Cale Yarborough

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The 18 cars Dale Jr. chose for NASCAR Hall of Fame

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Saturday will mark the debut of a new lineup of cars for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s “Glory Road” exhibit.

It will be the fourth set of cars to grace the Hall of Fame’s main atrium since the museum opened in 2010.

The difference with the new batch of 18 cars is they were specifically chosen by former Cup driver and NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt, the first guest curator of “Glory Road,” chose 18 cars that were driven by Cup champions. The exhibit, called “Dale Jr: Glory Road Champions,” will be on display for about three years.

The car lineup was slowly revealed over the last week on social media, culminating in tomorrow’s exhibit opening.

Here are the 18 cars that Earnhardt chose.

 

Richard Petty’s 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

 

The car Petty drove to a win in the historic 1979 Daytona 500, which marked the first live flag-to-flag TV coverage of the “Great American Race.”

Petty claimed the win after last-lap crash between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison as Petty ran in third. Petty would race an Oldsmobile and a Chevrolet in 1979, winning five times on his way to his seventh and final Cup title.

 

 

 

 

Dale Earnhardt’s 1994 Chevrolet Lumina

(Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

 

Fifteen years after Petty’s seventh title, Dale Earnhardt became the second driver to reach that mark, winning four times in 1994 along with 20 top fives and 25 top 10s in 31 races. It marked the end of Earnhardt’s run of six championships in nine years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmie Johnson‘s 2016 Chevrolet SS

(Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It took a little longer for Jimmie Johnson to join Petty and Earnhardt as a seven-time champion, doing so 22 years after Earnhardt. Johnson won five times and earned 11 top fives and 16 top 10s through 36 races. Three of those wins came in the last seven races of the season.

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Gordon’s 1997 Chevy Monte Carlo

(Getty Images)

The actual car Gordon won the 1997 Daytona 500 with – his first of three wins in the “Great American Race” – will be on display. The win kicked off Gordon’s second championship campaign. Gordon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, would go on to win 10 races for the second year in a row.

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Elliott’s 1988 Ford Thunderbird

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

“Awesome Bill from Dawsonville’s” lone Cup title came in 1988. That year he won six times, including the Southern 500 for the second of three times.

He also won the July race at Daytona, at Bristol, Pocono and swept the Dover races.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tony Stewart’s 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images).

The car Stewart drove to his first of three Cup titles and the second Cup title for Joe Gibbs Racing following Bobby Labonte’s in 2000.

Stewart only won three times (Atlanta, Richmond I and Watkins Glen), but had a 13-race streak that included two wins, five top fives and eight top 10s. He took the points lead for the first time after the 30th race of the 36-race season.

 

 

 

 

Benny Parsons’ 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

A former Detroit taxi driver, Parson’s lone Cup title came in the 1973 season despite him only claiming one win (Bristol II). But in the 28-race season, he finished outside the top 10 just seven times.

The championship was part of a nine-year stretch where Parsons did not finish outside the top five in the standings.

 

 

 

 

Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 Ford Thunderbird

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

One of the most celebrated championship stories in NASCAR history, the independent driver-owner Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup title in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, besting four other drivers who entered the race with a shot at the championship, including race winner Bill Elliott.

Kulwicki, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, died in a plane crash on April 1, 1993 on his way to Bristol Motor Speedway.

The car that will sit on “Glory Road” is the car Kulwicki drove to his fifth and final Cup win on June 14, 1992 at Pocono Raceway.

 

 

 

Bobby Allison’s 1983 Buick Regal

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Allison claimed his lone Cup title in 1983 off of six wins, 18 top fives and 25 tops 10s in 30 races.

Allison’s wins included three in a row late in the season, with the first in the Southern 500. His title came after he had placed runner-up in the standings five times.

 

 

 

 

 

Cale Yarborough’s 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

In 1978, Cale Yarborough became the first driver to claim three consecutive Cup titles, an achievement that’s been repeated only once since with Jimmie Johnson as part of his five straight titles.

Driving for Junior Johnson, Yarborough won 10 races (for the second time in his career) and earned 24 top 10s in 30 races.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buck Baker’s 1957 Chevrolet 150

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Baker won his second consecutive Cup title in a car nicknamed “The Black Widow.”

Baker competed in 40 of the season’s 53 races, winning 10 times and earning 30 top fives plus eight more top 10s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rusty Wallace’s 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Wallace’s lone Cup title came in 1989 when he drove the No. 27 car for owner Raymond Beadle. Wallace claimed six wins and 13 top fives during the 29-race season, his last before he teamed with Miller Genuine Draft as a sponsor.

Wallace won the championship by just 12 points over Dale Earnhardt.

 

 

 

 

 

Darrell Waltrip’s 1981 Buick Regal

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Waltrip claimed his first of three Cup titles in five years in 1981 while driving the No. 11 car for Junior Johnson. That year he won 12 races (which he would also do in 1982) and earned 21 top fives in 31 races.

His wins included four in a row late in the season at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham.

 

 

 

 

 

David Pearson’s 1968 Ford Torino

Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Pearson claimed his second of three Cup titles in 1968 driving the No. 17 car for Holman-Moody Racing. He claimed 16 of his 105 career Cup wins that season, his most in any year.

Pearson also earned 36 top fives over the course of the 49-race season. He started in 48 races.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmie Johnson’s 2006 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Johnson started his historic five-year championship streak in 2006. That year he claimed five wins, including his first victories in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

This is the first car on the new version of “Glory Road” representative of NASCAR’s playoff era.

 

 

 

 

Dale Earnhardt’s 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

The car Earnhardt drove to his first of seven Cup titles in 1980 while he raced for owner Rod Osterlund.

Earnhardt won five times and led the point standings for all but one of the season’s 31 races, leaving the season opener at Daytona second in points.

This car was gifted to Dale Earnhardt Jr. by Talladega Superspeedway in 2017 as part of his farewell tour before he retired from Cup racing.

Dale Jr. helped complete a restoration of the car so it would be historically accurate.

 

 

Richard Petty’s 1964 Plymouth Belvedere

(Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

The car “The King” raced to his first of seven Cup titles, totaling nine wins and 37 top fives over 61 starts, including his first of seven victories in the Daytona 500.

In the 500, Petty lapped the entire field of 46 cars while leading 184 of 200 laps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herb Thomas’ 1951 Hudson Hornet

Thomas won 48 races in his Hall of Fame career, including seven times in his first of two championship campaigns in 1951. Thomas raced a Plymouth for much of the first half of the season before switching to the Hornet. His seven wins included a victory in the Southern 500.

‘Last American Hero,’ NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson, dies at 88

Junior Johnson
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Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson, who won 50 NASCAR Cup Series races as a driver and 132 as an owner and was part of the inaugural class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010, has died at 88.

Johnson had reportedly been in declining health and had entered hospice care earlier this week, according to NASCAR.com.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Lisa, his daughter Meredith and son Robert Glenn Johnson III.

A native of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Johnson – whose origins were in bootlegging moonshine –  was named one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers in 1998 after a 14-year career that ended in 1966 and included a win in the 1960 Daytona 500.

He was immortalized as the “Last American Hero” in an Esquire magazine feature written by Tom Wolfe in 1965 and later in a 1973 movie adaptation starring Jeff Bridges.

As a car owner for drivers that included Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte, Johnson claimed six Cup championships. His last race win as an owner was the 1994 Southern 500 with Elliott.

It was Johnson who helped connect the RJ Reynolds tobacco company with NASCAR, which led to Winston sponsoring its premier series from 1971-2003.

In 1986, Johnson received a full presidential pardon from President Ronald Reagan for his 1956 federal conviction for moonshining.

“It is with great sadness that we share the passing of Junior Johnson on behalf of the Johnson family. First and foremost, everyone at the NASCAR Hall of Fame offers our most sincere condolences to Lisa, Robert, Meredith and the entire family,” NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley said in a statement. “We have lost one of NASCAR’s true pioneers, innovators, competitors and an incredible mechanical and business mind.  And personally, I have lost one of my dearest friends. While we will miss Junior mightily, his legacy and memory will forever be remembered, preserved, celebrated and cherished at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and in the hearts and minds of race fans around the world.  Please join us in remembering and celebrating Robert Glenn Johnson Jr. ”

NASCAR issued the following statement from its CEO and Chairman, Jim France:

“Junior Johnson truly was the ‘Last American Hero.’ From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit. He was an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an extraordinary career as both a driver and team owner. Between his on-track accomplishments and his introduction of Winston to the sport, few have contributed to the success of NASCAR as Junior has. The entire NASCAR family is saddened by the loss of a true giant of our sport, and we offer our deepest condolences to Junior’s family and friends during this difficult time.”

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Johnson was considered one of the greatest innovators in NASCAR history. Perhaps the most famous innovation he was credited with was “discovering” drafting and the the benefits associated with it, leading to his sole Daytona 500 win as a driver in 1960 (he also won the Great American Race as a team owner two other times, in 1969 and 1977). In several interviews over the years, Johnson said he discovered drafting by reportedly being able to “see” air moving between his car and the one in front of him, and how the air flow would help “pull” his car closer, being able to “push” the car ahead of him — and bringing along his own car as well — faster and quicker, and also leading to allow Johnson’s car to slingshot around and ahead, oftentimes leading to a win.

Like many drivers of his era, including fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson, Johnson primarily ran partial schedules during his 14 seasons of racing in what was then known as the NASCAR Grand National Series. But even running part-time did not hinder him, including 13 wins in 36 starts in 1965. That was also his final regular season as a driver, with his last win coming later that same year at what was considered his home racetrack, North Wilkesboro Speedway.

It was also because of his primarily part-time status that Johnson never competed in enough races in any single season to come close to win a Grand National championship as a driver — with his highest finish in any season being sixth (in both 1955 and 1961).

Johnson was just 35 years old when he hung up his steering wheel for the final time, going on to even greater success as a team owner. Even though he received numerous offers to get back behind the wheel, he passed on all of them, preferring to call his own shots as leader of his own team. Or, as he put it numerous times, “in a supervisory capacity.”

Johnson was most known for his No. 11 race car as both a driver and owner. As a driver, he also drove for several owners in cars sporting numbers including 26, 27, 3 and 55. As an owner, his teams sported 26, 27 and 98, but it was No. 11 that became so associated with him as an owner, primarily from 1974 through his final season leading his team in 1994.

He would sell all the equipment and assets of his organization upon the completion of the 1995 season to Brett Bodine, but for nearly another quarter-century, Johnson would remain a popular ambassador for NASCAR and the sport of stock car racing, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, as well as remained a fan favorite until Friday’s passing.

He called his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in its first year of operation the greatest day of his life.

News of Johnson’s death drew quick response on social media:

 

Contributing: Jerry Bonkowski

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Friday 5: Jimmie Johnson’s final Cup season also marks final tribute to friend

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The record books list Jimmie Johnson as a seven-time Cup champion.

But they are wrong.

They credit him with 83 Cup victories.

Again, they are wrong.

Truth is, Johnson has never won in Cup.

Blaise Alexander always beat Johnson across the finish line.

Alexander and Johnson got to be close friends when they raced against each other in what is now the Busch Series. As good of friends as they were, it made them want to beat the other that much more.

Alexander was killed in a crash during an ARCA race Oct. 4, 2001 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was 25. Earlier that night, Johnson qualified for his first Cup race.

When Johnson drove his Busch car that weekend, one of his crew members, who was also was friends with Alexander, drew flames and Alexander’s initials on the front left bumper of Johnson’s car. That way Alexander would always cross the finish line before Johnson.

Johnson’s cars have paid homage to Alexander since. For a while, the design was drawn on to each car with a marker. Eventually, a decal was made and affixed in the same spot below the left front headlight sticker. Later, the tail number for the Hendrick plane that crashed and killed 10 was added to Alexander’s tribute.

During Thursday’s press conference, Johnson’s emotions remained steady as he explained the reasons why 2020 will be his final full-time Cup season.

But when asked about Alexander and how next year would mark the final year of the tribute on Johnson’s cars at NASCAR tracks, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson was taken aback.

He closed his eyes briefly, turned his head and was momentarily silent before saying, “wow” and shook his head.

“He was a very special friend,” Johnson said, taking a deep breath.

2. More of the same in 2020?

With the industry’s focus on the Next Gen car in 2021, one of the concessions is that there won’t be as many rule changes for next season.

In previous years, if a team or manufacturer was behind in one season, they could count on rule changes to possibly give them a better chance the next season. That won’t be the case next year.

So it leads to the question of what is to prevent a repeat of this season with Joe Gibbs Racing winning more than half the Cup races and putting three of its four cars in the championship race and winning the title?

Yes, Chevrolet has an updated car and there are some wind-tunnel testing restrictions, but will it be enough to top Toyota and Gibbs? Or will next year be more of the same?

“I would just say it’s all about optimizing all of your testing time and your simulation time to give the drivers the best chance of unloading quick, adjusting quickly and then executing in the race,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet. “I think that’s really what it’s about. There’s limited on-track testing, so it really comes down heavily to simulation, driver loop activity.  

“There is some aero testing. We’re limited, so we have to make sure every minute of those aero tests is productive, so that’s what we’ll do as a team. We have three major teams and we have a number of affiliates that we’ll use that to our best advantage. But it’s going to be about execution.”

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, said he feels his teams can continue progressing with the package that will be used again next year.

“The rules changes for 2019, it took us a while to get our teams and our own heads around what those changes were and the aerodynamic effects especially, and I think we’ve seen some stronger performance in the latter half of the year, which we hope to continue into 2020,” he said. “I would also say that there are still rule changes for 2020, although the packages aren’t changing, some of the things like reduced wind tunnel time will be in place, and the effectiveness of your tools like aero, computational fluid dynamics will come into play more than wind tunnel testing is today. There’s still going to be, I think, some balance shifts. Maybe we’ll see who has the best aero CFD tool.”

3. A new tire isn’t that simple

As NASCAR looks at the racing, particularly at short tracks, one idea from fans is that Goodyear should change the tire so that it wears more.

But Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that it is not as easy as that. He explained, describing what makes Homestead-Miami Speedway such a good track and why it’s hard to replicate that elsewhere.

“The variable degree banking is a terrific design,” Stucker said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It creates racing in multiple grooves. The surface itself is pretty worn now, so that’s really what promotes the (tire) falloff that we see at Homestead over the course of a fuel run, about 2 1/2 seconds through the course of those runs.

“You have to be very careful to say that we can go in and design a tire that is going to produce that kind of falloff at any given race track. The falloff you see at Homestead is because of that race track and the worn surface. The same would be true of Darlington. The same would be true at Chicago and Atlanta. Those are worn surfaces that have lost some of their mechanical grip. … You have to be very careful (to) say we want to do that at every race track because at some places it’s just not possible. The surface itself just has enough mechanical grip that it just won’t work.

“We don’t want to artificially influence falloff or tire wear because that leads to not a good situation. You want something that is a natural progression from a wear and a falloff perspective.”

4. Who will be the fourth?

Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and moderator for Jimmie Johnson’s news conference Thursday, noted that few would question Johnson’s place on NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore of drivers. Kelley raised the question of who would be the fourth.

NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Leonard Wood and Rusty Wallace at Darlington Raceway in 2015. (Photo: Dustin Long)

It leads to an interesting debate. Presuming NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore features its three seven-time champions — Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Johnson — there could be quite a debate for the fourth spot.

Is it David Pearson? His 105 victories rank second on the all-time list. He rarely ran a full season but he did win three championships. Petty has said that he considers Pearson the sport’s greatest driver.

Or is it Jeff Gordon? His 93 victories are third on the all-time wins list and he has four championships in an era that was arguably more competitive than Pearson’s era.

Or is there a case to be made for Cale Yarborough? While his 83 career wins are one less than Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip each, Yarborough won three consecutive championships, a record that seemed unbreakable until Johnson won five in a row from 2006-10.

Or is it someone else?

5. Moving on

Overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson’s news this week was Justin Marks’ announcement Thursday that he was “hanging up the helmet.”

Marks, who came from a road racing background, made 79 starts throughout his NASCAR career among Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. He had 38 Truck starts and 35 Xfinity starts.

His one win came in the rain at Mid-Ohio in the 2016 Xfinity race there. No one could match him in the downpour there.

Marks has always looked at the sport in a different way with his background in multiple racing series. After finishing second in the inaugural Roval Xfinity race in 2018, Marks lauded the new way Charlotte Motor Speedway was used and said NASCAR could do more, suggesting a street course event.

“I’m a huge believer you have to take your product to the people,” Marks said that day. “In 2012, I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix as a competitor in the Pirelli World Challenge Series and I remember spending the weekend at that race there looking around at 100,000 people and thinking that 90,000 of these people aren’t racing fans. They’re here because it’s a great cultural event.

“I think that the days of people driving 500 miles from their home to spend four days at a race track camping are numbered.”

While he admitted there would be challenges with a Cup street race, he said: “I think it could be a hell of a show if they did it, especially if they went to a market like Detroit or LA or South Florida, or if they managed to pull something off in Nashville or Austin or something like that, great cultural hubs and great markets.”

As NASCAR looks to alter its schedule in the future, Marks’ words could prove prophetic.

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Jimmie Johnson announces that 2020 will be his final full-time Cup season

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Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, considered one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, announced Wednesday that the 2020 season will be his final full-time Cup season.

“I know what this team is capable of, and I hope that 2020 is the best yet,” the future NASCAR Hall of Famer said in a video on Twitter.

Johnson’s contract expires after the 2020 season. Sponsor Ally extended its sponsorship of the No. 48 car in October through 2023. That led to questions of if Johnson would continue beyond next season. Johnson’s announcement comes three days after the Cup season ended. 

Johnson is tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most series titles. Some would argue that Johnson is NASCAR’s greatest driver, noting his record five consecutive championships (2006-10) and success in what is viewed as the sport’s most competitive era. Johnson’s titles also came with different types of cars and with various playoff systems.

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France issued a statement praising Johnson’s career:

“NASCAR history will always hold Jimmie Johnson in the highest regard, for his hard-charging success on the racetrack and the way he conducted himself as a champion off the track,” France stated. “This remarkable seven-time champion – through his competitive spirit, immense talent and sportsmanship – has made NASCAR a better sport. On behalf of my family and the entire NASCAR community, I thank Jimmie for his dedication to NASCAR and, along with his legions of fans, wish him all the best in his final season. I look forward to watching him race for wins and an eighth NASCAR Cup Championship in 2020.”

Johnson has 83 career Cup wins, which is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time victory list, but has not won since Dover in June 2017. Johnson will enter the 2020 season with a 95-race winless streak. The 2020 season will be his 19th full-time campaign in Cup.

The 2019 season marked Johnson’s first without crew chief Chad Knaus. Kevin Meendering started the year as Johnson’s crew chief but was replaced by engineer Cliff Daniels in July before the race at Watkins Glen as the team struggled to make the playoffs.

Even with the move, Johnson failed to make the playoffs. It marked the first time since NASCAR’s postseason format debuted in 2004 that he was not a part of it. In his 15 races with Daniels this season, Johnson had four top-10 finishes with a best of eighth in the Dover playoff race.

Johnson has two Daytona 500 wins, four Brickyard 400 victories, four Coca-Cola 600 triumphs and two Southern 500 wins.

Career timeline: Jimmie Johnson through the years

Johnson will meet with the media Thursday afternoon to explain his decision.

While Johnson will not race a full schedule after 2020, he has said repeatedly that he plans to continue to race. He has expressed an interest in road racing and competing in an IndyCar race on a road course.

The timing of the announcement allows Johnson to celebrate one final season in Cup and gives Hendrick Motorsports time to find his successor with a move that could lead to significant changes in driver lineups for multiple teams for the 2021 season.

Johnson’s announcement sent shock waves through the sport.

Friday 5: Did driver quit NASCAR race to watch man walk on moon?

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As the celebration of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon 50 years ago takes place Saturday, the event puts a spotlight on NASCAR folklore.

And an independent driver named Henley Gray.

The story goes that Gray pulled off the track and quit the Bristol race so he could return to his Rome, Georgia, home and watch man walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Here’s what is known: NASCAR raced that day at Bristol. The Volunteer 500 began at 1:30 p.m. ET. with a field that included Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker among the 32 drivers.

Pearson won. Runner-up Bobby Isaac finished three laps down. Gray placed 15th, completing 206 of 500 laps. The reason he did not finish is listed as “quit.”

The race ended just after 4:30 p.m. ET. The Eagle lunar module with Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed on the moon at the Sea of Tranquility at 4:17 p.m. ET. Armstrong didn’t step on to the moon until 10:56 p.m. ET.

Based solely on the timeline, the story is possible that Gray quit to watch man walk on the moon.

But there’s a problem.

“That didn’t happen,” Gray told NBC Sports this week. “I don’t know how that got started.”

Gray is 86 “I’ll be 86 and a half next month,“ he said. “Halves count when you get my age.” — and ran 374 Cup races from 1964-77. He never won.

His best finish was fourth at Nashville on July 30, 1966. Petty won the 400-lap race, leading every lap. Petty was followed by Buck Baker (five laps down), Allison (six laps down) and Gray (17 laps down) in a field of 28 cars. Henley went on to finish a career-high fourth in the points that season. It was the only season he placed in the top 10.

Since he wasn’t a “hot dog” as he called the factory-backed drivers of that era, Henley admits he quit some races. As an independent, he had to be wise with his money. Sometimes it wasn’t worth running 100 more laps in hopes of earning another $100 when the wear and tear on the car would be greater. So he packed up and headed to the next race.

“I was having a ball,” Gray said of his career. “I wasn’t making any money, but I was having a ball.”

After a crash at Michigan ended his driving career, Gray remained in the sport as an owner.

Dale Earnhardt drove for Gray in October 1977 at Charlotte. It was Earnhardt’s fourth career Cup start. He finished 38th after a rear end failure 25 laps into the race. Baker drove for Gray at Martinsville in April 1982, finishing 28th. Benny Parsons finished 28th at Daytona in July 1982 in Gray’s car.

Gray goes from one story to the next, recalling his career, laughing at the stories and times with drivers who have since passed.

But he is adamant. He didn’t leave Bristol early to watch man on the moon.

Now, there is one story that is true about Gray looking up to the heavens.

“(One) time, there were three of us on our way from Charlotte going down to Rockingham, an eclipse was going to happen at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” he said. “We pulled over on the side of the road and stood there for a while and watched all the eclipse and got back in the trucks and went on to the race.”

2. NASCAR is watching

Alex Bowman on the roof of his car after winning at Chicagoland Speedway. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Twice in the last three weeks, victory celebrations featured drivers standing on the roof of their car. Alex Bowman did it after he scored his first Cup win three weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway. Kurt Busch did it last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

In the early 2000s, NASCAR frowned upon drivers standing on the car’s roof after a victory. NASCAR penalized a team after its roof was found to be too low. It so happened that the team’s driver jumped on the roof after winning. That celebration went away.  

Kurt Busch celebrates his Kentucky win atop his car’s roof. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

What Bowman and Busch did evokes the spontaneity some suggest has been lost because of corporate sponsorship and the need for drivers to thank sponsors before relishing a victory.

Last week also saw five crew members ride on Kurt Busch’s winning car from the start/finish line after his celebration there. The moment was lauded on social media for how it resembled such celebrations decades ago. 

It’s a wonderful image. So is a driver standing on the roof of a car after winning. But both present potential problems for NASCAR.

In an era where a failure in post-race inspection can lead to a disqualification of any car, including the winner, NASCAR has to be mindful of ensuring the vehicle’s integrity while permitting celebrations that fans enjoy. 

On the recent celebrations by Bowman and Busch, a NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports: “Our inspectors are very good at their jobs, so it hasn’t been an issue thus far. We will continue to remind the teams about celebrating responsibly.

We will not hesitate to make a stand if celebrations turn nefarious, but the very recent trends of drivers being human and showing emotion over something they’ve worked so hard for isn’t hurting the integrity of the sport in our opinion.”

3. A new strategy

Since lightning stopped the Daytona race a couple of weeks ago and rain later finished it, some teams are taking a closer look at how they monitor weather.

Previously, many watched radars for when rain would arrive at the track. Now, teams have to be aware of NASCAR’s policy that any lightning strike within an 8-mile radius of the track will stop the action.

While there’s no way to predict when and where lightning will strike, if an approaching storm features lightning, teams will have to be aware of that.

Kurt Busch gave up the lead at Daytona under caution to pit when NASCAR announced that the restart would be on the next lap. Shortly after pitting, lightning struck 6.3 miles from the track and the race was stopped with Justin Haley in the lead. The race never resumed and Haley won.

“I asked NASCAR about their policy and how they handle things and what they look at so we are now making sure we copy everything the same,” Kurt Busch said. “That will help us gauge how to call a better race.”

Said Kyle Busch: “That’s certainly something that we all have to got to look at and think about now.”

Lightning won’t be an issue this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Instead, drivers will have to deal with the heat. Temperatures are expected to be in the 90s this weekend.

4. Beating the Big 3 in Xfinity 

Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick went 1-2-3 last weekend in the Kentucky Xfinity race, continuing their dominance this season. They’ve combined to win 10 of the last 11 races (Ross Chastain‘s win at Daytona was the exception). Twice, the trio took the top three spots in a race (Bristol and Kentucky). In seven of the last 11 races, the trio has taken at least two of the top three spots.

So, who can top them?

Michael Annett finished fourth at Kentucky and said that was a key performance for his JR Motorsports team.

“At least I’m able to be up there and see where they’re better,” said Annett, who won at Daytona and has 12 top 10s in 17 races this season. “I’m at least able to see that now in the race and just be able to put a whole weekend together. That’s what you’re going to have to do to beat those guys.”

Justin Allgaier, who has six top-three finishes this season, also sees the progress Annett, his teammate, sees.

“I felt (at Kentucky) we were way closer to them speed wise than we have been,” said Allgaier, who finished seventh. “We ran right there with (Custer and Bell) for quite a while.”

Allgaier admits that’s something he couldn’t say earlier in the season.

5. Sticky situation  

This marks the second of three consecutive weekends that a traction compound will be applied to a track surface. It was done last weekend at Kentucky, will be done this week at New Hampshire and also will be done at next week at Pocono.

Watkins Glen follows Pocono but the next oval after Pocono is Michigan. There are no plans at this time for Michigan to use the traction compound next month.