The pair kick back and have swap stories. One of the most notable tales: Jarrett talked about his father Ned’s friendship with Dale Jr.’s grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt.
Jarrett related how the relationship between his father and Ralph hit a rough patch after they had a dust-up in a Sportsman race. The normally mild-mannered Ned was so angry at Ralph that he refused to attend his wife’s baby shower for Dale Sr. because Ralph would also be in attendance.
Ned Jarrett dutifully drove his wife to the shower, but stayed in his car the entire time.
Catch the outcome of that story, as well as many others on today’s edition of NASCAR America.
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SPARTA, Ky. — As Kurt Busch decided last year where he would drive this season, it didn’t take long.
A short meeting with car owner Chip Ganassi laid the foundation for a deal that was completed in about three hours, announced in December and bore fruit last weekend with Busch’s first victory of the season.
In the 30-minute conversation Busch had last year with Ganassi about driving for the car owner, Busch found what he sought.
“(Ganassi’s) level of commitment as a racer is something that I saw,” said Busch, who had run the previous five seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing. “Yes, Tony Stewart is a racer, but I was more on the Gene Haas side. When Chip said, ‘I want you to win for me, I want you to make these guys winners, and if you can bring that (Monster Energy) sponsorship with you, I’m going to pay you this,’ it was just like the most respect that I had felt in a long time when it came to a contract negotiation.”
Respect was a word the former Cup champion used in multiple interviews Saturday in discussing his move to Ganassi.
Busch said on NBCSN’s post-race show that when a contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t work, he called Ganassi and quickly had a deal.
“That’s just the respect factor that I was looking for,” Busch told Krista Voda, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.
Busch went on to say in the media center after the race about how quickly a deal was agreed upon: “It meant that I was wanted. And when you have that, that’s that extra desire to push and to make this group a winner.”
When the deal was announced in December, Ganassi said: “It’s not oftentimes that a NASCAR champion, a Daytona 500 winner becomes available. When you’ve got a guy that is a racer like Kurt … you’ve got to take a serious look at it. It didn’t take me long when he became available.”
As Busch, who turns 41 on Aug. 4, looks ahead to the playoffs, he also has to focus on what he’ll do next season. The deal with Ganassi is only for this year. So what’s next for Busch?
“For me, it’s a matter of just having the dominos line up and everybody fall together and to make it happen,” he said. “I guess the easiest way to move things forward is request for proposals are going out Monday with sponsors, with manufacturers, with team owner.
“Yes, a win, that might have happened last week at Daytona, is one of those moments. Tonight is one of those stamps on — this 1 team is a powerful team, and it would be stupid not to keep this group together, and that’s part of my leverage, but at the end of it, we just want to make it work for all parties.”
After a night like Saturday, Busch said: “It gives you that energy of, yeah, it’s fun, and let’s get our sponsors lined up and let’s do this (again).”
Ryan Newman has a simple rule on blocking, a tactic that has become more prevalent with the race package this year.
“I don’t do that personally, that’s not the way I race, I race hard,” Newman said. “Because it’s not the way I want to be raced. It’s not right.
“You don’t change the way that you enter a corner to choke somebody off knowing that it’s going to slow you down. You as a racer are supposed to go out there and race as hard as you can to try to catch the guy in front of you, not let the guy behind you stay behind you.”
Newman also noted a conversation he had with Ryan Blaney earlier this season after he was blocked by Blaney multiple times.
“Ryan Blaney and I have had it out after the race, not in a mean way,” Newman said. “(I) just told him, I said, ‘Listen, the next time you do that, it’s not going to be good for you. That’s not the way I race. You want to block me, it’s not going to be good.’ I don’t mean it as a threat. I’m just telling him that’s the fact of it.
“I don’t race that way. If I block you, you’ve got the right to turn me around, but if you choke me down going into the corner just to try keep me behind you, expect to get loose.”
Blaney admitted he threw “a couple of big blocks” on Newman in the Charlotte races in May.
“You make those decisions in a split-second,” Blaney said. “You’re not trying to screw that guy over, you’re just like ‘I have to help myself.’ Between me and Ryan (Newman), I’ve always liked that you could talk to someone afterwards and have an understanding about it.
“Newman said that was a big block, that was a kind of a late one. I said, ‘Yeah, I knew it was close, sorry.’ You could tell how close it was by how hard he hit you on the bumper. It’s good to talk about it and not kind of let it brood over. Me and Ryan have always been good friends. He’s someone I’ve looked up to for a long time. He’s been a friend of my family’s for a long time. It was good to talk to him and understand it.”
To NASCAR,it was a simple call in penalizing William Byron for jumping the restart at Kentucky Speedway.
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, explained the penalty on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday.
“(Byron) fired first in the restart zone, and he wasn’t controlling the restart,” Miller said. “It’s kind of as simple as that.”
In the rules video that was played in the drivers meeting at Kentucky, it stated: “It will be the control vehicle’s discretion to restart in the zone between the double marks and the single mark on the outer wall and on the racing surface.”
The penalty took place on Lap 184 of the 267-lap race. Byron went from second place to a lap down after serving the penalty and never recovered. He finished 18th.
Paul Menard confirmed this past weekend his contract status for next season, saying:
“I have a good job, for sure. I love the Wood Brothers. I love my race team. They are good people. I have a contract for next year. I guess it is getting to be that time of year when people start talking about things. I have a contract and I love my team. We just have to perform better, that is all.”
Menard finished 11th Saturday. He is 20th in the season standings, 54 points out of the final playoff spot.
Sponsorship issues nearly cost eventual Truck champion Brett Moffitt his playoff eligibility last year and threaten the playoff eligibility for Tyler Ankrum this season.
Ankrum won last weekend’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky but lack of sponsorship could be an issue for him.
Ankrum was set to run a full season for DGR-Crosley once he turned 18 in March. He announced in June that he would not be running a full season with the team because of lack of sponsorship.
He started races at Iowa and Gateway for NEMCO Motorsports and retired after less than 20 laps in both races, finishing 31st at Iowa and 30th at Gateway. By starting those races, he kept his playoff eligibility. Ankrum received a waiver from NASCAR for missing the season’s first three races because he was not 18 years old at the time and could not run at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas. He’s run the remaining races.
DGR-Crosley is a Toyota team and it leads to the question of what responsibility Toyota has to ensure that one of its playoff teams remains eligible for a championship run.
David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said the company will help in ways its best suited to do so.
“Our focus is on providing technical support to our team partners, and David Gilliland and his family, they’re not maybe at the (Kyle Busch Motorsports) level but make no mistake, we do have a strong technical partnership with them,” Wilson told NBC Sports after Ankrum’s win.
Wilson said that Toyota had been with the team when they took what was the winning truck to a wind tunnel earlier.
“We obviously are engaged and hopeful that they can put enough (sponsorship) together to keep Tyler moving forward, and we’d love to have him in the playoffs,” Wilson said.
Wilson admits a focus for Toyota is on Kyle Busch Motorsports. Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland are both outside a playoff spot with three races left in the regular season.
Toyota has two teams in the playoffs as of now with Ankrum and Austin Hill, who won at Daytona for the reigning Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship team, Hattori Racing Enterprises.
Whatever Toyota teams are in the playoffs will get Wilson’s attention.
“Obviously we’re going to focus our resources on whomever is fighting to win the championship,” Wilson said. “There’s not a question about it. If it happens to be non-KBM trucks, so be it.”
Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET and will recap Kurt Busch’s win over younger brother Kyle on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.
Jeff Burton is joined by A.J. Allmendinger and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett to discuss that and other storylines.
If you can’t catch either of today’s shows on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com.If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.
Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.
Corey LaJoie and GoFas Racing will pay tribute to Dale Jarrett’s Xfinity Series career with their throwback paint scheme for this year’s Southern 500 (Sept. 1 on NBCSN).
LaJoie’s No. 32 Ford will be made to look like the No. 32 Nestle Crunch car Jarrett drove from 1990-91 in the Xfinity Series (then the Busch Series).
Jarrett won five times in that time, including twice at Darlington Raceway.
The Crunch-inspired scheme will have sponsorship from Keen Parts/CorvetteParts.net.
“The car looks great and I’ve always been a fan of Dale, so to carry this scheme around Darlington is awesome,” LaJoie said in a press release. “I think we did a great job keeping the scheme as close to the original as possible while incorporating the CorvetteParts.net logos into it. I can’t thank Tom and TJ Keen enough for allowing us to run this design – it’s one of my favorite schemes. I might even have to shave myself a mustache so I don’t do the car a disservice.”
Chicagoland Speedway and Grundy County Speedway are located roughly 25 miles apart. But until recently, that distance might as well have been 2,500 miles.
Their class of racing is as disparate as you can get. Chicagoland Speedway, located in Joliet, Illinois, plays host once a year to NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series, while Grundy County, located in Morris, Illinois, hosts four sportsman series on more than 20 weekends.
The 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway has a seating capacity of nearly 50,000, while the 1/3-mile Grundy County Speedway seats about 3,700. Ticket prices, concessions and souvenirs are also a world apart.
It used to be that the two tracks had little in common and little interaction. But that’s changing. Big tracks like Chicagoland Speedway realize that grassroots speedromes like Grundy County are fertile breeding grounds for racing fans. That’s why the two tracks are no longer competitors fighting for the same dollar. Now, they’re partners and friends in the racing world. Each supports the other, offers assistance and cross-promotes at the other’s events.
“They’re in our backyard essentially, we’re neighbors,” Denny Hartwig, Chicagoland Speedway’s public relations director, told NBC Sports. “There are several other short tracks around, but I think it’s so important to connect the dots between Chicagoland Speedway and Grundy County.
“We actually have some staff members that go there and work on their operations crew, so there’s a natural fit there. With them being so close to us and us to them, it’s important that we stay in touch. We find ways that are going to help them and there’s ways they can help us. But we need to be working hand-in-hand; it’s so important.”
Scott Kosak, founder of the grassroots racing site RacingIn.com (its motto is “For Fans of Fast”) has kept a keen eye on increased relationships between tracks like Chicagoland and Grundy County.
“Any time a major league entity recognizes the synergies with the minor league entities that are in proximity, that’s a great thing for the sport,” Kosak said. “Specifically for NASCAR, when the series only comes through Chicago once a year, many of those same race fans want to be engaged year-round.
“If they’re not able to watch a race on Sunday on TV, they can go to a place like Grundy County Speedway virtually 25 or 30 Fridays or Saturdays a year and be engaged by the product. That can only help race fans continue to feel engaged with a sport that has had its share of growing pains, but also has its share of opportunities if they’re able to continue to engage fans year-round rather than just watching on TV or a hand-held mobile device.”
Chicagoland Speedway opened in 2001. Grundy County has been around since 1905, first in rural Mazon, Illinois from 1905-71. When it outgrew its venue, Grundy County Speedway relocated 10 miles north to its current home.
“Short tracks right now are trendy, it’s hip, it’s cool,” Hartwig said. “It’s a pretty small space, so there are synergies between the two (tracks), and along that path, there are ways we can help them and they can help us. That’s going to help everybody involved, from the local guys to the (NASCAR) folks down in Daytona.”
In its 18-year existence, Chicagoland Speedway has hosted a number of NASCAR stars including Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Grundy County Speedway has also seen its share of NASCAR luminaries chase the checkered flag there, including Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin and Stewart, as well as Tom and Ted Musgrave, late actor/racer Paul Newman, Johnny Benson, Ryan Newman and others.
“Those guys don’t forget their roots, they don’t forget where they come from, guys like Clint Bowyer, who hasn’t forgotten where he comes from in Kansas,” Hartwig said. “Going back at Grundy, some of the guys that have raced there are big names in addition to the guy that works at the local hardware store.
“There’s a ton of history and the need to default back to it, that this is where they started, how it’s evolved and to reconnect, to realize and make sure this works well for both of us.”
As Technical and Operations Director at Grundy County Speedway, Don Marshall is essentially the traffic cop who keeps things on the straight and narrow. If a fight breaks out in the pits or if there’s an on-track incident similar to what happened between Johnny Sauter and Austin Hill at the NASCAR Trucks race in Iowa earlier this month, Marshall has a zero-tolerance policy.
“I make the rules up and enforce them,” Marshall told NBC Sports. “My thing is if it’s in the rules, it’s black and white. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. I don’t care who it is.
“If you want to fight, you’re going to get booted out. There’s no fighting, no leaving your pit to go to someone else’s pit and start something. Kids don’t need to see that or hear bad language. They want to see adults act like adults.”
Marshall oversees the racing with a soft-spoken but firm manner. Fields for the four classes have drawn a combined 87 cars entered this season, from the entry level Four-Cylinder Division, through the Street Stock and Mid-America classes, up to the kings of the track, the Late Models.
Racers come from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. And they bring family and friends.
“A lot of the fans in the stands probably know somebody who’s racing, and then there’s fans that have been going to races since they were kids,” Marshall said. “Their parents took them and now they’re bringing their own kids to the races.”
Those kids are the key to Grundy County’s future.
“We have to get the kids involved,” Marshall said. “We’ve got to take the phones away from the kids and also do things to get the costs down to get more people involved.”
Like in NASCAR, fans at Grundy County have their loyalties. One of the most successful drivers there is five-time track champion Eddie Hoffman Jr. The current Late Model points leader is bidding to tie his father, Eddie Hoffman Sr., for all-time titles (six) at the track this season.
“Eddie has fans and he has non-fans,” Marshall said with a smile. “When you’re a winner, people boo you. They don’t like repeat winners. If you win a lot, you’ll get booed.”
Back in the 1980s and ’90s, Grundy County Speedway often played host to packed houses. And while Morris has grown in population, the track still suffers from somewhat of an identity crisis at times.
“There’s a lot of people in Morris that don’t even know the race track’s there,” Marshall said. “We’ll do some promotional stuff and people will be like, ‘There’s a race track in Morris?’ Yes, it’s been there since 1971.”
Marshall has been involved in racing for more than 40 years. A former midget car championship crew chief, he has been at Grundy County Speedway since 2011. As long as there’s racing and he’s involved, Marshall is happy.
“Once you get racing in your blood, it’s hard to get away from it,” he said. “I tried to get away from it for a little bit and I got drawn back in.”
The enhanced relationship between Grundy County Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway is paying dividends, bringing more fans to the short track, especially on a weekend like this with NASCAR in town, both Hartwig and Marshall agree. While Grundy County will welcome NASCAR fans on Friday night, Chicagoland Speedway will recognize and introduce some of Grundy County’s champions during Saturday’s pre-race activities, as well as have them take part in a meet-and-greet in the infield fan zone.
“The guys at most of these short tracks are pseudo celebrities,” Hartwig said. “They’ve built their own brands, are racing in front of the same people – they may be racing in front of their neighbors. We thought it would be cool to bring them out, put them in front of a new audience and with the ultimate intention that some of our fans go to their track, some of their fans come to our track and we just tell their story.
“Later this summer, we’re going to be the entitlement sponsor for one of Grundy County’s races, so it’s something we’re going to continue to grow and work closer together to make sure we help one another. Whether it’s us going to Grundy County for a night doing social media at their track or bringing our mascot or our show car. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that I think is going to pay dividends for both facilities.”
Grundy County Speedway sits on the northern edge of the Morris, a blue-collar town of about 15,000. Located 60 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, Morris is surrounded by fertile farmland and is bisected by Interstate 80, which sees thousands of semi-trailers and cars pass through daily.
On the northern edge of town sits the Grundy County Fairgrounds, where the annual Corn Festival – a five-day festival touted by the Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau as “the perfect mix of small-town charm and big city fun” – is held and also is the home of Grundy County Speedway, which hosts races every Friday night (and occasionally on Saturdays) in spring and summer.
Two of Grundy County’s veteran racers are Randy Weese and Cheryl Hryn.
The 63-year-old Weese is celebrating his 25th year of racing at the speedway.
“I’m the old-timer,” Weese said with a laugh.
But racing keeps Weese young. He’s in excellent physical shape and could pass for someone 15 years younger. He attributes a lot of that to coming back week after week to race.
“It’s the camaraderie with the other drivers,” Weese told NBC Sports. “I was in it for about 21 years and then got out of it for about three years when we started our own (floor covering) business here in Morris and pulled me away from racing. I wanted to get that up and off the ground and then got lured back into the racing. I love it because it’s very exciting and it’s in the blood. Once you get it in the blood, it’s hard to get out of it and give it up.”
Grundy County Speedway has been good to Weese. He’s a two-time track champion and one of its biggest supporters. Not only does his company have several billboards and signage around the track, Weese also sponsors his own race car and six others driven by friends in the four divisions that regularly compete at the track.
He admits there are some unique moments with the cars he sponsors.
“It becomes interesting when your own sponsored race car is next to you and you’re doing a little bit of beating and banging or you’re trying to push that guy around and you say, ‘Hey, my name’s on that car,’” Weese said with a laugh.
But in a more serious tone, Weese says he believes in giving back to a track that has been so good to him. That’s why he writes so many sponsorship checks.
“If you don’t have cars, you don’t have a race track and you don’t have fans is what it boils down to,” Weese said. “You’ve got to fill the stands. But before you fill the stands, you have to fill the pits with race cars. People don’t like to see eight or nine cars. They would rather see 30 cars. Today, we’re 18 or 19 cars (in most classes). But I see that coming back, I see the car count getting better. That’s of course going to naturally increase the (number of fans in the) stands also.”
Although he has raced at other tracks, Grundy County Speedway is and always will be Weese’s home.
“It all started with my children,” Weese said. “I started coming out there when my children were six years old and I brought them year after year. I started getting to the point where I thought, ‘You know what, I could do this.’ My kids absolutely loved it. They’d pick out their favorite driver, go down into the pits after the race to get their autograph, get their hat or program signed. That’s what really keeps the people there.”
Weese’s 36-year-old daughter, Tracy, helps in the pits not only with his car but with others. The elder Weese sees himself racing for many more years.
“Even though I’m 63 years old, it’s still exciting,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. If the health stays well, I’m probably going to go to 70. It keeps you young.
“Most of the drivers out there are in their 30s or 40s. Hanging around that kind of age group keeps us older guys young. Plus, I’ve also taught a lot of guys racing things. We’ve got guys out there 15, 16 years old (racers can begin competition at 14 years old). I tell them to try this or that, and those 16 year olds started beating me. But I’m the kind of person that says, ‘You know what, that’s great, you tried it, it worked for you, you beat me, more power to you.’”
One of Weese’s fellow competitors and close friends is Hryn, who also competes in the Street Stock Division. The Blue Island, Illinois, resident followed in the footsteps of her father, who also was a sportsman racer.
“I always wanted to be behind the wheel,” Hryn said. “I thought it was neat when he did it and when I watched him against the people he competed with, that was what I wanted to do when I got older.”
Hryn is one of more than a half dozen females who compete at the speedway. She will make her first start of the season Friday.
“Each one of us girls, when we go out there, we stand on our own,” she said. “We fight tooth-and-nail with the guys and the other girls equally.”
Now in her 13th year of racing, the 49-year-old Hryn has ended the last few seasons thinking that maybe its time to hang up her helmet. But once January 1 rolls around, she’s already heavily into getting her race car ready for the upcoming season.
“It’s hard to walk away,” Hryn said. “I went to Rockford (Illinois) Speedway and they had a guy who was 78 years old in the Road Runner Division. When you’re almost ready to give up and then you go there and see someone out there 78 years old and still winning, how can you quit?”
Like Weese, racing is a family affair for Hryn. Her 31-year-old daughter Alexis is a major part of the crew, setting up the car, changing tires and more. It’s that kind of mother-daughter relationship that helps Hryn serve as one of the track’s key role models for female fans.
“Girls come up to me all the time,” Hryn said. “I have some of the real little ones that follow me real close. I have a Late Model driver whose daughter has been following me. She’s only five years old. Daddy was her favorite and now I’m her favorite.
“And then there are a couple of girls that race right now that have told me, ‘I’m doing this because of you. You made it interesting and you inspired me, so I want to race just like you.’ It makes me feel really great.”
Like Weese, Hryn also believes in giving back to the sport and to the track. Friday, she’ll have her fourth annual Kids Night bicycle giveaway, where she presents several dozen two-wheelers to kids attending the race.
“Last year, we gave away 86,” Hryn said. “Over 400 kids show up every year.
“That’s one of the reasons I do what I do with the kids because there’s a huge age gap between me and the next generation, and if you don’t get them in the stands, no one is going to be interested – and how are you going to keep the tracks going then?”
One of the closest observers of grassroots racing around the country, and particularly in Illinois is Scott Kosak, who started RacingIn.com in 2008. At the time, racing in all forms faced challenges in the U.S. Not only was that the height of the downturn of the economy, numerous grassroots short tracks and drag strips began closing.
“Over a decade ago, there were 1,600 grassroots tracks, including dirt and asphalt tracks, as well as drag strips,” Kosak told NBC Sports. “Now there are about 1,100.”
Grundy County Speedway is a survivor. Several popular grassroots tracks within a 100-mile radius of it have closed over the last two-plus decades, including Raceway Park (Calumet Park, Illinois); Santa Fe Speedway (Willow Springs, Ill.), Illiana Speedway (Schererville, Indiana) and Lake Geneva (Wisconsin) Raceway.
But Kosak has also noted a turnaround – primarily for grassroots tracks like Grundy County – in recent years.
“One of the benefits that grassroots racing has endured, while NASCAR has felt challenges over the last 10 years, is people that wanted to see great racing found it at their local race tracks,” Kosak said. “That’s not to say that NASCAR isn’t great racing, but as people’s attention spans have diminished over the last 10 years with the rise of social media, people wanted to see racing in a shorter segment, be able to see it close to home. They wanted to get their fix of fast, if you will, and they could see it in heats, and in a matter of three or four hours, they could see eight or 10 different races during that time period with shorter lap segments.
“I think NASCAR has adopted some of those things to its benefit and is starting to take a little bit from the playbooks of local tracks that are experiencing success because of some of the shorter attention span opportunities that they have evidence are successful.”
One of the biggest things that tracks like Chicagoland Speedway, Daytona International Speedway and others have taken from the playbooks of grassroots tracks is increased fan engagement and accessibility.
“The ability of race fans to see, touch and feel race cars and be a part of that experience (has rubbed off on NASCAR),” Kosak said. “The last time I went to Grundy County, what stuck out in my mind is that when they were done for the night, they opened the pit gates for people to be able to go into the pits and walk around.
“I believe that was an opportunity for everybody, whether they had a pit ticket or not. The racers of tomorrow are the youth of today. I think any time younger kids and younger fans and families can go and experience something like that and get as close to the action as that, that’s a plus for sure. NASCAR has some of those experiences now, as well.
“I think a lot of the reasons that grassroots racing is starting to come back is that the tracks that are surviving are finding ways to form partnerships with other larger entities to help them drive traffic. I think the relationships between grassroots tracks and some of the larger NASCAR tracks are a great example of that beginning to happen. We’re seeing that in the dirt world side with tracks in the World of Outlaws and other entities like that, but I think the parallel for paved oval track racing are relationships like what Chicagoland Speedway is doing with Grundy County Speedway.”