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Former NASCAR driver James Hylton, son killed in auto accident

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — James Hylton, the 1966 Cup rookie of the year, and his son were killed in an auto accident in Georgia, NASCAR confirmed Saturday afternoon.

Hylton was 83. His son James Harvey Hylton Jr. also was killed in the accident on I-85 in Franklin County, Georgia. No other details were available. Georgia State Patrol declined to provide details to NBC Sports about the incident, stating a report would be available Monday.

The Roanoke Times reported that Hylton and his son and crew chief Terry Strange were traveling back to South Carolina after Friday’s ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway when the accident happened around 6 a.m. Saturday, according to Hylton’s ex-wife Evelyn Hylton.

MORE: Racing community reacts to death of James Hylton

She told The Roanoke Times that a police officer came to her door Saturday morning and informed her what happened.

“[The officer] said Terry … told them that he thought James was having a heart attack and he looked over at him and lost control of the truck and went across the median and then across the other lane of traffic and hit an embankment,” Evelyn Hylton said in a phone interview with The Roanoke Times. “The truck, towing a big trailer with a race car on it, thousands of pounds, you have to be really careful.”

NASCAR and ARCA issued a statement on Hylton’s death.

“Racing competitively in parts of six decades, James Hylton’s dedication, passion and longevity in motorsports is virtually unmatched. Hylton won the rookie of the year at NASCAR’s highest level, the 1972 race at Talladega Superspeedway and regularly contended for championships during the early years of his career. His racing influence continued into the ARCA series, where he competed as a driver and, most recently, a car owner. We have lost a truly special member of the racing family and a beloved figure among generations of competitors and race fans alike. We extend our deepest condolences to the Hylton family on the tragic loss of James Hylton and his son James Jr.”

Hylton was born on his family’s Virginia farm in 1934 and learned to drive on his father’s Ford Model T. During his motorsports career, he worked as a mechanic for NASCAR Hall of Famer Rex White and as a crew chief for Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett before becoming a driver.

Hylton, an independent driver, won two Cup races in 602 career starts. He won at Richmond in 1970 and at Talladega in 1972. He last drove in a Cup race in 1993 at Darlington Raceway. Hylton finished second in points in 1966, ’67 and ’71.

He made his NASCAR Premier Series debut in the 1964 Old Dominion 400 at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Virginia. Hylton finished 19th in a 20-car field. Jarrett won that race and was among four NASCAR Hall of Famers in that race (David Pearson was second, Richard Petty was eighth and Wendell Scott was 18th).

Hylton made his first start in ARCA in 1986 and climbed out of the car for the final time in that series in 2013 after running the entire schedule. He competed in 175 ARCA races with a best finish of 14th three times. Hylton was a car owner in ARCA. Brad Smith finished 31st in Friday’s ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway.

 

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Kyle Busch’s streak reaching historic level

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Kyle Busch’s victory Saturday at Richmond Raceway continued his historic run, making him the third Cup driver in the last 35 seasons to score seven consecutive top-three finishes.

Busch will seek to tie the runs of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Harvick had eight consecutive top-three finishes from late in the 2014 season to early in the 2015 campaign. Gordon had eight top-three finishes in a row in 1998.

Busch’s run marks the ninth time in the modern era (since 1972) that a driver has finished in the top three in seven consecutive races, according to Racing Insights.

The record in the modern era is 13 consecutive top-three finishes. Darrell Waltrip did it in 1981 and David Pearson did it in 1973 — Pearson’s total was not consecutive races but consecutive starts since he did not compete in every race that season. The all-time record is 16 consecutive top-three finishes by Richard Petty in 1971.

Busch also seeks to win his fourth Cup race in a row this weekend at Talladega.

“Pretty cool to win three in a row,’’ Busch said after his victory at Richmond. “That’s really special. Certainly we did that in ’15. Almost won four in a row. We ran out of gas, half a lap to go (at Pocono in 2015). Next … we go to Talladega. I think it’s easier to win the Power Ball than win at Talladega. We’ll give it a go anyway, see what we get.’’

Busch finished 27th at Talladega in October and third last April there, losing the lead on the last lap of overtime to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The last driver to win four races in a row is Jimmie Johnson, who did it in October and November 2007 on the way to the second of his five championships in a row. Johnson won at Martinsville, Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix during what was then called the Chase.

Busch’s win at Richmond also was the 46th of his career and tied him with Hall of Famer Buck Baker for 15th on the all-time list.

Busch is two behind Hall of Famer Herb Thomas for 14th on the all-time list and three behind Tony Stewart, who is 13th on the list.

“To tie another Hall of Famer is a lot,’’ Busch said. “It’s a huge deal to climb the ladder of wins.’’

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Friday 5: As the youth movement progresses, should there be minimum age limits?

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By his father’s account, 13-year-old Jake Garcia fared well while becoming the youngest driver to compete in a Late Model race at historic Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville last weekend.

Garcia finished 13th in a 19-car field in a race won by Michael House and placed ahead of former Cup driver Sterling Marlin, who was 15th. The performance came about two months after Garcia’s Late Model debut — before he had turned 13.

Garcia’s first Late Model race, though, was actually late when compared to Timmy Tyrrell, or Mini Tyrrell as he’s know around the track. Tyrrell made his first Late Model start when he was 9 years old in 2014 at Shenandoah (Virginia) Speedway. Tyrrell has won the past two Late Model track championships there.

As NASCAR celebrates a youth movement in Cup — more than 20 percent of the drivers in Monday’s race at Martinsville Speedway were age 24 or younger — children are moving up to the Late Model ranks at an earlier age.

There remain some barriers. The minimum age for a NASCAR license is 14 years old, so no one under that age can race in a NASCAR-sanctioned division at a NASCAR-sanctioned track. Tracks without such sanctioning can decide if to allow youngsters to race and some do.

That also leads to questions of if it is right to put a child in a Late Model car before they are a teenager or just as they reach that age. There are those who raise concerns since auto racing can be dangerous even with all the safety enhancements.

Timmy Tyrrell, father of Mini Tyrrell, said he’s heard the “nasty comments” about putting his son in a Late Model at such an early age and the accusations of him being “reckless” with such a decision but says that is not the case. 

“As a father, first and foremost, I want to wrap my kid in bubble wrap whatever he does,’’ Timmy Tyrrell told NBC Sports. “Nobody wants to see their child hurt. I go above and beyond, making sure his seats are perfect, his helmet, his HANS, everything.’’

Tyrrell said the decision to move his son to Late Model wasn’t done by just him but based on evaluation of others in racing. That’s the same approach Stevie Garcia used before allowing his son, Jake, to run Late Models. Jake Garcia is in a driver development program set up by Willie Allen, the 2007 Rookie of the Year in NASCAR’s Truck Series. Jake Garcia tested four times at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville — a .596-mile venue that once hosted Cup races — to learn the car and track and showing he could handle racing there.

Allen said they had cameras on the car and some data acquisition devices to help Garcia study those tests and understand what he needed to do to race there.

Garcia impressed Allen with how he performed.

“He’s super calm and composed for his age,’’ Allen told NBC Sports. “I see a lot of other drivers that worry about the wrong stuff at the race track all the time. He’s just focused on how to make himself better and attacking the track and that’s what it is all about.’’

Garcia or anyone else younger than 14 cannot run in a NASCAR-sanctioned division at South Boston (Virginia) Speedway because it is a NASCAR-sanctioned track, but General Manger Cathy Rice wonders if there will be a day when the minimum age requirement is lowered.

“Kids mature so much now, so early,’’ Rice told NBC Sports. “I’ve been in this sport, this is 30 years this year that I’ve been here, I’ve seen the trend of the maturity in the kids. Maybe NASCAR will look at 12 or 13, I don’t know, the insurance and everything you have to deal with, there’s a lot to it.’’

Former Cup champion Kyle Busch, who started in Late Models at age 15 before he was caught for being too young, says there can be cases for younger drivers to race in Late Models.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily an age thing as much as it’s an experience thing,’’ he said. “I look at go-karts, how did that particular individual do in go-karts and Bandoleros or Legend cars – what has his history been in vehicles? Has he won races? Has he been good? Has it been worth him moving up each and every time that he gets to a new vehicle?

“I don’t think it’s smart to just start at 10 or start at 13 in a Late Model, that absolutely should not be possible.’’

Busch admits the move to Late Models was significant when he made it.

“I was scared to death of the thing,,’’ he said. “With how much faster it was than a Legends car, how much cornering speed it had more than a Legends car and what anything I had ever been in and what I had been used and accustomed to as far as what the grip level was and the G-forces and things that it gives you.

“It was just a big deal at 16 years old for me. I think that there’s kids that can handle it, obviously. I don’t think that it’s all that important to be as young as some of these cats are getting in Late Models and stuff at 10 or 13 years old, whatever it is, because I look at myself not being 15 doing that, and I look at William Byron not being 15 or 16 and doing that. He got a late start like I did, so you can still have a late start and still be good and be able to make it to the big time.’’

Reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. admits that “I’m sure there are some kids that are ready for it and obviously we’ve seen kids at 13, 14 or 15 be successful at short track racing, Late Models or whatever, you name it.

“I would say that there is nobody that should say you can’t do it. I guess the hard part is what happens when somebody is thrown in there that really can’t do it or he thinks he can or parents think you can.

“For me at 13, I would say I probably could have driven a full-size car, obviously it was illegal and I wasn’t allowed to in New Jersey, I had to be 18. I lost quite a few years in racing because of that, but I think I was mature enough and knew enough about racing so I guess it’s more about the individual than it is a generalization. I can’t imagine what I could have learned from the time I was 14 until I was 18 – you’re talking about four years of racing, that’s a lot of races, a lot to learn and a lot of divisions to get up through as well.’’

2. Kyle Busch Double

Kyle Busch’s runner-up finish Monday at Martinsville Speedway marked his 43rd career second-place finish. He also has 43 career Cup victories.

Busch ranks 12th in the modern era (since 1972) for most first- and second-place finishes in Cup.

Here’s the top 12 in first- and second-place finishes since 1972:

1. Jeff Gordon … 168

2. Dale Earnhardt … 146

3. Darrell Waltrip … 142

4. Jimmie Johnson … 129

5. Richard Petty … 126

6. Cale Yarborough … 112

7. Bobby Allison … 109

8. Mark Marin … 101

9. Rusty Wallace … 97

10. Tony Stewart … 93

11. Kevin Harvick … 90

12. Kyle Busch … 86

3. Leader of the pack

Kevin Harvick has led the most laps in Cup this season at 433, but he also ranks third in the Xfinity Series in laps led at 141.

Combined, he’s led 574 of the 2,667 laps run in both series — 21.5 percent — even though he’s not run in every Xfinity race.

4. No fooling

What do Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and David Pearson have in common?

They all won a Cup race in the modern era (since 1972) on April 1, according to NASCAR stats.

Dale Earnhardt’s first career Cup win came at Bristol on April 1, 1979. He also won at Darlington on April 1 (1990).

Newman (2012) and Johnson (2007) won at Martinsville on April 1. Jarrett won on the date in 2001 at Texas. Waltrip won on that date in 1984 at Bristol. Pearson won on that date in 1973 at Atlanta.

5. Last break of the year

While there are two more off weekends this season for Cup (June 17 and Aug. 26), those off weekends will include Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races.

This is the final weekend without any type of NASCAR racing through the end of the season — Nov. 18 in Miami.

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Martinsville Cup race turns back clock to 1978 (video)

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — The last time a Martinsville Cup race featured four cautions before Monday?

You have to go back to when car owner Richard Childress was racing, the field had 30 cars, and drivers in that race included Satch Worley, Baxter Price and Ferrel Harris, along with eight Hall of Famers — race winner Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Benny Parsons, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Terry Labonte, David Pearson, and Childress.

That was September 1978. That race also had four cautions.

Of the four cautions in Monday’s snow-delayed race won by Clint Bowyer, two were for stage breaks, one was a competition caution and the other one was for an incident.

So, why were there so few cautions in Monday’s 500-lap race?

Opinions vary.

“Once you get strung out here, there’s not a lot of attrition,’’ Denny Hamlin, a five-time winner at Martinsville, said after placing 12th Monday. “Guys give each other room and when somebody is faster, somebody gives up the spot.

“It’s different racing now than what it used to be. I think that everyone is running the same speed. All of our cars, whether it be data sharing, setups that we’re sharing with each other and all that, everyone is getting their car to drive very, very similar.

“Even when I would come up on lapped cars, they were running a similar speed to what I was, but I was able to get through traffic better than they were. We’ve gotten the cars to where the drive is so similar so when everyone runs the same speed it’s hard to pass and with less passing there’s less chance for incidents. I thought it was still a good race, a lot of races have gone caution-free for a long time back in the day and Clint really put a whipping on them.”

Jeremy Bullins, crew chief for Ryan Blaney, said that with so few restarts, there were fewer chances for accidents and cautions toward the end of the race.

“I don’t know about the data sharing aspect,’’ Bullins told NBC Sports. “It could have an impact on it, but I think it’s just one of those days were it seemed like everybody stayed off each other a little bit more than normal and weren’t knocking each other out of the way. You saw the end of the Truck race. Once they started racing hard, they started going crazy.

“We didn’t have that caution with 50 to go that led to all the cautions at the end. That’s really what makes a difference. If you don’t get the late caution and jam everybody back up again, that’s what separates them at the end. Once they get spread out like that, you’re not going to get a caution. It’s the late cautions that jumble everything up.’’

The race’s final caution was from laps 385-391 for contact between Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray.

Scott Graves, crew chief for Daniel Suarez, had a different thought on the matter.

“This is the third (race) on this tire combination,’’ Graves told NBC Sports, noting the change to the right-side tread compound before the 2017 spring race that helped create an outside groove at the flat track. “I feel like since we’ve been on this tire combination it’s been a little different, it hasn’t been your typical Martinsville. … With this tire you still don’t have all the marbles going down and you can run on the outside a little bit and it’s not as big a penalty as it used to be.’’

BACK IN THE DAY

The four cautions in Monday’s Cup race at Martinsville were the fewest there since the September 1978 race. A look back at what was taking place in 1978:

1978 Cup champion: Cale Yarborough

1978 Daytona 500 winner: Bobby Allison

Cost of gas: 65 cents a gallon 

Highest-grossing movies: 1. “Grease”; 2. “Animal House”; 3. “Superman”; 4. “Every Which Way but Loose”

Billboard top 100 singles for 1978: 1. “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibbs; 2. “Night Fever” by Bee Gees; 3. “You Light Up My Life’’ by Debby Boone.

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NASCAR’s greatest driver ever? Chase Elliott’s choice is clear

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — Although Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson each sit atop NASCAR’s pedestal with seven Cup championships, the debate often is who is the best driver of all-time in NASCAR?

Is it Richard Petty, who won 200 races along with those titles?

Is it Dale Earnhardt, who won 76 races and is viewed as the sport’s most accomplished restrictor-plate racer of all time?

Is it Jimmie Johnson, who has 83 career victories and won five championships in a row?

Dale Earnhardt at Richmond Raceway in 1997. Photo by Craig Jones /Allsport

Or is it someone else? David Pearson rarely ran full seasons but still won three championships and 105 races. Jeff Gordon won four titles and 93 races.

One can certainly say that Chase Elliott is biased as Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, but Elliott’s vote is for Johnson.

“The guy is still one of, if not the greatest driver ever, to ever come through NASCAR; I would probably say the best ever without question,’’ Elliott said Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.

Asked how he would defend his vote to a fan who viewed Petty, Earnhardt or some other driver as NASCAR’s greatest, Elliott said:

“I think there’s a lot of things that factor in,’’ Elliott said. “One thing I look at is winning five championships in a row is pretty impressive in my opinion. I think it’s just an opinion. I have my opinion on that. I don’t see those other guys in the same situation. I’m not taking anything away from them, all legends in the sport. I just don’t see anybody competing with what he’s done in the short amount of time he’s been here.’’

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