Bump & Run: Should NASCAR look at future street race for Cup?

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Should NASCAR run a Cup race on a street course?

Nate Ryan: Absolutely. It’s the best avenue for getting into some major metropolitan areas where NASCAR belongs (Seattle, New York, perhaps Denver) but has little chance of gaining a foothold with a permanent facility. It would add a wrinkle to the right-turn racing that has delivered some great action for the past decade at the two road-course stops in Cup. And despite there being a lack of current momentum, there is past evidence it’s worked for lower stock-car series in cities as large as Los Angeles in the past.

Dustin Long: It would be a good move to get into markets the sport doesn’t race in now, but the key question is what will the racing be like? For those who imagine it would be beating and banging on a tight circuit, well, there’s less of that now on short tracks, in part, because of how little contact damages fenders and can create tire rubs. Open up the fenders then that could encourage the type of racing.

Daniel McFadin: Please? There’s precedent for it with the old NASCAR Southwest Tour holding three races in the streets of Los Angeles from 1998-2000. I sincerely believe a stock car race on a street course would be a better product than IndyCar could ever provide. With the close quarters, it would encourage more beating and banging and there’s no pesky penalties for “avoidable contact.” Like this year’s Roval race, let’s just try it once.

Dan Beaver: Absolutely. NASCAR’s schedule is already among the most diverse in all sports. To be crowned the champion, the driver should be able to show skill on every type of track. My vote is Central Park, which would give NASCAR their much-coveted venue in the Big Apple. For that matter, they should also run on a dirt track.

What is a memorable road course moment that stands out to you?

Nate Ryan: Because it’s Sonoma weekend, I’ll pick Marcos Ambrose stalling his car while leading and trying to save fuel under caution with seven laps remaining in the June 20, 2010 race. The massive blunder dropped Ambrose from first to seventh for the final restart, and it was historically significant for two major reasons: 1) It was the most agonizing of seven winless trips to Sonoma for Ambrose, a two-time Cup winner at Watkins Glen and one of the greatest road-course drivers in NASCAR history; 2) The gaffe handed the victory to Jimmie Johnson, who led the final seven laps for his only win on a road course in NASCAR.

Dustin Long: Tony Stewart‘s last Cup win in 2016 was a last-lap thrill ride at Sonoma. Stewart led starting the final lap, lost the lead to Denny Hamlin after contact in Turn 7 and got it back after making contact with Hamlin on the final corner. 

Daniel McFadin: Anytime I’ve encountered someone who decries NASCAR as just a bunch of guys going in circles, I make sure to show them video of the last lap of 2012 Cup race at Watkins Glen. It’s everything you’d want on the last lap of any race: the leader getting spun, NASCAR not throwing a caution, multiple lead changes, cars going off track and a drag race through the final turn. I think it was the watershed moment for road course racing in NASCAR.

Dan Beaver: The 1991 Sonoma race. Whether Ricky Rudd deserved to be black flagged for spinning Davey Allison on the next-to-last lap might be open to debate, but the timing of the penalty – more than a full lap later, with Rudd in sight of the checkered flag – was startling. Equally surprising was the fact that NASCAR decided to penalize Rudd just the one position he made up with that contact  – restoring the running position from before the contact.

Between these two groups, who would you take this weekend at Sonoma — The field or Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch?

Nate Ryan: Repeat season won’t be ending anytime soon in NASCAR: Take the Big Three.

Dustin Long: Considering that Harvick, Busch and Truex have won three of the last five Sonoma races and the other two winners (Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards) aren’t in the series, it’s hard not to take the Big Three.

Daniel McFadin: The field. There’s been nine different winners at Sonoma in the last nine races and only once in the last seven races has the winner started in the top five. I think we’re in store for the most unpredictable race of the year that hasn’t been on a restrictor-plate race.

Dan Beaver: The field: There are so many variables on a road course that this is one of the best opportunities for the field to beat Harvick, Busch, and Truex by employing an alternate strategy.

Friday 5: Toyota looking for more with Fords dominating first third of season

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Although Toyota is ahead of pace for wins compared to last year when the manufacturer scored 16 Cup victories, the president of Toyota Racing Development isn’t satisfied.

Toyota has four wins this year — three by Kyle Busch and one by Martin Truex Jr. — but Ford has scored a series-high seven victories.

“I always use laps led as an indicator of performance because if you’re not leading laps than something is not right,” Toyota’s David Wilson told NBC Sports. “I think Dover, for the first time since Atlanta of 2017, a Toyota did not lead a lap. That was an alarm bell. That’s not acceptable. We recognize that we need to be better and we’re on it.”

Only one Toyota driver (Busch) ranks in the top five in laps led this season. Kevin Harvick has led 21 percent of all laps run this year. Busch is next at 12.7 percent.

Toyota won 14 of the final 19 races last year and scored the championship with Martin Truex Jr. So, why isn’t Toyota as dominant this year?

“We make no bones about it, Fords, the Ford camp … the No. 4 camp in particular is out front right now and kudos to those guys,’’ Wilson said, noting Harvick’s success. “I think what happened in the offseason with the flat splitter and the (Optical Scanning Station) clearly brought the field closer together, but our MO isn’t one to whine about it or complain about it.’’

Wilson admits Toyota had found advantages with the splitter and now that is gone with the rule change for this season.

“We were doing some really clever things with the front of our cars and year over year, we just lost some front downforce,’’ he said. “That’s why you hear a lot of our guys complaining about having tight race cars.’’

Wilson also spoke to NBC Sports about a couple of other topics.

On the need for a fourth manufacturer in Cup, Wilson said:

“When we came into this sport, we had four manufacturers with Dodge being the fourth. As soon as Dodge left, one of our first agenda points with NASCAR (was) to start beating the drum to get another manufacturer on board.

“With the size of the field, given the investment that each of us make, the sport will be healthy with another manufacturer, so again I know and trust that NASCAR is out there looking.’’

On the aero package run with restrictor plates run at the All-Star Race and what adjustments need to be made, Wilson said:

“I don’t think we want the drivers to be flat-footed all the time. We have the best drivers in the world and we’re putting them in a situation where some of them equated it to a video game. Most of them had fun. It was fun, but it was also the All-Star race and it wasn’t a points race. Again, these are the best drivers in the world. These cars should be hard to drive.”

2. Falling behind

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 marks the halfway point in the 26-race regular season.

Kevin Harvick already has 24 playoff points — and that’s after he was penalized at Las Vegas and lost all seven playoff points for his victory ands stage wins. Kyle Busch is next with 17 playoff points.

No one else has more than seven playoff points.

Those points could mean the difference in advancing in the playoffs or going all the way to the championship round in Miami.

Denny Hamlin, who has one playoff point, understands the deficit he could be facing. Should Harvick and Busch continue to collect playoff points, they could give themselves a big enough advantage to make it to Miami provided they don’t have major issues in any of the rounds.

Martin Truex Jr. had such a large playoff point advantage last year that he qualified for Miami with one race left in the third round, leaving only one spot left in the championship field when the series headed to Phoenix for the final race of that round.

“That’s a continued concern for us,” Hamlin said. “That’s really what made us press so much in the second-to-last playoff stage last year. We knew there was essentially one spot available after those three had locked themselves in.

“We’re trying everything we can. We really have struggled with stage points. We’re finishing well. I’ve made a few mistakes on pit road this year and that has set us back on stage points. I think we’ve got to focus on stage points first then we worry about playoff points.”

3. Betting on NASCAR

Kevin Harvick is an interested observer in what will happen after a Supreme Court decision earlier this month struck down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting.

Delaware is on pace to be among the first states to have sports betting outside of Nevada. Dover International Speedway has a casino next to the track. NASCAR fans attending the Oct. 7 Dover playoff race could have their first chance to legally bet on a NASCAR event while attending that event.

Harvick has had segments on sports betting each of the past two weeks on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. So what has he learned?

I have more questions than answers just because of the fact that we have a couple of race tracks that have casinos on the property already,” Harvick said, alluding to Dover and Kansas Speedway.

“It seems like there’s a very good opportunity to get creative with a place like Dover that has that casino sitting there to have some creative betting during the race to really intrigue the fans – things that you could do from your phone or in the casino or just random stuff,” Harvick said. “Could you turn that track and race into an atmosphere like a horse race? I think there’s just a lot of questions and a lot of answers that need to be individually solved. That’s the interesting part is it’s going to come state by state, so who is going to lead that charge? Is it race tracks or is it NASCAR?”

Harvick stressed finding a way that some of the money bet filters back to the sports. The NBA seeks what it calls an “integrity fee” for all bets related to its events. Whether that is possible, remains to be seen.

Harvick also noted that a change that needs to be made is how TV money is distributed in NASCAR. Tracks keep 65 percent of the money from broadcasters, teams get 25 percent and NASCAR collects 10 percent. According to International Speedway Corp.’s 2017 annual report, broadcast and ancillary media rights accounted for 50.2 percent of total revenues for that year. 

4. Special Day

Wednesday’s Hall of Fame selection proved poignant with Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison, who were killed within months of each other 25 years ago, joining the Class of 2019.

There are many special connections between those. One was a special observer. Tom Roberts is a long-time family friend of the Allisons. He served as Bobby Allison’s p.r. person for several years. He also worked with Kulwicki as his p.r. person. Roberts also has helped spearhead the Kulwicki Driver Development Program to help young drivers climb the ranks of racing.

Roberts had never attended the Hall of Fame announcement but came up from his Alabama home to witness Wednesday’s proceedings.

“It just felt right,” he said of seeing both make the Hall. “It will take a while to soak in (that both made it together).”

5. New winner?

An interesting stat for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is that the top 11 qualifiers have never won this race.

Austin Dillon scored his first Coca-Cola 600 — and first Cup win — last year.

Kyle Busch starts on the pole and will be joined on the front row by Joey Logano.

The other drivers in the top 11 who have never won the 600 are: Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson.

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What might have been: Jeff Gordon driving for Jack Roush?

Craig Jones /Allsport
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Had things gone differently, Jeff Gordon might have driven for Jack Roush instead of Rick Hendrick.

Gordon told the story after he was selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019 Wednesday with Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Roush.

Recall that Gordon’s first full-time ride in what was called the Busch Grand National Series, he drove a Ford for car owner Bill Davis.  

Here’s how Gordon tells the story:

“I had a contract that was like a year‑to‑year contract with Ford where they gave me a car, a little bit of money, drove for Bill Davis.

“The Roush thing, I think, came when they got wind that I was starting to get some offers. The first one came from Cale Yarborough in ’91. (I told him) I’m not even halfway through my rookie season. I can’t do that.

“But Bill was gracious enough to let me go test that car. Many people don’t realize I tested for Cale out here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I spun out, I just didn’t hit anything.

“Went through ’91. Then in ’92, that’s when things got real. We started winning. We won the race in Atlanta. Everybody knows about the story about Rick Hendrick seeing me there. I don’t know what happened, but the buzz started getting around.

“Of course, Bill wanted to go Cup racing. Didn’t look like a reality to me at the time. It seemed like we were a long way from being a Cup team. It was a great Busch Grand National team.

“So Ford came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to talk to you about a potential opportunity with Jack Roush.’ I never spoke to Jack until after all that. But that’s what Ford had mentioned to me. I think it was kind of out of desperation of, we don’t want to lose you in our camp. I think by that point I was already set with what I was going to do with Rick.

“By the way, if I had the opportunity prior to Rick calling me, I’d have jumped on top of that. To drive for Jack Roush, how amazing would that have been? So I’m happy the way things worked out, but you can believe had I not already been signed with Rick. …  It all worked out for the right reasons, but I would have done that.’’

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NASCAR America: Davey Allison inducted into the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame

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In a life cut tragically short because of a helicopter accident at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, it was almost as if Davey Allison knew he had to make his mark quickly. Allison won twice as a rookie in 1987 – at Talladega and Dover Downs International. His legacy will be honored with induction into the 2019 Hall of Fame.

Because of his untimely death, Allison lacks the numbers of other Hall of Fame members. He never earned a championship and scored only 19 wins. But then again, he started only 191 races at NASCAR’s top level, which gives him a winning percentage of 10 percent.

And he may have come within 43 laps of winning the 1992 championship before he was eliminated in an accident in the season-ending Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Allison raced for his family and the fans. He won the 1992 Daytona 500, but counted a second-place finish in that race as his favorite memory – because it came on the bumper of his father Bobby Allison, who was inducted in the Hall in 2011.

In a phone interview with Krista Voda and Kyle Petty, Davey’s widow Liz Allison recalled the relationship Davey had with the people who supported him.

“To me, the most special thing about Davey was his relationship with his fans,” Liz Allison said. “He just had a way of being able to relate and the fans felt like they were truly a part of Davey – a part of his team.”

Liz described instances when she had to pry Davey away from the fence because he was busy signing autographs.

The positivity Davey gave to the fans also impacted his attitude behind the wheel.

“He always was an upper,” Bobby Allison said after the announcement that Davey would join him in the Hall. “When things went wrong, he always would say ‘we’ll get ‘em tomorrow, and we’ll be fine.’”

Jeff Gordon leads 2019 Hall of Fame Class

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Jeff Gordon, the four-time Cup champion who ushered in a new era of NASCAR on and off the track and opened a pathway for younger drivers to the premier series, was selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 on Wednesday.

The 46-year-old Gordon is the youngest inductee among the 10 Hall of Fame classes.

Joining Gordon in the Class of 2019 are: Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki.

Gordon was selected on 96 percent of the ballots — surpassing the record of being on 94 percent of the ballot shared by David Pearson (Class of 2011) and Robert Yates (Class of 2018).

Roush was selected on 70 percent of the ballots, Penske was on 68 percent, Allison was on 63 percent and Kulwicki was on 46 percent.

They will be inducted Feb 1, 2019.

The next three top vote-getters were Buddy Baker, Hershel McGriff and Waddell Wilson.

A total of 57 ballots were cast — 56 by Hall of Fame voting members and one online fan ballot. The fan ballot had Allison, Gordon, Kulwicki, Baker and Harry Gant.

Jim Hunter was selected as the Landmark Award winner for his contributions to NASCAR as a media member, p.r. person, track operator and NASCAR official.

Gordon’s selection marks the third consecutive class that features a member of Hendrick Motorsports. Car owner Rick Hendrick was selected to the Class of 2017. Ray Evernham, Gordon’s crew chief for three of his titles, was voted to the Class of 2018. 

“I think it tells you a lot about that combination, what Rick created in his organization and the people,” Gordon said. “When Ray and I came to work, Ray told me all the resources are there, this could be something really special. It obviously ended up being way more than we ever anticipated. Those two are like family to me. To be able to follow them is very, very, very special. … Besides my parents, I owe those two everything to how they contributed to my life in more than just racing.”

Gordon’s success made car owners more open to hiring young drivers. Gordon also opened a pipeline from Midwest sprint car racing that helped future Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, among others, move to NASCAR.

Gordon’s influence goes beyond the track. He introduced NASCAR to mainstream America in the 1990s when he dominated, winning Cup titles in 1995, ’97 and ’98. Gordon appeared in national ads that weren’t just during NASCAR races and was the first — and only — NASCAR driver to host Saturday Night Live.

Gordon won 47 of his 93 career Cp wins between 1995-99. The driver dubbed “Wonder Boy” early in his career by Dale Earnhardt won his fourth title in 2001 — the year Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. Gordon won three Daytona 500s, five Southern 500s and five Brickyard 400s.

Off the track, Gordon displayed class and poise throughout his career. He also displayed emotions. Gordon cried when he won his first points race, the 1994 Coca-Cola 600. He celebrated what was his final Cup win in November 2015 at Martinsville by bouncing, hooting and shouting “We’re going to Homestead!”

With Gordon’s selection the top five all-time winners in Cup will be in the Hall of Fame — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Gordon.

Kulwicki, the 1992 Cup champion, joins the Hall of Fame after coming close the past two years. He was among the top three vote getters not selected to the Class of 2016. He was tied with Ron Hornaday Jr. for the last spot in the Class of 2017. Both were selected on 38 percent of the ballots and Hornaday was selected in a second vote.

Kulwicki is revered for his underdog run to the ’92 title where he beat Bill Elliott by 10 points as a driver/owner. Kulwicki won five career Cup races before he was killed in a plane crash in 1993 on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway from a sponsor appearance.

Allison won 19 races, including the 1992 Daytona 500. He also was the 1987 Rookie of the Year and finished second to his father in the 1988 Daytona 500.

Allison was a fan favorite for his personality and persistence. Three months after Kulwicki died in a plane crash, Allison died from injures suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Roush, whose name has been synonymous with success for most of his Cup career, joined the premier series in 1988 with Hall of Famer Mark Martin.

Roush, who has scored a record 325 victories across NASCAR’s national series, won his first Cup title in 2003 with Matt Kenseth and won the 2004 crown with Kurt Busch. Roush has five Xfinity championships and one Camping World Truck Series title.

Penske is better known for his success in IndyCar, including his 16 Indianapolis 500 victories as a car owner, but he’s also made an impact in NASCAR.

Penske won the 2012 Cup title with Brad Keselowski and has two Daytona 500 victories. He also built Auto Club Speedway and once owned Michigan International Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway. In Team Penske’s 52-year history, it has 489 major race wins across all series and 553 poles. Included are wins in IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1 and the 24 Hours of Daytona.

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