Cale Yarborough

Friday 5: Is time running out for Cup playoff hopefuls?

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While the Cup playoff field won’t be set for another four months, there is a shrinking window for those not already in the top 16 in points as the series heads this weekend to Dover International Speedway.

Since 2017 — when stage racing and stage points were added — 84.3 percent of the drivers who were in a playoff spot after 10 races made the playoffs that year.

Take out those who already had wins to be playoff eligible at this point in the season and 81.8 percent of the remaining drivers in a playoff spot after 10 races made it to NASCAR’s postseason the previous two years.

That’s good news for the drivers in the top 16 in points now. Last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway was the 10th of the Cup season.

What’s also telling is that 13 of last year’s 16 playoff drivers are in the top 16 at this point in the season. That’s despite rule changes intended to make the racing tighter and possibly give more drivers chances for better finishes or wins.

The three drivers in a playoff spot this year who were not in that position at this time last year are Chase Elliott (seventh in points this season), Daniel Suarez (12th) and Austin Dillon (14th). They replace Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who were all in a playoff spot at this time last year.

So far, those who have earned a playoff spot with a win this season (provided they start every race) are Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Elliott.

With NASCAR’s system of win and you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. A fuel-mileage race can create a surprise winner or a pit gamble can help someone score an unexpected victory. Maybe a rain-shortened race leads to a new winner.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Last season, no driver outside a playoff spot won any of the final 16 regular-season races.

In 2017, two drivers outside playoff spots won in the final 16 regular-season races to make the postseason. Dillon was 22nd in points entering the Coca-Cola 600 and won that race on a fuel-mileage gamble. Kasey Kahne was 22nd in points later that season entering the Brickyard 400. He won that race in the second overtime.

The question becomes how much will those not in a playoff spot now gamble to score a win and secure a spot instead of having to rely on points to make it? This will be worth watching in the coming weeks.

2. A year later

Talladega winner Chase Elliott has made the biggest jump in the standings compared to where he was after 10 races last year.

A year ago, Elliott was 18th. He is seventh this year, moving up 11 spots. Other big gainers among the top 30 from last year are: Daniel Suarez (up nine spots to 12th this year), Ty Dillon (up five spots to 22nd), Denny Hamlin (up four spots to third) and Austin Dillon (up three spots to 14th).

Those who have fallen the most this year from this point last season: Kyle Larson (dropped 11 spots to 21st), Clint Bowyer (down six spots to 10th this year), Bubba Wallace (down six spots to 28th this year), Erik Jones (down five spots to 18th this season) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (down five spots to 20th this season).

3. Familiar ground

It has been nearly two years since Jimmie Johnson last won a Cup race, but he’s back this weekend at Dover International Speedway, the site of his most recent victory.

Jimmie Johnson winning at Dover in 2017. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Johnson won his 83rd career Cup race June 4, 2017, at Dover to tie him with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the career victory list. That win was Johnson’s 11th at Dover, most of any driver.

In the 69 races since, Johnson has four top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes. He’s led 149 laps during that time. His best finish since that last win is third. He placed third at the fall Dover race in 2017 and third at the spring Bristol race last year. His best finish this season is fifth at Texas. He has four top-10 finishes in the first 10 races of this year.

“The first couple of downforce races we were not where we needed to be,” Johnson said of this season. “I think we’ve kind of rallied back and put some speed in our cars and are going the right way. Based on performance, I would say we are at a ‘C’ but I know the distance we’ve made up here recently.

“If there’s an effort score, I want to score my team really high because we’re working really hard to get there. But at the end of the day, the results are results and we know we’ve got to get better. I feel like we’re headed into ‘B’ territory right now.”

4. Tight rookie battle 

In the Xfinity Series, the rookie race features a tie for first. John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe are tied for first with 295 points each. Noah Gragson is third with 284 points. Justin Haley is next with 273 points. Brandon Brown completes the top five with 180 points.

5. All for some popcorn?

According to LehighValleyLive.com, two eighth graders have been accused of arson after lighting an abandoned building at Nazareth Speedway on fire last weekend.

Nazareth Speedway hosted what is now the Xfinity Series from 1988-2004 but has sat abandoned since. Martin Truex Jr. won the last NASCAR race there.

Police said that the boys, one age 14 and the other 15, showed up on Snapchat recorded by one of the boys at the scene as the fire burned. According to police, the story says that before the fire, one of the boys stole lighter fluid, a lighter and Jiffy Pop popcorn from a nearby supermarket. According to police, the boys attempted to heat the Jiffy Pop from the fire.

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‘If you need to throw down, throw down’: The 1979 Daytona 500 40 years later

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This weekend’s Daytona 500 means “one of the high points of NASCAR” for Richard Petty is getting its yearly workout on the highlight reels.

That is the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, a race that helped launch NASCAR into the mainstream and has been a defining moment over the last 40 years.

With much of the East Coast trapped indoors due to a snow storm, a large audience tuned in to the first live, flag-to-flag broadcast of the “Great American Race” on CBS.

“Wasn’t but three TV stations at that particular time,” Richard Petty said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “If you was going to watch TV, then the racing was probably what people were watching.”

With Ken Squier calling the action, viewers saw race leaders Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough wreck on the backstretch, half a lap from the checkered flag.

Petty, who was running in third, assumed the lead and won his sixth Daytona 500. But as Petty drove to Victory Lane, Squier jumped in with an important news bulletin: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers are overflowing, they’re angry, they know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.”

The fight in the Turn 3 grass, which included Donnie Allison’s brother, Bobby Allison, may have been bitter at the time, but proved immensely positive for fueling NASCAR’s growth.

“You come down to the last lap, you see the rednecks come out in the racing part of it,” Petty said. “It was a perfect storm the way it wound up, with the weather, the way the race ended. … It couldn’t have been a better footstep for NASCAR at that particular time.”

Four decades later, few Cup stars were even alive for that race. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were 3, Jamie McMurray was 2, Ryan Newman was 14 months old and Kurt Busch was born six months earlier.

What do some drivers who were born after 1979 think of the moment they’ve only known through highlights?

Here’s a few thoughts from Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day.

Denny Hamlin (Born November 1980) – “I just see what every other person saw on TV. I’m always interested to hear how it all happened. When they cut away for a while talking to other drivers and commentating on things happening, they kind of caught it mid-fight. Who did the shoving first? I think it’s important because it really was the defining moment of when the biggest audience was watching NASCAR and so they latched onto that, and that was something people really loved.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (October 1987) – “It’s cool. If you need to throw down, throw down.”

Austin Dillon (April 1990) – “I’ve probably been seeing that clip for a long time since I’ve been watching a lot of Daytona 500s. I don’t know what my first clip would be, but I guess understanding it, understanding it and how important it was to our sport, I was probably 12, 13 when I really kind of got it, 14. …

“There’s a lot of things throughout history and sports that don’t pertain necessarily to the sport that were important to the sport. You know, it’s huge because it’s entertainment, and that’s what we’re trying to do is entertain fans, and the moment we get away from that, we lose our fans. We need to stay entertaining and that’s a part of it.”

Joey Logano (May 1990) – “That’s the biggest race of the year.  Whether it’s now or then, it was a big deal to win the Daytona 500 and it still will be, and it is. They play (the highlight) every year about five or six times, so I’m sure I was a little guy the first time I saw it.”

Kyle Larson (July 1992) – “I guess you see it in highlight films all the time. So I feel like that moment is something that helped grow NASCAR at the time. But yeah, when I drive through (the tunnel to the infield), I don’t think about the fight. But no, it was definitely a moment that will live on in NASCAR’s history.”

William Byron (November 1997) – “I’m so young, I wasn’t around for a lot of that. I guess, like, growing up watching honestly Jimmie (Johnson) and (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) win races at the 500, then watching Kevin Harvick win (in) 2007. Those are the races that stick in my mind.

“I’m trying to make memories of myself. It’s cool to see some of that stuff come around full circle.”

Some of the drivers were asked if it was possible for such a moment to happen again to the sport.

Hamlin said it “Definitely can.”

“Sometimes it happens in the motorhome lot, it’s not on the backstretch,” he said.

They also happen on pit road, as Larson pointed out.

Kyle Busch tried to punch Logano in the face a couple of years ago (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), so yeah … it could happen.”

 

NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood dies at 93

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Wood Brothers Racing patriarch Glen Wood, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012, died Friday. He was 93.

The team announced his passing Friday morning on social media.

Wood was a link to NASCAR’s early years.

A former driver – he won four times at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. – Glen Wood founded the Wood Brothers Racing team with brothers Leonard and Delano. In Wood’s first win at Bowman Gray Stadium in April 1960, he beat a field that included former champions Richard Petty, Rex White, Ned Jarrett and Lee Petty. Wood’s history also includes seeing Tim Flock race with a monkey and having Ralph Earnhardt drive convertible and sportsman cars for the team.

His racing career nearly ended as soon as it started. Wood and a friend paid $50 for a 1938 Ford coupe to go racing. The Stuart, Virginia, native ran his first race at a track near Martinsville. During the heat race, his car was hit and bent the rear-end housing. After the race, Wood and his friend hooked the race car to the vehicle they were driving and headed home.

But on the trip, the axle eventually broke, and the damage caused spilling fuel to ignite. The fire engulfed the back of the race car.

“Every once in a while one of them (gas cans) would blow up, and we would be afraid to get close to it because of that,” Wood recalled in a 2011 interview. “Finally we got it unhooked and got the car away from (the one pulling it) and let it burn because we couldn’t do anything about it.”

They salvaged the engine and repaired the car. A few weeks later, Wood was back racing.

While Leonard is often credited as the father of the modern pit stop, Glen was equally as responsible. The two developed a communication and strategy plan that was one of the best in NASCAR for several decades.

Wood Brothers Racing, which has 99 Cup victories, remains the oldest continuous racing team in NASCAR. Among the drivers that have raced for the team are Hall of Famers David Pearson, Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Joe Weatherly, Fred Lorenzen, Cale Yarborough, Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott.

Born on July 18, 1925, Glen retired as a driver at the age of 39, assuming full-time duties as the team’s chief administrator, a role that he handled for nearly 30 years before relegating the role to sons Eddie and Len.

Through the years, Wood’s name mysteriously changed. His birth certificate lists his first name as Glenn, but somewhere along the way the last letter was dropped.

Wood received the colorful nickname of “Wood Chopper” early on for how he used to cut timber at a Virginia sawmill. But when Glen started racing, that nickname followed him and became somewhat of a calling card for his winning ways.

“When he pulled into a racetrack, and the announcer would say, ‘Here comes the Wood Chopper from Stuart, Virginia,’ you knew you had a challenger that night,” Ned Jarrett, a fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer, said of Glen Wood in a 2012 NASCAR Hall video of Glen Wood’s career. “Glen Wood, he was the master.”

Kyle Petty, who drove for the Wood Brothers during his career, was a Hall of Fame voter when the group discussed who to induct in the 2012 class. Behind the closed doors, Petty made an impassioned speech for the voters to select Wood for induction.

“I think people forget the breadth of somebody’s career sometimes when it spans as long as his,” Kyle Petty said that day in 2011.

In a statement, Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Board of Directors for Ford Motor Company, said of Wood’s passing:

“This is a difficult day for all of us at Ford Motor Company. Glen Wood was the founding patriarch of the oldest continuously operating NASCAR Cup Series team and we consider Wood Brothers Racing a part of our family, the Ford Family. The Wood Brothers race team, by any measure, has been one of the most successful racing operations in the history of NASCAR. Most importantly for our company, Glen and his family have remained loyal to Ford throughout their 69-year history.

“Glen was an innovator who, along with his family, changed the sport itself.  But, more importantly, he was a true Southern gentleman who was quick with a smile and a handshake and he was a man of his word.   I will cherish the memories of our chats in the NASCAR garage, at their race shop in Mooresville or the racing museum in Stuart.  My most memorable moment with Glen was with he and his family in the #21 pit box watching Trevor Bayne win the 2011 Daytona 500 and the celebration that followed in victory lane.”

In a statement, NASCAR’s Jim France said: “In every way, Glen Wood was an original. In building the famed Wood Brothers Racing at the very beginnings of our sport, Glen laid a foundation for NASCAR excellence that remains to this day. As both a driver and a team owner, he was, and always will be, the gold standard. But personally, even more significant than his exemplary on-track record, he was a true gentleman and a close confidant to my father, mother and brother. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I send my condolences to the entire Wood family for the loss of a NASCAR giant.”

In a statement, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said: “Everyone at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is saddened by the passing of Glen Wood. The word ‘legendary’ sometimes is overused, but it absolutely fits Glen and the team that he and his brother, Leonard, founded and built into a powerhouse in NASCAR. Wood Brothers Racing has such a deep, rich connection to IMS through its multiple entries in the Brickyard 400 and by serving as the pit crew for the Lotus/Ford that Jim Clark drove to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Glen’s legacy as a fine driver and motorsports innovator will be matched only by his enduring status as one of racing’s true gentlemen and class acts.”

Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this report

Milestones Cup drivers could reach in 2019

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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NASCAR Cup drivers have many milestones ahead of them in 2019.

Here is a look at some that could be reached this season:

Wins

Jimmie Johnson has 83 victories and is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time list. His next victory will tie him with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison in fourth. Johnson was winless in 2018, the first time he ran a full Cup season without a victory.

Since winning in his rookie season of 2005, Kyle Busch has never failed to find Victory Lane in the Cup series – a streak of 14 seasons. He’s also had great success in the Xfinity and Truck series. Busch is six total wins away from achieving 200 victories across NASCAR’s top three divisions. Busch has 51 Cup wins, 92 Xfinity wins and 51 Truck wins.

Kevin Harvick is five wins away from joining the exclusive 50-win club that has 13 members. Johnson and Busch are the only active drivers with more than 50 Cup wins.

Hendrick Motorsports looks to extend its streak of consecutive seasons with a Cup win to 34 this year.

Last year Erik Jones and Chase Elliott won, marking three consecutive seasons in which drivers scored career-first victories. That was the longest streak since 2005-2007. The last time at least four consecutive seasons highlighted first-time winners was from 1994-2003.

Top 5s

Jimmie Johnson is seven top fives away from tying Lee Petty for 10th on the all time list with 231.

Kevin Harvick is nine away from achieving 200 top fives.

Top 10s

With four top 10s, Clint Bowyer will become the 37th driver to crack the 200 mark.

Kurt Busch is 20 away from achieving 300 top 10s, which will make him the 21st driver to do so.

Jimmie Johnson has the most top 10s among active drivers with 352 (11th on the all-time list). With nine top 10s he will tie Terry Labonte in 10th.

Kevin Harvick (336) could become the active driver with the most top 10s if he earns 16 more than Johnson.

Poles

Since winning his first pole in the spring Bristol race of 2010, Joey Logano has earned at least one per year. In 2019, he looks to extend his streak to 10 consecutive seasons. Last year, he earned only one pole at Kansas in the fall.

Chase Elliott has won at least one pole in his first three full-time seasons at the Cup level, but he has never earned more than two in a year.

Career Starts

Kurt Busch has 648 starts, which places him currently 23rd on the list. If he makes all the races in 2019 he will pass Dale Earnhardt Sr. and move to 18th on the list.

Kevin Harvick (646), Ryan Newman (620) and Jimmie Johnson (615) also have more than 600 starts.

Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman each have 612 consecutive starts to start the season, which ties them for ninth on the list. If they make nine more consecutive starts they will catch Mark Martin. With 16 more consecutive starts, they will catch Jeff Burton. If both Johnson and Newman make all of the races in 2019, they will end the season tied for sixth with Dale Earnhardt Sr. (648).

Assuming the following drivers make all of the races, this is when they should reach their respective milestones:

500th

Kyle Busch: Feb. 24th at Atlanta
Martin Truex Jr.: Aug. 11 at Michigan
Denny Hamlin: Oct. 6 at Dover
Clint Bowyer: Oct. 13 at Talladega

300th

Michael McDowell: June 9 at Michigan
Aric Almirola: July 21 at New Hampshire

200th

Austin Dillon: March 31 at Texas
Kyle Larson: June 30 at Chicagoland

100th

Ty Dillon: April 28 at Talladega
Erik Jones: Sept. 1 at Darlington
Daniel Suarez: Sept. 21 at Richmond

What’s at stake: Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. —  Here’s a look at some of the key issues heading into tonight’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The Roval is coming

This is the last race before the series heads to Charlotte to compete on the Roval for the first time. The uncertainty of what that cutoff race will be like — especially after several drivers spun or wrecked in testing there — could lead to some panic among drivers tonight. Or make them more cautious.

“I know everybody talks about how wild it’s been, and I’ve been right there amongst them,” Chase Elliott said of the Roval. “But until we get there, I don’t know. That race might be the smoothest race of the year. It’s just tough to say. It’s going to be so slow, I’m sure there will be a lot of rooting and gouging next week and real easy to pick-up some damage on your car.

“As fragile as these cars are, we saw last week guys were just barely touching the wall and three or four laps later they’re crashed. That’s the big one for me is just how fragile these cars are now. And you can’t really even lean on anybody and continue forward. So, It’s important to run good here, absolutely. I would love to go and have another (win) sticker Saturday night and not have to worry about next week.”

Elliott enters tonight’s race nine points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman for the final cutoff spot to advance to the second round.

Clint Bowyer, though, isn’t worried about tonight’s race.

“Richmond’s going to be fine,” he said. “Richmond is going to be good stages for us and a win. That way when we go to the Roval we don’t have to worry about you asking me about the pressure of the Roval.”

Will a winless streak end?

Kyle Larson has finished runner-up six times this year but is still looking for his first victory of the season.

He’s on a 37-race winless streak. His last victory came at Richmond last September.

Other playoff drivers seeking to snap a long winless streak include Aric Almirola (146-race winless streak), Jimmie Johnson (50), Ryan Blaney (49), Denny Hamlin (38) and Alex Bowman (winless in 108 Cup starts).

Joining history?

Brad Keselowski seeks to become the ninth driver in NASCAR’s modern era (since 1972) to win four consecutive races. Others who have won four in a row in Cup in that time: Cale Yarborough (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Dale Earnhardt (1987), Harry Gant (1991), Bill Elliott (1992), Mark Martin (1993), Gordon (1998) and Johnson (2007).

Pit road woes?

In the spring Richmond race, five teams that made the playoffs were penalized for pit road infractions. Those penalized in that race were: Kevin Harvick (tossing equipment), Kyle Larson (not in control of tire), Alex Bowman (speeding), Austin Dillon (commitment line violation) and Ryan Blaney (not in control of tire)

Will a pit road penalty impact a playoff team tonight?