days of thunder

Starting lineup for Southern 500

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – Get all your “Days of Thunder” references ready with William Byron starting on the pole in car that harkens back to that movie and one raced by Tom Cruise’s character, Cole Trickle.

Byron became only the third driver to win the pole for the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 in the same season, joining Fireball Roberts (1962) and Bill Elliott (1985).

Byron will be on the front row with Brad Keselowski, who won this race last year. Kyle Larson starts third and Kurt Busch will join him in the second row.

Kyle Busch will start at the rear after his team made an engine change.

Click here for Southern 500 starting lineup

William Byron wins Southern 500 pole in ‘Days of Thunder’ car

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – William Byron, driving a car that pays tribute to “Days of Thunder” won the pole for Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500.

Byron will start first after a lap of 172.487 mph in car that has a paint scheme similar to what Tom Cruise’s character, Cole Trickle, drove in the movie.

MORE: Rowdy Burns rides again at Darlingtoin; actor fondly recalls “Days of Thunder”

Byron becomes the third driver in NASCAR history to win the pole for the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 in the same season. Fireball Roberts accomplished the feat in 1962 and Bill Elliott matched it in 1985.

This is Byron’s fourth career Cup pole.

Brad Keselowski qualified second after a lap of 172.088 mph. He was followed by Kyle Larson (171.842 mph), Kurt Busch (171.764) and Daniel Suarez (171.321).

Click here for qualifying results

Kyle Busch qualified 33rd but will start at the rear of the field for an unapproved adjustment for an engine change.

Friday 5: To each their own on celebrating wins

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So many options. So much excitement. What to do?

Should a race winner do donuts? Should they do a reverse victory lap? Or a bow? Or climb a fence? Or the latest, offer a hug.

Just as there are different ways to enjoy a NASCAR win, drivers also have distinct opinions on how to celebrate those accomplishments.

I don’t go too over the top, but we sure do like to hang around the track for a long time and we really don’t ever want to leave that Sunday night after the race,” Martin Truex Jr. told NBC Sports. “We just want to kind of hang out and maybe stay over in the motorhome or something and party in the campground. These races are tough and that’s kind of why you see guys enjoy it so much because you never know when you get another one.”

One tradition that goes with a Truex win is that crew chief Cole Pearn takes a selfie with the team in victory lane and posts it on social media.

Brad Keselowski admits he’s a fan of sprint car drivers climbing on the wing of their car and celebrating after a win. Keselowski has created his unique victory celebration by having a pit crew member bring out an American flag to his car. It’s something he began doing in 2010.

Brad Keselowski celebrating his 2018 win at Indianapolis. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“I had won a few races and I didn’t really know what to do, and I thought I’ve got to have a plan for this,” said Keselowski, defending winner of this weekend’s Southern 500. “I thought about something I really liked. I remember when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. did it at Dover (in 2001) and I thought that was the coolest thing and then he stopped. I was never sure why he stopped. I thought that would be really cool to do. Something that nobody else was doing and looked kind of fun and was personal.”

Keselowski has said he thought about a military career if he wasn’t successful with his racing endeavor. His Checkered Flag Foundation supports veterans and first responders.

Kyle Larson has punctuated wins by doing donuts and taking the steering wheel off. That was curtailed after NASCAR advised Larson against such flamboyant actions, citing safety concerns.

“Honestly, in sprint cars, I only do donuts and stuff if it’s a really exciting finish,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I feel like when you win in NASCAR, like you’re obligated to do donuts just because that’s what they expect.”

Rookie Ryan Preece said that there is something better than donuts.

“The donuts are all well and cool, but I think they’re kind of overplayed,” he told NBC Sports. “I think the (reverse) victory lap is something that is pretty special. I would say the (reverse) victory lap is the coolest one of them all. I actually did it at Iowa (in 2017). It’s just not as rough on equipment and is pretty cool seeing all the fans.”

But Ryan Newman likes the donut celebration after a race for a particular reason.

“I still pattern my victory celebrations, which are rusty now at this point, after Alex Zanardi’s donuts,” Newman said. “I always admired him as a race car driver and his ability to celebrate and do it at different parts of the course, and I just thought that was spectacular.

“My dad has always told me if you can’t win, be spectacular. So, I guess if you win, you better be spectacular.”

For others, the celebration can be a moment of thanks. Xfinity driver Chase Briscoe kneels.

“I’m a pretty relaxed guy as it is,” Briscoe said. “I get excited but I don’t get too excited. I feel like my signature thing is just getting down on one knee and praying and just thanking God. I did that at the Roval (last year). I wasn’t in a dark place but really questioning myself and really thankful for the opportunity and just gave Him thanks and it was well received. I’m not going to hide my faith. I’m proud of it. I did it (at Iowa in July) as well.”

The latest celebration comes from the Xfinity Series. While it might not rival a Carl Edwards backflip, Tony Stewart fence climb or Cole Custer’s beer smash and tumble, the latest victory celebration is unique.

It’s a hug.

But not just with anyone.

With one of the NBC Sports reporters.

Austin Cindric bearhugged Rutledge Wood during his interview after Cindric scored his first career Xfinity win at Watkins Glen. Cindric then hugged Dillon Welch during his interview after winning at Mid-Ohio.

It’s that type of emotion Cindric said he likes seeing from others who win, citing Team Penske driver Will Power’s reaction after winning the 2018 Indianapolis 500.

“I think my favorite are the ones where you can see the emotion of the drivers and how much it means to them,” Cindric said. “I think of when Will Power won the Indy 500. He had been trying to win that race so long and to see him do it and be there in person and see how the emotion, there are so many pictures of him going crazy in victory lane, the crazy eyes and the smile, things that mean that much to drivers because there’s a lot of work that goes into it and there’s a lot of pressure you end up putting on yourself. I think that connects with race fans so well when you see ho much it means.

“What drives me nuts, I’ll take your standard Formula One interview, the guy who just had the greatest race of his career and he’s like ‘This is a good weekend, such a great opportunity, thank you to the guys.’ Just the most bland interview. The biggest moment of your life just happened. Get excited about it. I think that’s what makes our sport fun.”

2. Memorable throwback schemes 

With NASCAR heading into to Darlington Raceway for its fifth throwback weekend, here’s a look at my favorite throwback schemes.

Aric Almirola in 2015. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

A classic look.

STP and the Petty Blue. The two were synonymous in NASCAR for years and it only made sense that for the inaugural throwback weekend in 2015, these two would return to the track with the paint scheme from 1972.

Aric Almirola got into the spirit of the weekend by sporting a Fu Manchu to match what Richard Petty once showcased.

Almirola finished 11th in that race.

 

Kyle Larson in 2015. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Perhaps no car has looked as sharp under Darlington Raceway’s lights since the sport went to a throwback weekend format than this car, driven by Kyle Larson in 2015.

What made this car even better was that it had the paint scheme and proper sponsor to go with it.

This mirrored the car Kyle Petty drove for SABCO Racing from 1991-94 (and also the car Tom Cruise’s character, Cole Trickle, drove in the 1990 film “Days of Thunder”).

Larson finished 10th in this car, placing a spot ahead of Aric Almirola in that No. 43 car.

 

Ryan Reed in 2016 in Xfinity Series. (Photo by Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images)

This car ran in the Xfinity Series race in 2016, as more Xfinity teams began embracing the throwback idea at Darlington. This continues to grow as several Xfinity teams come to Darlington with throwback schemes each year.

Ryan Reed drove this car for Roush Fenway Racing. The paint scheme pays tribute to Bobby Allison and the car he drove in 1975. Allison won three races that season, including a victory at Darlington.

Reed finished 13th in the Xfinity race.

 

Austin Dillon in 2017 (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Richard Childress Racing had both its No. 3 and 31 cars with this look for the 2017 Southern 500, but the No. 3 car looked the best to me.

RCR went with this look to honor Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 Southern 500 victory with the Wrangler paint scheme.

While Earnhardt will be remembered for his black cars, I always liked this paint scheme.

Dillon finished fourth with this car.

 

William Byron in 2018. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was good to see Jeff Gordon’s rainbow paint scheme eventually return for the Southern 500 at Darlington in 2018.

Dylon Lupton drove a rainbow paint scheme car in the 2017 Xfinity race.

While Lupton’s car looked sharp, the paint scheme was meant to be on a Cup car for throwback weekend. Hendrick Motorsports did the right thing in 2018 by putting it on William Byron’s ride.

Byron finished 35th in last year’s race.

Go here to see what throwback paint schemes will be on the track this weekend at Darlington. The Xfinity Series race will be at 4 p.m. ET on NBC. The Southern 500 airs at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

3. Playoff race

With two races left in the Cup regular season, four drivers are racing for what would be the final two playoff spots. Daniel Suarez holds the final spot.

The standings look this way entering Sunday’s Southern 500:

15. Ryan Newman — 603 points

16. Daniel Suarez — 591 points

17. Clint Bowyer  2 points out of playoff spot

18. Jimmie Johnson — 26 points out of playoff spot

Newman has an average finish of 12.1 at Darlington, his best of all the active tracks that he’s had more than one start. His 13 top 10s at Darlington also are the most there among active Cup drivers. Suarez has never finished better than 29th in two Cup starts at Darlington. Bowyer has an average finish of 22.8 at Darlington and his only top-10 finish there came in 2007. Johnson is a three-time winner at the track but has not finished better than 12th in the last four races at Darlington.

4. Familiar face

Joe Nemechek, who turns 56 on Sept. 26, will drive the No. 27 Cup car for Premium Motorsports this weekend at Darlington Raceway. This will be Nemechek’s 668th career Cup start but first since March 1, 2015 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He’s continued to run in the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

To put it into perspective, when Nemechek last raced in Cup:

# William Byron was in the K&N East Series (and would win the 2015 title)

# Erik Jones was in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series (and would become the youngest series champion that year)

# Daniel Suarez was in the Xfinity Series (and would become the rookie of the year)

# Kyle Busch was out after being injured in a crash during the February Xfinity race at Daytona (he would come back to win the Cup title that year).

Also, Nemechek is entered in both Xfinity and Cup races at Darlington this weekend. That will give him 1,174 career starts in NASCAR’s top series.

Richard Petty holds the record for most starts in NASCAR’s national series with 1,182 — all in the Cup Series.

Mark Martin is third on the all-time starts list with 1,143 across the three national series. Kevin Harvick is next with 1,139 career starts.

5. Rollin’

Since NBC Sports took over broadcasting the Cup series at Chicagoland Speedway, no driver has scored more points in that time than Denny Hamlin. The top four in points in that time are all from Joe Gibbs Racing.

Here are the drivers who have scored the most points since Chicagoland:

313 – Denny Hamlin

295 – Martin Truex Jr.

290 – Kyle Busch

260 – Erik Jones

257 – Kevin Harvick

257 – Kyle Larson

250 – Joey Logano

245 – William Byron

232 – Kurt Busch

225 – Brad Keselowski

 

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Rowdy Burns rides again at Darlington; actor fondly recalls Days of Thunder

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Actor Michael Rooker has appeared in nearly 125 movies and TV series in his career, with among his most notable roles being Yondu Udonta in Guardians of the Galaxy I and II, Merle Dixon in Walking Dead, Bill Broussard in JFK and Chick Gandil in Eight Men Out.

But the breakout role that really made Rooker a well-known actor and fan favorite was the NASCAR-themed Days Of Thunder, released in 1990. The Alabama native played the role of Rowdy Burns, the arch-rival of Tom Cruise’s Cole Trickle character.

Even today, nearly 30 years later, Days Of Thunder remains one of the most popular and notable racing movies made.

Michael Rooker. Photo: Getty Images.

“It was awesome, man,” Rooker said of Days of Thunder in an interview with NBC Sports. “I got the role within two weeks of moving to L.A. from Chicago. I went out and got fitted with Simpson race suits and race shoes. The first time the cars started up, we’re actors, we don’t usually get to experience that kind of stuff. We were within 10-15 feet of the car. That stuff will shake your little brain. That just blew my mind. It vibrated the ground and concrete we were standing on. It was pretty awesome. I knew I was really going to dig this movie.

“Eventually I got to get in the driver’s seat and drive one of them. I had a blast. It was one of the most fun and exhilarating movies I’ve ever been in. It changed my total perspective on racing because the only racing I had had experienced before that was more like dirt track, figure-8 racing, demolition derby, stuff like that.”

This Saturday, in a sense, Rowdy Burns will ride again as Jeremy Clements will have one of the most notable rides in Darlington Raceway’s throwback weekend, piloting the No. 51 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series race, an homage to Rooker’s Burns character and the movie.

 

“Dude, I just wish I could be there,” Rooker told NBC Sports. “They totally invited me. I would have loved to be there, but I’ve been scheduled for an appearance at a (comic) convention in Indianapolis for several months. The fans have been waiting and I couldn’t back out of it.”

But Rooker was quick to warn Clements that he better do a good job in the race – or else.

“If he doesn’t do good this year, I’ll take over next year! There’s your scoop,” Rooker laughed.

William Byron will also be driving a Days Of Thunder themed car in Sunday’s Southern 500.

While he’ll be cheering from a distance for Clements in Saturday’s race, the NASCAR driver Rooker cheers for the most is, well, a natural fit.

Rowdy Burns and Rowdy Busch in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

“Dude! I mean, c’mon. I’m Rowdy. It’s my namesake, Mr. Kyle Busch,” Rooker exclaimed of Busch, whose nickname is Rowdy, which Busch has said he took from Days Of Thunder. “He’s such a nice guy, such a nice man, has such a beautiful family. He’s got it all. And he’s also very aggressive on the track and I really appreciate that.”

During the interview with NBC Sports, a group of tourists from Italy approached Rooker for photos while he was sitting on a park bench outside his Miami hotel, which led to Rooker to talk about how he’s more recognized today for some of his more current roles. But he also concedes he’ll always be Rowdy Burns to diehard NASCAR fans.

“Folks on the street, it’s usually Walking Dead or Guardians of the Galaxy,” Rooker said. “Those are the most in-your-face projects right now. Hell, Walking Dead is on their ninth season and they’re still going – and Merle Dixon is still as popular as ever.

“But when I went to Richmond (Raceway in April 2018) to run the pace car, dude, you know what it’s like to have several hundred people all scream at the same time, ‘Rowdy!’ That was amazing,” Rooker said. “I had no idea Rowdy Burns from Days of Thunder, really, truly ended up being the star of that movie. I’m sorry, Tom (Cruise), but sometimes it’s just longevity.

“The NASCAR fans, the racing fans that remember this character and know this character, Rowdy Burns, they’re just relentless, they love this character. When I showed up to drive that pace car … the fans were freaking out.”

Even though he’ll physically be in Indy, Rooker will be at Darlington in spirit, cheering on Clements and Busch. Rooker is no stranger to the Track Too Tough To Tame, having filmed several scenes for Days Of Thunder there, as well as a series of commercials this year promoting NBC’s and NBCSN’s coverage of NASCAR racing.

Rooker will soon be putting his pedal to the metal once again when he begins shooting the next installment of the Fast & Furious franchise (the film is tentatively titled Fast & Furious 9).

“I play a guy named Buddy. That’s about all I can say,” Rooker said with a coy laugh, not alluding to whether he’ll be a good guy or a villain in the mid-2020 release.

During the 30-minute phone interview, Rooker reflected back on Days Of Thunder and the influence it had on his career. He can’t believe it has been nearly three decades since he played the Rowdy Burns character.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it? I’ve had a long relationship with NASCAR ever since Days Of Thunder,” Rooker said. “I’ve done all kinds of stuff with them and for them, everything from making announcements to going and being a part of ceremonies and handing out trophies and all sorts of stuff.

“It’s been cool over the years and it’s all been very casual. They’ll say, ‘Hey Rooker, you wanna come and do this?’ I’m like, ‘Hell yeah, I’m there, baby. I’m there.’ It’s always a blast.”

Photo: Getty Images.

Which leads to one of the most frequently asked questions that Rooker gets from Days Of Thunder and NASCAR fans: will there ever be a sequel – a Days Of Thunder 2, perhaps? After all, Tom Cruise is wrapping up production on the sequel to Top Gun (to be released next year), which was originally released in 1986.

“Wouldn’t that be nice? It’d be a hell of a time,” Rooker said of a Days Of Thunder sequel possibility. “Whoever was involved in the first one (like Cruise or co-producer Jerry Bruckheimer), if they get to be involved in the second one, that’d be a dream come true as far as I’m concerned. I’m down!”

What would Rowdy Burns be like or what role would he play in a sequel?

“Well, the last we left him, Rowdy had a little bit of brain damage,” Rooker said with a chuckle. “Hopefully, he’s still thinking. I have a feeling that Rowdy’d be an owner or be involved in some way, like Rick Hendrick. He’s always in the pits and always involved, really deeply involved with the guys and their cars and everything. It would most likely be something like that.

“Or maybe Rowdy would be one of these older drivers that just won’t give up. Why not? I’m 64, but I look 44. I still have the body of a 44-year-old. I’m still in shape but who knows? To hear my friends tell it, I should be driving on the track instead of the streets. Doing another Days of Thunder would be an absolute joy.”

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William Byron drops the hammer with ‘Days of Thunder’ scheme for Southern 500

Darlington Raceway
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William Byron will pay tribute to Cole Trickle with his paint scheme for the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 1 on NBCSN).

Yes, Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet will be made up to look like the one of the cars the fictional NASCAR driver drove in the 1990 movie “Days of Thunder.”

Byron unveiled the scheme today on social media with a spoof of the scene that introduced Trickle – played by Tom Cruise – in the movie. In the place of Robert Duvall’s Harry Hogge is crew chief Chad Knaus.

Here’s the original scene in all its Tony Scott-directed glory.

The City Chevrolet sponsorship on Byron’s car is the real deal. It’s a Rick Hendrick car dealership located in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Hendrick Motorsports was heavily involved in the production of “Day of Thunder,” consulting on the film and also providing the cars that were used. Randy Quaid’s character Tim Daland is based on Hendrick.

While the paint scheme getting used for the Throwback Weekend is cool by itself, it being raced at Darlington adds another level to it.

In “Days of Thunder,” Trickle earns his first career win in a race at the track “Too Tough to Tame” with this scheme.

While it’s entirely possible Byron could earn his own first career Cup win in the three races before the Southern 500, there’d be no better way to honor Trickle than by getting it under the lights at Darlington.

Byron won’t be the only driver boasting a scheme from the movie at Darlington.

Over in the Xfinity Series, Jeremy Clements‘ No. 51 Chevrolet will look like the No. 51 Exxon car that Rowdy Burns drove in the movie.

“I grew up watching Days of Thunder all the time especially headed to Buck Creek Speedway in our cube van that my Grandpa Crawford built, and it would really get me pumped up to race.” Clements said in a press release. “I love this movie so much so that’s where I got the No. 51 from and have had it ever since.”