Carl Edwards

Bump and Run: Who will earn final playoff spots?

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Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson are fighting for the final two playoff spots (provided someone below them in the points doesn’t win any of the next three races). Which two do you think make the playoffs?

Nate Ryan: Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer.

Dustin Long: Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson.

Daniel McFadin: Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez. Of the four drivers they’re the only two who have produced consistent enough results.

Jerry Bonkowski: Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson. Suarez has had a strong season but hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves. Making the playoffs will be a huge boost for him and his team. Ditto for Johnson. Sure, he hasn’t won in his last 82 starts, but he’s never missed the playoffs. That would be even more embarrassing than remaining winless for the rest of the season.

At this point, who would be your Championship Four in Cup for Miami?

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr.

Dustin Long: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin

Jerry Bonkowski: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.

There are 36 charter teams. Sixteen make the Cup playoffs. That’s 44.4% of the charter teams making the playoffs. Are you OK with that? Or should there be a different number of teams make the playoffs?

Nate Ryan: I’d prefer that the field be limited to 12 drivers and the elimination sets changed to reach the Championship Four (how about eight drivers after Round 1 and six after Round 2?). While the “anybody who gets in can win the championship” argument is appreciated (and with Tony Stewart’s 2011 as a rallying cry), this season in particular seems to have accentuated that there are only so many teams truly worthy of running for a title. While Jimmie Johnson extending his playoff streak and Ryan Newman gritting out a berth are both nice storylines, they are the NASCAR equivalent of 16 seeds.

Dustin Long: It’s too many. But it’s on par with the Truck series where eight of the 19 drivers (42.1%) who have run in at least 80% of the races made the playoffs. And it’s on par with the Xfinity Series where 12 of the 28 drivers (42.9%) who have started at least 80% of the races will be in the playoffs. The 80% marker is used since one Truck driver, Tyler Ankrum, started 81.3% of the regular-season races, missing the first three because he was too young to race on those tracks, and made the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: I’d be OK if there were only 14 drivers in the Cup playoffs. It would add more drama to the regular season and postseason. Playoff eliminations don’t have to include round numbers in each round. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d like to see the playoff structure changed to see the top-20 teams make the playoffs. Then, 10 teams would be eliminated after the fifth playoff race, five others would be eliminated after the penultimate race, leaving five teams/drivers to battle it out in a winner-take-all race in the season finale.

What is your most memorable Bristol memory?

Nate Ryan: As far as races covered there, my first taste of a night race in person – Jeff Gordon bumping Rusty Wallace aside for the win during a 2002 race filled with emotion (Ward Burton’s heel pads, Jimmie Johnson’s obscene gesture, Elliott Sadler’s finger-pointing) – would rank at the top, beating out Carl Edwards’ bump on Kyle Busch in August 2008, Jeff Gordon’s shove of Matt Kenseth in March 2006 and Kurt Busch’s win under duress in August 2003.

Dustin Long: The 1999 night race where Dale Earnhardt spun Terry Labonte but meant only to “rattle his cage” on the last lap. What is most memorable is that several minutes after the race ended, the track played the radio call of the final lap on the PA system and when it got to the point where Earnhardt spun Labonte, boos cascaded from the stands. The stands appeared to be more than half full even then, people not wanting to leave after seeing such a wild finish.

Daniel McFadin: My memory comes from the first time I covered a race at Bristol in 2017 and it doesn’t involve the race itself. While driving to the track, I rounded a corner and suddenly it was in front of me. It just doesn’t make sense that a facility like Bristol exists where it does. Having grown up for 20 years watching Bristol races, it was a surreal moment.

Jerry Bonkowski: The first time I attended the night race at Bristol in 2000 is a memory that will forever stay with me. It was a battle of the senses, sounds, smells and more. Honestly, when cars took the green flag to start the race, the first thing I immediately thought of as I watched the action from pit road was tens of thousands of angry hornets had been released, the sound was deafening and overpowering.

Dale Jr. Download: Joe Gibbs and the mystery of Carl Edwards’ retirement

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It’s been roughly two-and-a-half years since Carl Edwards stunned the NASCAR world in January 2017 with the announcement he was stepping away from the sport.

No one was more stunned than his owner at the time, Joe Gibbs.

“I would have to say that conversation might have been (in) my top five as far as shocks for me in life,” Gibbs said on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download (airs at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“They said, ‘Hey, Carl’s outside,'” Gibbs recounted. “It was after the season. I figured he was going to come in and wish me a happy offseason and good Christmas.”

Instead, Edwards sat down and said, “Joe, I think I made up my mind. I’m going to step out of racing.”

“I was sitting there and I go, ‘You do realize that every young guy your age wants to drive a race car and make a ton of money? Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?'” Gibbs asked Edwards.

What’s even more shocking is that in June 2019 Gibbs still isn’t fully aware of the reasons behind Edwards’ departure after the 2016 season.

“Never really ever really got to the (reasons),” Gibbs said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to share with you, I’m not going to share with anybody the real bottom lines.’ … I will say this right now, I feel good about it from the standpoint, we still talk every now and then. Last time I called him he was on his boat in the Bahamas. I said, ‘Well, you’re doing pretty good.'”

Edwards sudden departure sent ripple effects through the sport that are still being felt today when it comes to drivers.

Martin Truex Jr. now drives the No. 19 Toyota that Edwards piloted for JGR, having replaced Edwards’ successor, Daniel Suarez, after the 2018 season.

With a drivers stable of Truex, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, Toyota and JGR find themselves with the challenge of what to do with Xfinity Series star Christopher Bell beyond 2019.

“That’s one of the challenges you’ve got, particularly in bringing along young guys,” Gibbs said. “It’s happened to us before and man, you get caught up in that, what’s the right decision? There are options there. We’re kind of considering everything. You’re trying to work your way through them. Of course, what we just talked about, the sponsor. How does the sponsor fit in all that. It gets to be really complicated.”

Gibbs discussed Toyota’s influence on Bell’s future.

“Honestly we don’t make any decision (without them), we’re constantly talking back and forth,” Gibbs said. “It’s a real partnership from a standpoint, we’re the ones that have to get the sponsors. So the race team is hard after it. … Some of these problems, if you remember back when we took Erik and he wound up going to the 77 over at (Furniture) Row (in 2017) and everything that happened there, those are tough decisions to go through and work through, but that’s the challenge of our sport. You can say what you want, but you’re not going to go anywhere unless you have great drivers.”

Also discussed in the episode:

  • Gibbs’ Hall of Fame NFL coaching career
  • Why Gibbs returned to coaching the Washington Redskins in 2004
  • Being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame with his former drivers, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte

 

Roush Fenway Racing won’t field Xfinity Series team in 2019

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Roush Fenway Racing will not field a team in the Xfinity Series for the first time in more than a quarter century, RFR President Steve Newmark confirmed Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Roush Fenway Racing first ran in the Xfinity Series in 1992 with Mark Martin, who won once in 14 starts that year. The organization has won a record 138 Xfinity races. Roush Fenway Racing also has captured five Xfinity driver titles — Greg Biffle in 2002, Carl Edwards in 2007, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011-12 and Chris Buescher in 2015.

Newmark told Claire B. Lang on SiriusXM’s “Dialed In” that the focus is on strengthening the Cup program with Stenhouse and Ryan Newman, who joins the team to drive the No. 6 car this season.

“We’re going to focus exclusively on both of those Cup teams (in 2019) and realized we needed to allocate all of our resources there,” Newmark told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ve fluctuated on the number of the teams in the Xfinity Series and a lot of that has been based on need. We’ve been four, we’ve been one, and I think (2019) we’ve decided on how we’re positioned we’ll step out of that for a year and see how that goes and just focus all the resources, all the engineering, all the wind tunnel on making sure that we perform to our expectations at the Cup level.”

Asked if sponsorship was a key factor in the decision, Newmark said: “There’s no doubt that sponsorship plays a factor in everything that we do. For better or worse that’s the way NASCAR is structured right now and sponsorship is the lifeblood for the teams. My hope is that at some point in time we continue to evolve to a model that moves a little bit way from that. But that was just a factor. We had a great run with Lilly Diabetes, five full seasons, we handled the Ford driver development program last year and the Xfinity Series is something that Jack (Roush) has always been passionate about.

“But when we look at where we are and what we needed to focus on, we just felt like that all the resources should be dedicated to Cup. We’ve always used Xfinity as a feeder series … for Cup, and when we look at our drivers, we’ve got those guys locked up and we think that they’re going to be with us for a number of years. We look at the engineering talent, we look at our crew chiefs, and we kind of felt like we had all the pieces of the puzzle in place and so really what we need to do is go out and execute at the Cup level and we’ll see where we end up in Xfinity in the future.”

Last season, Roush Fenway Racing fielded two full-time Xfinity teams: Ryan Reed in the No. 16 and Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Ty Majeski splitting time in the No. 60 car as Ford development drivers. Reed finished 11th in the points. 

Tour racing returns to the Milwaukee Mile with ARCA Midwest

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On Father’s Day 2019, tour racing will return to the Milwaukee Mile marking the track’s first super late model race in five years.

The 75-mile ARCA Midwest Tour race will headline a card that includes the Midwest Trucks, Mid-American Stock Cars and Upper Midwest Vintage series.

“It is our continued initiative to bring racing back to the historic Milwaukee Mile,” said Kathleen O’Leary, CEO at the Wisconsin State Fair Park on the ARCA Midwest Tour website. “We are excited to host this race on Father’s Day in 2019.”

ARCA’s premiere series raced three times at Milwaukee with Frank Kimmel winning the most recent event in August 2007.

NASCAR’s last appearance at the track was a double header in with the Xfinity and Gander Outdoor Truck series in 2009. Carl Edwards won the Xfinity race; Ron Hornaday Jr. won in Trucks.

The last major event on the .75-mile track was an IndyCar race in July 2015 won by Sebastian Bourdais.

The Milwaukee Mile has hosted races since 1903, which makes it the oldest operating motor speedway.

NASCAR’s best cage rattling short track finishes

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The history of exciting short track finishes in NASCAR is long, colorful and angry.

The latest entry occurred Sunday night at Martinsville Speedway.

Here’s a look at iconic short track finishes that have sent fans into a frenzy and competitors a rage.

“WHERE’S KYLE PETTY?!” – Richmond (Fairgrounds) Raceway – Feb. 23, 1986

Before its multi-million dollar renovations, Richmond Raceway was basically a slab of concrete with a guard rail around it.

The old Richmond track was the site of Kyle Petty’s first Cup win. That wouldn’t have been possible if not for an intense battle between Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip that ended with three laps to go with contact in Turn 3 and a vicious multi-car wreck.

This is also the race where Earnhardt famously cleaned his own windshield while on the track.

GORDON vs WALLACE X 2 – Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol Motor Speedway is synonymous with the names Earnhardt and Labonte.

But Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace have multiple Bristol entanglements in their history.

April 13, 1997

Their first run-in came on the final lap of the spring race, with Gordon giving Wallace the bump-and-run in Turn 3 and sneaking by for the win.

Aug. 24, 2002

This time it was under the lights.

With flames on his hood instead of a rainbow, Gordon gave Wallace the boot with three laps to go and went on to snap a 31-race winless streak.

THE INTIMIDATOR STRIKES BACK – Bristol Motor Speedway, Aug. 28, 1999

Earnhardt was up to it again.

Four years earlier, Bristol hosted the first round of The Intimidator vs the Ice Man, as Earnhardt wrecked Terry Labonte coming to the checkered flag. Labonte won and pulled an obliterated No. 5 Chevrolet into Victory Lane.

Earnhardt wasn’t having any of that this time.

The seven-time champion spun Labonte as they entered Turn 1 on final lap and slipped by to earn his 73rd Cup win.

If not for a mechanical problem, Labonte said recently he would have retaliated. 

 

MARTINSVILLE MARVEL – Martinsville Speedway, April 1, 2007

After Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, the winningest drivers at Martinsville are Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are tied with nine.

In 2007, Johnson entered the April Martinsville race with just two wins on the short track. He got No. 3 after coming out on top of an 18-lap battle with Gordon.

The last lap looked almost like its 2018 counterpart, except Gordon never led.

TEAMMATE TAP Richmond Raceway, April 24, 2016

Richmond returns to the list courtesy of Carl Edwards’ bump-and-run of teammate Kyle Busch in the final turn two years ago.

PLAYOFF PUNT – Martinsville Speedway, Oct. 28, 2018

It’s still fresh on everyone’s mind.

Sunday’s move by Joey Logano that Martin Truex Jr. called a “cheap shot.”

An intense five-lap battle turned into an almost three-wide finish at the checkered flag, with Logano clinching a spot in the championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.