scott Dixon told NBC Sports in February. “He’s been super keen coming to IndyCar races. That is just him. He’s a racer and wants to try something else.”

Johnson was fitted for an IndyCar seat Wednesday. It was his first time to sit in an IndyCar with the aeroscreen, the ballistic, canopy-like windscreen designed to keep debris from hitting drivers in the open-cockpit cars. The aeroscreen debuts this season.

“I am taller, so I feel good about the aeroscreen,” Johnson said. “When I drove the F1 car (in a 2018 ride swap at Bahrain International Circuit with Fernando Alonso), I was taller than Fernando and my head was exposed. We had a hard time keeping my helmet on my shoulders, it kept trying to blow off. So the aeroscreen certainly helps with that, which is really nice. I think safety has gone up tremendously with the aeroscreen on.”

While Johnson has been adamant about not racing ovals in IndyCar, would the aeroscreen’s usage change his mindset?

“I’m going to keep a close eye on the year and the safety that is in the aeroscreen development,” Johnson said. “I really don’t have a desire to run ovals. … Texas, no thanks. Indy, it is Indy and so it weighs on me and makes it harder to say no thanks, but I’m just not interested in them.”

 

Bristol hosting Navy-themed events for Food City 500 week

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Bristol Motor Speedway announced Monday it will be holding many Navy-themed events during the week of its Food City 500 race, March 30 – April 5.

Navy Week will include sailors and equipment from 12 units informing the public about the capabilities, and importance of the Navy from April 3-5.

The weekend will feature Navy Band Southeast out of Jacksonville, Florida, as well as performances by Country Current, the Navy’s official pop country and bluegrass brand. Musical performances will be scheduled in the Fan Zone and Fan Midway as well as at Food City Family Race Night on Friday evening.

On Friday and Saturday, pre-race ceremonies will feature Navy sailors leading the Pledge of Allegiance and the Navy Drill Team will perform for the crowd. Saturday will feature the National Anthem sung by a member of the Navy Band while Sunday will welcome crew members from the world’s oldest active warship, USS Constitution, to perform color guard.

Bristol Motor Speedway has a special offer for members of the Navy and their families. All active and retired Navy personnel can call the BMS ticket office and purchase a half-priced ticket. Those interested can call 423-BRISTOL.

Weekend tickets for the Food City 500 are available and begin at $80 for adults. Kids 12-and-under are free for both Friday and Saturday and are only $10 for Sunday. Teenagers (13-19) are free on Friday and eligible for half-priced grandstand tickets Saturday and Sunday. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 423-BRISTOL or visit BristolTix.com.