Dale Earnhardt

Bump and Run: NASCAR documentaries we’d like to see

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With sports documentaries the rage now thanks to film series on Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong, what’s a NASCAR story you’d like to see a documentary on?

Dustin Long: The 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. The sport was going through significant change. Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper all were killed in crashes that season. Roper died the day before the Talladega race from injuries suffered in a Truck crash at Texas. Talladega saw new rules to enhance passing after that year’s Daytona 500 had nine lead changes, the fewest in that race since the rain-shortened 1965 event. When speeds neared 200 mph, NASCAR made a restrictor-plate change the day before the Talladega race, an unheard move at the time. With all of that happening, the sport also was looking ahead to a 2001 season that would put races on Fox and NBC. In the midst of all that came a magical run, as Dale Earnhardt went from 18th to first in five laps, scoring his final Cup win. Afterward he simply said: “I don’t know how I won it. Honestly.” So much was happening in and around this one race. 

Daniel McFadin: I’d like a documentary on an obscure driver who finished second in one of NASCAR’s biggest races: Johnny Beauchamp. A native of Iowa, Beauchamp only made 23 Cup Series starts and won twice. But his legacy is mostly tied to the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. After a photo finish with Lee Petty, Beauchamp was declared the initial winner. But following days of reviewing film and photographs, NASCAR reversed course and made Petty the winner. Petty was already famous and would be for the rest of his life. How would the career of Beauchamp, who died in 1981, have been impacted had he won that race?

Jerry Bonkowski: I would love to see a documentary on Richard Petty and how much he has meant to the sport over the last 60-plus years. Unfortunately, many of today’s younger fans never saw Petty either race or race in his prime. He was the Michael Jordan of NASCAR, in my opinion, one of the most dominant drivers ever. Plus, he could spin hours of great stories that NASCAR fans would love to hear either again or for the first time. The King is a true NASCAR treasure and a documentary on him would only serve to further share his legend.

 

The first night Cup race at Martinsville Speedway is Wednesday but it won’t have any fans. What will it be like for you to see the historic race in such a setting?

Dustin Long: Sentimentality may tug at me a bit since I’ve covered nearly every Martinsville Cup race for more than 20 years. But my thoughts will be more with the fans who make the annual pilgrimage to the track and those who would have been making their first trip there and experiencing a Martinsville hot dog for the first time.

Daniel McFadin: The lack of fans definitely takes some of the luster off the race. This is an event that’s had multiple years of hype since the lights were installed. Outside the Bristol fall race, I can’t remember the last time I was excited about a night race like I am about Wednesday’s. It’s been very disappointing seeing historic races and controversial moments occur over the last three weeks without cheering fans as a soundtrack. 

Jerry Bonkowski: While it’s obviously not the situation the track or fans wanted, I’m convinced it will only serve to further whet fans’ appetite for when the next night race will be held at Martinsville – and with fans in attendance. This has been a milestone that fans and NASCAR have long waited for. In time, it has the prospect to become almost as popular as the annual night race at Bristol, in my opinion.

 

What driver or drivers have stood out to you since the series resumed last month?

Dustin Long: The talk is once a driver gets over 40 years old their skills diminish and their winning ways will dissipate, yet 44-year-old Kevin Harvick continues to win races and run in the top 10. That’s impressive. Chase Elliott also has impressed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull off a string of wins at some point.

Daniel McFadin: The Team Penske drivers. While Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have each won twice, Ryan Blaney has been a consistent frontrunner, finishing in the top four in three of the last four races while having a potentially winning car at Bristol before he was in a wreck. So far, the decision to swap all three crew chiefs in the offseason is proving to have been a good one.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch. All but Busch have won a race since the sport’s return – and Busch has been knocking on the door with two top five and three other top-10 finishes. It’s just a matter of time before he takes the checkered flag. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do so Wednesday at Martinsville.

 

How soon until Jimmie Johnson wins a race?

Dustin Long: If he doesn’t do it soon, it could be much more difficult. Hendrick Motorsports is viewed as having the top cars but how long will the organization hold that advantage?

Daniel McFadin: I give it at least five races if he doesn’t win Wednesday at Martinsville. That five-race stretch ends at Indianapolis, where he’s won four times.

Jerry Bonkowski: He’s come close several times already since NASCAR’s return to racing following the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is Johnson due, at 105 races to date without a win, the seven-time champ is long overdue. I believe that when he finally breaks through, it will be at a place where he has excelled in the past. He’s won nine times at Martinsville, his second-most successful track. Can he make it 10 Wednesday night and finally get that winless streak off his back?

Richard Childress auctions Dale Earnhardt car, $425K goes to charity

Photo courtesy Richard Childress Racing
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For the first time ever, NASCAR team owner Richard Childress has parted with a legendary Dale Earnhardt-driven race car from his personal collection, with the $425,000 raised going to COVID-19 relief charities.

Auctioneers Barrett-Jackson held online bidding from May 9-16 for the 1996 No. 3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Earnhardt won with that year at Rockingham Speedway and earned several other top-five finishes through 1999.

“I’ve never parted with an Earnhardt Chevrolet from my collection, but with a global pandemic taking place and people in our communities suffering, it’s time to do what I can to help,” Childress said in a statement. “All proceeds will benefit much-needed causes to fight the devastating effects of COVID-19 on a local and national level.”

This autograph is from the 1996 car Earnhardt drove, including a win at Rockingham. Photo: Richard Childress Racing.

The winning bidder chooses to remain anonymous, but the money will be split equally to the charities Feeding America and Samaritan’s Purse.

“America is facing unprecedented times right now and it’s going to take everyone working together and making sacrifices to make a difference,” Childress said in a statement. “I have so many memories of this No. 3 Chevrolet, including celebrating with Dale Earnhardt in Victory Lane.

“I will always hold those memories dearly, but now I am thrilled to see that the winning bidder will be able to build memories as well.”

Childress is also auctioning off more than 300 other items from his personal collection on eBay to raise additional money for charity. Click here to be taken to that auction.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kevin Harvick aware of ‘responsibility’ that comes with 50+ Cup wins

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Kevin Harvick entered another tier of excellence Sunday with his dominating NASCAR Cup Series victory at Darlington Raceway.

With his second career victory at the track “Too Tough To Tame,” the 44-year-old driver notched the 50th Cup Series win of his two-decade career.

That’s an achievement only 13 other Cup drivers – including two who are active – have reached. All 11 retired drivers who have reached the mark are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

With the victory, Harvick joins competitors Jimmie Johnson (83 wins) and Kyle Busch (56) in the 50+ win club.

More than half of Harvick’s wins – 27 of them – have come since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. He’s now tied with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett.

“I’m always very cautious in trying to analyze things that I do personally, just because I feel awkward doing that,” Harvick said Monday on NBCSN’s “Lunch Talk Live” with Mike Tirico. “But I think in this particular instance, when you talk about Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson and those types of names, you have to kind of sit back. For me I almost have to pinch myself, because those are people that have had a major impact on our sport. So you hear those names, sometimes I sit back and try to ask myself, ‘Have you done what you needed to do in order to live up to the expectation of what those guys have done besides just winning 50 races?’

“There is a responsibility that comes with all that when you put yourself up next to names like that and for me that’s a good reminder of making sure that you take seriously the responsibility of trying to make the sport better and move it forward, because that’s what those names have done and they’re icons in our sport and I’m personally holding myself responsible to try to come close to living up to those expectations.”

The last time the Cup Series boasted three active drivers with 50+ wins was the 2001 Daytona 500, the weekend before Harvick’s debut.

In the field that day were Dale Earnhardt Sr., Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace. Earnhardt had 76 wins and Gordon and Wallace had joined the 50-win club within three weeks of each other the previous season.

Earnhardt’s death in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 resulted in Harvick being promoted by Richard Childress Racing to take his place the following weekend at Rockingham. He’d earn his first Cup win in his third start, beating Gordon in a photo finish at Atlanta.

With Johnson set to retire from full-time Cup racing after this season, the active 50-win club will be back to two drivers relatively quickly.

Harvick might be the last driver to enter the 50-win tier in the Cup Series for at least a few years.

The next active driver on the all-time wins list is Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, 39, sits at 38 victories following his win in the Daytona 500 in February. He’s won seven times over the last two seasons after going winless in 2018.

Behind Hamlin is Kurt Busch (31 wins) and Brad Keselowski (30 wins). Busch, 41, is in his 20th full-time Cup season and hasn’t had a season with more than one victory since 2015.

Keselowski, 36, has been winning at a consistent rate the last four seasons, winning at least three times each year since 2016. If he kept that pace up, he’d need another six to seven seasons to reach 50.

Gaunt Brothers Racing hires technical director

Gaunt Bros Racing
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Nick Ollila has joined Gaunt Brothers Racing as its technical director, the team announced Monday.

Ollila will oversee the engineering department for the Cup Series team that fields Daniel Suarez‘ No. 96 Toyota.

A native of Warren, Michigan, Ollila arrives at Gaunt Brothers Racing after a three-year stint as the technical director for Kelly Racing in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship. His arrival comes ahead of the return of NASCAR racing on May 17 at Darlington Raceway.

“Nick brings considerable insight into what we’re doing with our current inventory of race cars and what we’ll be doing with our NextGen car in 2022,” Marty Gaunt, president and CEO of Gaunt Brothers Racing, said in a press release. “He has deep experience in all forms of motorsports, specifically in embracing technology and managing people. Nick also has a strong rapport with our partner Toyota, as many of the people he worked with when he was at Red Bull are the same people there today. He’ll be able to hit the ground running, which is good, because with two to three races a week, we’re all going to be running.”

This is a return to NASCAR for Ollila, whose career began in 1976 and included a stint as drivetrain specialist at Rod Osterlund Racing in 1980 when Dale Earnhardt won his first championship.

In 1997, he worked with Gaunt at Kranefuss-Haas Racing. Gaunt was the general manager of the Cup Series team and Ollila was its chief engineer. Their paths crossed again 10 years later at Red Bull Racing, where Gaunt was the general manager and Ollila was the chief aerodynamicist.

“Motorsports is my passion, and I’m proud to have turned it into a career,” Ollila said in a press release. “I’ve spent time in a variety of racing series, but NASCAR is the one that intrigues me the most. The level of competition is unmatched, so success is very satisfying. I’ve known and worked with Marty Gaunt and many of the people at Gaunt Brothers Racing for years. They’ve got a great foundation and they’re building for the future, and I’m very happy to be a part of shaping that future.”

This is Gaunt Brothers Racing’s first full-time season in the Cup Series. Suarez is 31st in the point standings through four races. The team failed to make the Daytona 500 but has run in the other three races.

NASCAR’s top 5 moments from Martinsville Speedway

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When you’re the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, having opened in the sport’s inaugural season in 1949, you have a lot of stories to tell.

That’s the case with Martinsville Speedway, which is the next subject of our on-going series looking back the top five moments of specific NASCAR tracks.

The short track in Virginia follows  MiamiTexasBristol, former NASCAR tracks, Richmond,  Talladega and Dover.

Let’s get started.

1) Retaliation and One Last Victory (Nov. 1, 2015)

A lot happened in the fall 2015 Cup Series race at Martinsville. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. All of it was memorable.

Entering the final round of playoffs before the championship race, Joey Logano had swept every race in the previous round.

Along the way he’d ticked off Matt Kenseth, a result of spinning Kenseth from the lead with five laps to go at Kansas.

Two races later, Kenseth laid out his version of justice on NASCAR’s oldest track.

After being involved in a wreck on a Lap 435 restart, Kenseth returned to the track multiple laps down as Logano led.

As the the field entered Turn 1 on Lap 454, Logano attempted to lap Kenseth on the outside. That was perfect for Kenseth, as he proceeded to run straight into Logano, forcing Logano into the wall and wrecking himself in the process.

Meanwhile Jeff Gordon, who had been running in second, raced by to take the lead. After a red flag to clean up the wreck, the race resumed as Martinsville began running out of sunlight.

Following a late Sam Hornish Jr. incident, Gordon successfully held off Jamie McMurray in a two-lap shootout to claim the win. It was his only win of the year, his 93rd Cup victory and it locked him into the Championship 4 in his final full-time season.

 

2) Earnhardt vs Waltrip vs Labonte (1987)

It was the year of Earnhardt.

Through 23 races in the 1987 Cup Series season, Dale Earnhardt had won 11 times, including all six races held on short tracks.

The fall race at Martinsville was a three-way contest between Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte and it came down to them in a three-lap shootout to end the race.

As Earnhardt took the white flag, he led his 170th lap. In second was Labonte, who had led 119 laps and Waltrip, in third, had led 137.

Labonte tried to pass Earnhardt on his outside in Turns 1 and 2, but Earnhardt pinned him to the outside wall as they exited onto the backstretch.

As they entered Turn 3, Labonte lurched forward and rammed Earnhardt’s rear bumper, sending Earnhardt up the track and Labonte into a spin. Waltrip snuck by underneath them, took the lead and raced to the checkered flag.

It was Waltrip’s only win of the year and his eighth Martinsville victory.

3) An Andretti wins for Petty (1999)

John Andretti only won twice in NASCAR Cup Series career, but he made both of them count. In 1997, he won the July Daytona race while driving for three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

Two years later, he won for The King.

In the spring 1999 race at Martinsville, Andretti was the driver of Richard Petty’s No. 43 car. While Petty had won a record 15 times on the short track, a Petty-owned car hadn’t won there since 1979.

Andretti changed that with a hard charge to the win.

He started 21st and spun on Lap 48 after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton. Andretti then passed leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 135 to get back on the lead lap.

On Lap 383 of the 500-lap race, Andretti pitted from 11th, took two tires and exited in fourth.

He eventually caught race leader Jeff Burton on Lap 494 and they would race side-by-side for two laps before Andretti took the lead for good. After taking the checkered flag, Andretti gave Petty a lift to Victory Lane.

4) Ricky Rudd Beats The Heat (1998)

On a 93-degree day in Martinsville, Ricky Rudd went above and beyond to ensure he’d extend his streak of seasons with at least one Cup win to 16.

Rudd led 198 of 500 laps, including the final 96. But with a broken cooling box, it was not an easy task.

“I started seeing things with 60 laps to go,” said Rudd, who requested a relief driver with 50 laps to go. “I was starting to lose it. I should have come out.”

Rudd suffered second-degree burns to his back and had to conduct his Victory Lane interview with ESPN laying down.

Rudd’s steak of seasons with a win would end in 1999. He wouldn’t win again until 2001 at Pocono.

5) No Ray Evernham, No Problem (1999)

The team of the late 1990s was Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 squad, led by crew chief Ray Evernham.

From 1994-1999, Evernham led Gordon and the “Rainbow Warriors” to three Cup Series titles and 47 race wins.

Then, in the middle of the 1999 season, he was gone. Evernham departed the team after the Sept. 26 race Dover to begin building Dodge’s Cup Series operation, which would debut in 2001.

His departure occurred right before the fall race at Martinsville. Taking his place as crew chief of the No. 24 was Brian Whitesell.

While the Oct. 3 race didn’t see the typical dominating performance by Gordon at the short track, he only led 29 laps, the end result was familiar.

Dale Earnhardt was leading late when a caution came out for a Chad Little incident in Turn 4. While the rest of the leaders pit, Gordon’s team elected to stay out and he assumed the lead with 25 laps to go.

Gordon then held off Earnhardt for the final 19 laps under green and beat him by .198 seconds for his sixth win of the season.