NASCAR fan prepares to attend 1,000th Cup race Sunday at Michigan

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Imagine doing one activity.

Then picture doing that activity religiously, 1,000 times from February 1963 to June 2018.

Joe Baumann is preparing fulfill that this weekend at Michigan International Speedway when he attends his 1,000th NASCAR Cup race.

Baumann, 79, is a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, and owner of a carpeting and flooring company, something his family has done since 1885.

But Baumann has made NASCAR his weekend business.

After getting out of the Navy in 1960, Baumann had his own brief racing career until life got in the way.

“I raced a couple of years in late models at our home track here in Erie,” Baumann told NBC Sports. “Went into drag racing a couple years after that. Started having a big family and that was the end of everything. I become a spectator because I figured there’s no way I can afford a family and the cost to race race cars.”

Baumann’s first time in the grandstands of a NASCAR Cup event came at the 1963 Daytona 500, when Tiny Lund won for the Wood Brothers.

“I loved what I saw when I got to Daytona,” Baumann said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Baumann has seen everything in the 998 races that have followed.

It’s documented in the couple hundred race programs that line his office and in the diary he decided to start keeping about a decade ago.

Joe Baumann sits in his office filled with NASCAR race programs. (Courtesy of Cale Baumann).

Baumann was there in 1969 when Talladega Superspeedway opened its doors for the first time.

He was also present in 1996 when North Wilkesboro Speedway said goodbye to NASCAR racing. He has “everything from the last race there,” including commemorative hats, unused tickets and the program.

Just a year before he experienced his “all-time No. 1” race.

You may have seen the highlights, but Baumann was sitting in Turn 3 of Bristol Motor Speedway the night of the 1995 Food City 500.

“Dale Earnhardt. Terry Labonte. Unfriggin’ believable,” declared Baumann, who was an Earnhardt fan. “I’ll never forget it. (Earnhardt) got black flagged at least twice, maybe three times for rough driving. They sent him to the back of the pack and oh my God, he was hell-bent to get back up front again. He did and it comes down to the last lap and they come off Turn 4 just slam banging each other, side by side and Earnhardt smashed him sideways.

“… I think the people went completely crazy. It was just phenomenal.

“That was tops.”

Baumann racked up races in the 70s, 80s and 90s while owning permanent seats at 10 tracks that hosted two races a year, including Bristol, Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, Atlanta and Talladega in addition to his visits to other tracks.

In 2004, he put a big dent in his total by attending all 36 Cup races, from Daytona to Homestead, with roughly 100 friends joining him over the course of the year.

At his peak, many race weekends saw Baumann and a group of six to 12 friends make the pilgrimage.

“Most of us worked six days a week, we’d leave Saturday night,” Baumann said. “We would leave Erie and drive straight to the track.”

One track, the one in South Carolina that’s Too Tough to Tame, really spoke to him.

Since 1964, when Buck Baker won in Baumann’s first visit to Darlington Raceway, he hasn’t missed a Southern 500.

The custom shirt Baumann and his friends and family will wear this weekend (Courtesy of Cale Baumann).

“The people and the good-hearted racing, it was just amazing they could run 500 miles at that speed and then it had the full metal roof over the top of the whole front straightaway and that made it even worse on your ears probably,” Baumann said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to miss one of these things.’ Back then tickets were like $10 or less and fuel was reasonable. We took a half a dozen guys, normally starting with a pickups truck, campers and things like that to go down. Motels in that day and age were few and far between. … Then my wife (Jackie, who passed away in 2015) got interested, so then her and I started going together. Next thing you know we got into motor homes and things like that. … It’s a great weekend now and everywhere we go it’s the same way. NASCAR people are just unbelievable.”

Baumann’s dedication to Darlington was rewarded last year when he was one of three people inducted into the track’s Fan Hall of Fame.

“That was pretty neat. They took care of me,” Baumann said. “The ring is like a Super Bowl ring.”

Baumann, who named his youngest daughter Allison after his favorite driver, Bobby Allison, and his youngest son Cale after Cale Yarborough, wanted his 1,000th race to come at Darlington.

But knee-replacement surgery last year shortened his schedule.

Instead, he’ll reach the 1,000 race mark Sunday with the FireKeepers Casino 400. The drive to Brooklyn, Michigan, is a much easier trip for the roughly 50 people who will camp with him for the weekend.

What festivities will there be to mark the occasion?

“My friends are full of surprises, believe me,” Baumann said. “Something’s going to happen.”

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Pocono won’t use traction compound this weekend

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Pocono Raceway won’t have the PJ1 traction compound on its race surface for this weekend’s NASCAR racing, the track confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports.

The possibility of it being used was raised Monday by Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, in an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“There will be no traction compound applied to Pocono for this event weekend,” track CEO Nick Igdalsky said in a statement. Igdalsky left the door open for the compound’s use for the July 29 race weekend at the 2.5-mile track.

“We have entered into a process with NASCAR, OEM’s, and Goodyear to explore this option in future events,” Igdalsky said. “Nothing has been determined at this time.”

On “The Morning Drive,” Miller was asked about plans for more tracks to use the compound.

“There’s ongoing talks,” Miller said. “New Hampshire I believe is on the plan for doing it again. The only new track that hasn’t done it yet that I know we’re having some discussion about is potentially Pocono and I think there will be a plan I believe for just Turn 3 if I’m not mistaken. I’m not in all those early discussion, but it kind of bubbled up that there was some talks about Pocono. I don’t know exactly what the plan is.”

Should Pocono ever use the traction compound, it would join New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in utilizing it in an effort to improve chances for passing.

Charlotte has used it for all its races since last year’s Coca-Cola 600.

“It really works well at Bristol to accomplish what was set out to accomplish at Bristol,” Miller said. “I think the jury’s starting to be out on whether or not it’s actually accomplishing what we need at some of these other places. …

“There will be ongoing dialogue about how we use it. We’ve been trying to get a lot more scientific with it with monitoring the grip of the surface before and after and how much it diminishes as cars run on it.”

Thumb feeling better, Daniel Suarez is ready to add to memories at Richmond

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Daniel Suarez admits he might have been the only person who appreciated the weather delays Sunday and Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway as he recovered from a thumb injury suffered the week before in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Suarez suffered an avulsion fracture in his left thumb in that crash. He told “The Morning Drive” on Wednesday that it will take six to eight weeks for the injury to heal.

“The thumb actually is doing well,’’ Suarez said on the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. “The rest of my hand, my fingers, was pretty tired after the race. The rest of the hand had to do the entire work. It’s hard to believe how much you use your thumb, but you don’t think about it until you don’t have it. It was a tough race for sure. I’m glad it’s over.

“I knew that if we could make it through Bristol we would be fine the rest of the month and a half that I will have to wear this cast.’’

As for how hard racing at Bristol with the injury was, Suarez, who finished 11th, said:

“I think I was the only driver on the race track that was kind of happy that we were having the stops for rain because I was having some breaks for my hand. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it 100 percent if I had all 500 laps straight. I had some extra rest, some extra breaks on my hand.’’

Suarez’s best finish of the season is an eighth-place result at Phoenix. The series heads to Richmond Raceway this week and that is a track with many good memories for him. He finished seventh at Richmond last fall and 12th in this event a year ago. Richmond also is where Suarez made his Xfinity debut in April 2014. He started 12th and finished 19th. 

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Ryan Preece refuses to be obstacle to his racing dreams

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There were 10 laps left in Saturday’s Xfinity race, but Ryan Preece had no idea he was so close to paying off the most valuable debt of his racing career and likely his life.

Preece was second on the final restart of the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 when he was told there were only 10 circuits of Bristol Motor Speedway left.

“I asked (10 laps) to when,” Preece said afterward. “It went by so quick that I thought there was still 60 (laps) or so to go. I didn’t think it was that quick. I wasn’t thinking about the $100,000, I knew we’d be in good shape. I tell everybody this and I mean it, I come here to win races. I don’t come to finish second.”

He didn’t. After pulling ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Brandon Jones, Preece went on to claim his second Xfinity win in seven starts in the last two seasons.

Preece’s reward?

The first $100,000 payout for this year’s Dash 4 Cash program.

“I don’t think you can say winning $100,000 doesn’t feel good,” Preece said. “I know what it’s going to do for me and my life, and I can officially say that I’m going to be paid off with everything I risked last year and this is a big day for me.”

Before 2017, Preece was a lifer in the modified racing community in the Northeast who had 36 Xfinity starts, including one full-time season in 2016 with JD Motorsports. His best result in that time was a 10th at Darlington.

Preece was almost resigned to racing modifieds the rest of his life. But then Carl Edwards unexpectedly retired from Cup competition. That set off a chain of events that resulted in Preece making four Xfinity starts in 2017 for JGR, winning one race (Iowa) and placing in the top five in each race.

He was able to make those four starts thanks to help from regional sponsors that backed him in his modified racing and a friend and racing owner who lent him money.

Their investment led to 10 more starts for Preece with national sponsors this year and him being able to pay off his debt after just his third start.

“We have been gaining on it every time that I’ve strapped in this race car,” Preece said. “Without these two crew chiefs (Chris Gabehart and Eric Phillips), without these teams, without Joe Gibbs Racing and the equipment that they give you to go out there, that risk wouldn’t have came true.”

The week before the Bristol race Preece said he approaches every race he competes in as if it’s his last. But the 27-year-old driver still has more chances to establish a future for himself this season.

“It’s a chance to build a future for myself,” said Preece, who will be back in a JGR car in July at Daytona. “Where I’m going to be in October or after this win, I don’t have a clue. All I know is I’m not going to be the one that prevents me from going further. I’m not going to be the excuse at the end of the season and say, ‘Man, if I won this race or if I did this different,’ I’m not going to look back and say that. I’m going to do everything I can to win and make sure that I’m not the weak link.”

Preece was asked whether he considers himself a role model for other short track racers toiling to achieve their racing dreams.

“To be honest with you, if people want to label me that, that’s fine,” Preece said. “I’m not going to label myself as that. I like to make my own way through in life. Would I advise somebody to do what I did? Probably not, but it was the only way I was going to get the chance. I wanted that chance and it all worked out. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way.”

And now, $100,000 richer, Preece can go back to worry about the things others those in their 20s usually do.

“A mortgage, car payments, insurance and typical things like that,” Preece said. “What I also enjoy and what’s pretty cool is that yes, I may not be going to Richmond, but I’m going to stay for the debrief on Monday, I’m going to do all my obligations and when I fly home Monday night or Tuesday morning, I will go to work just like everybody else.”

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Ryan: A tale of two short tracks (and maybe two driver temperaments)

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Two short tracks with highly anticipated stops on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

Two agonizingly frustrating battles of unseasonable inclement spring weather ranging from untimely snow to bone-chilling cold (if you polled the NASCAR garage, what would be this week’s opinion on climate change?).

Two races in the tightest quarters of the 2018 season.

Two wildly differing outcomes.

Bristol Motor Speedway’s two-day spectacular was much better than Martinsville Speedway’s extraordinarily tame outing on a snow-delayed Monday two weeks earlier.

Why?

You could start with the surface. During the recent era of track treatment, rarely has a traction compound’s application drawn such universally positive reviews as Bristol this past weekend. Track officials took advice from drivers to heart and laid down PJ1 in a way that ensured the bottom groove was the fastest – which, as Jeff Burton noted on Monday’s NASCAR America, is the best version of the 0.533-mile oval.

They also weren’t shy about reapplying the sticky stuff Monday after 204 laps were run Sunday before the washout (and it is fair to ask whether midrace treatment of a track unjustly shapes the competition).

But Bristol’s success seemed less about the surface as the men trying to navigate its treacherous environs. From the jump Sunday, there was an aggressive bent behind the wheel that was missing at Martinsville.

What other factors might have been involved?

Martinsville led into one of two off-weeks this season, and the postponement already might have been cutting into preparations for precious vacation time. It doesn’t necessarily mean conscious choices were made to avoid forcing the issue on every lap, but there might have been a general complacency fostered by the cabin fever-bred anxiety of an extra day at the track (or a night in a motorhome) with spring break looming.

Bristol, meanwhile, was a cauldron of pent-up ambition that often spilled over the edge during the course of 27 hours. It felt like the first real short-track race of the season with the constant battles that have been the hallmark of Martinsville the last few seasons. There were more leaders, more lead changes and more than twice as many caution flags (subtracting the three for rain).

There’s no way to definitively explain the disparity, but Bristol and Martinsville did reinforce a commonly held axiom.

In races threatened or postponed by weather, the action usually goes one of two ways: Drivers go hell-bent for leather, or they log laps with a de-emphasis on drama.

It seemed as if we saw both sides in the season’s first two short tracks.


In his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NASCAR senior vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell gave the most lucid and succinct explanation yet in what lies at the root of the pit gun debate.

Is it about the speed of the guns … or the swiftness of the pit crews?

As O’Donnell put it, the truth lies somewhere in between – and so does the pathway forward to getting everyone on the same page – which should be the primary goal instead of pointing fingers. As noted in last week’s column, there is more than enough culpability to go around.

The first step would be agreeing on what constitutes the better compromise: Paoli bringing its guns up to the level of the most elite pit crews, or teams retraining their athletes to slow down their lightning-quick hand speeds to adapt to the new guns.

Richard Childress Racing executive Andy Petree said in a revealing interview last week on FS1 that RCR had been counseling its crews to go slower and avoid “outrunning the equipment.” In postrace comments Monday to Dustin Long, it would seem Denny Hamlin would disagree with that approach.

This essentially is the crux of the issue to be discussed at the Team Owners Council meeting this week: Is it better to ask pit crews to change their ways, or manufacturer Paoli to change its guns?


Kyle Busch’s 49 points at Bristol were the third-lowest total for a race winner this season, and it essentially was because of an intriguing decision by Busch and several other teams near the end of Stage 1.

When the caution flew with five laps remaining in the stage, Busch was in second place behind Brad Keselowski, who elected to stay on track with five others: Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and AJ Allmendinger.

Busch lined up seventh for a one-lap restart to end the stage … and promptly dropped to 11th at the green and white flag – falling from a potential nine stage points to zero.

The decision worked out slightly better for Kyle Larson, but he still had a net loss of two points (taking fifth in the stage after falling third to eighth on the stop). It obviously went well for Keselowski, who earned 10 points and a playoff point with the stage win, and Bowyer (three), Almirola (eight) and Newman (two) all gained multiple points.

The scenario was an interesting window into how much teams value stage points. With a win and in the playoffs, Busch’s team traded points for potential track position with the threat of a shortened race (though the No. 18 Toyota still finished behind Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford at the end of the second stage that made it official).

Keselowski, who still needs a win to lock up a berth, stayed out for maximum stage points and seemed pleased by the decision. “I hate to lose the track position, but that’s too many points to just throw away,” he radioed his team.

Points that could be remembered as critical when the series reaches the Brickyard in September.


As Burton and Steve Letarte alluded to on NASCAR America, there won’t necessarily be a happy ending in Cup for Ryan Preece’s Cinderella story. There is hardly room at Joe Gibbs Racing with Busch, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez all locked in for the foreseeable future, and it’s difficult to forecast which other premier series rides could open.

But there simply must be a full-time ride at the very least in the Xfinity Series for Preece, who has two wins (including last Saturday at Bristol) over the past two seasons for JGR.

Besides being talented, the 27-year-old is articulate and relatable, and as he eloquently explained last weekend, Preece has become a hero to short-track fans and racers around the country. As Parker Kligerman (whose struggle for a full-time ride is similar to Preece’s) wrote in a column for NBCSports.com earlier this year, NASCAR still remains a breed apart from much of the ride-buying morass found in Formula One and IndyCar.

But the necessity of “pay” drivers seemingly gets worse in stock cars with each passing year, and when even championship contenders are asked to bring sponsorship, it’s problematic.

The challenge clearly lies in finding sponsorship, but at what point do teams get held accountable for a lack of hustling to find money for an attractive candidate such as Preece, choosing instead just to take another driver’s check?

If Preece starts 2019 without a fully funded ride, that’s a debate worth having.


Speaking of the Xfinity circuit, kudos to series director Wayne Auton for owning a mistakeafter Saturday’s Dash 4 Cash mixup and reinstalling Daniel Hemric’s eligibility. Though such errors must be kept to an extreme minimum, it’s understandable how this one might have occurred.

The incident occurred during an expedited postrace inspection at track to ensure the four cars eligible for the Xfinity promotion were confirmed for the following race at Richmond. Normally, such inspections take place at the R&D Center, but the goal is getting more of the postrace inspection process done at the track and avoiding the midweek announcements that often derail more compelling storylines (in all series).

If a car being incorrectly deemed illegal is a byproduct of ultimately getting to a better place with inspections, it’s worth the long-term trade-off.


It might have been overlooked because the announcement came during Monday’s resumed race at Bristol, but Eldora Speedway is doing something that might be a worthy weather contingency concept for all tracks that don’t have domes.

Giving fans six days’ notice, the track’s 65th season opener Saturday has been “flex-scheduled” to 4 p.m. – roughly three and a half hours earlier than its scheduled start – because of an ominous forecast for the Ohio dirt track.

Flex-scheduling has been used with success in the NFL to provide better competitive matchups. Eldora is trying it to optimize its schedules for fans and teams with the threat of poor weather conditions. While it might be more difficult for a series with a national TV partner, it seems at least worthy of consideration.