Daytona International Speedway

Where Are They Now? Dave Marcis ‘ready to hop back into a race car’

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Editor’s note: This is part one of our interview with former NASCAR driver Dave Marcis. Part two, which deals with Marcis’ friendship with Dale Earnhardt, will appear Tuesday.

When 26-year-old Dave Marcis went south to pursue fame and fortune in NASCAR, he received a true royal welcome when he pulled into the Daytona International Speedway garage for the first time in February 1968.

None other than The King, Richard Petty, was the first to greet Marcis, the wing-tipped short track wonder from Wausau, Wisconsin.

“He come over by my car in the garage, walked all around it, looked all over it, introduced himself and said ‘Welcome to the sport of NASCAR,’ ” Marcis told NBC Sports.

“He asked me a bunch of questions about my car, where it came from and that sort of stuff. He was always my idol when I first started racing. I used to follow him back home by reading Hot Rod Magazine. After meeting him for the first time in Daytona, we became and have remained good friends.”

Dave Marcis joined the NASCAR Cup tour in 1968 and ran 883 races before he retired after the 2002 season. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

But Petty wasn’t merely being friendly, welcoming the newest kid to NASCAR. While Marcis had read about Petty, the latter had heard plenty of Marcis’ racing exploits and success back in the Badger State.

Petty won a NASCAR Grand National record 27 races – including 10 in a row – in 1967. But two years earlier, Marcis won 52 races in the Central Wisconsin Racing Association, a confluence of 1/3- and 1/4-mile asphalt paved tracks.

“They put an ad in the newspaper and formed (the CWRA) at Ed’s Bowling Alley on 6th Street in Wausau in 1958,” said Marcis, who still has a scrapbook of newspaper clippings from his nearly five-decade racing career.

Because the CRWA season lasted just three months. Marcis raced seven times per week, including numerous Sunday day/night doubleheaders, where he’d race at one track in the afternoon and then drive to another track for an evening sequel.

After meeting Petty for the first time, just days later Marcis would make his first of a record 33 starts in the Daytona 500 – including 32 in a row from 1968-99 – and then end his NASCAR career where it began in the 2002 edition of The Great American Race.

At the age of 61, no less.

“That was my first big race track,” Marcis said when asked what it was about Daytona that kept him coming back. “I liked the track, it’s a nice track. I enjoyed it there, the fans and everything.

Roger Penske (left) talks with his driver Dave Marcis at a NASCAR Cup race. Marcis drove 16 Cup events in Penske’s AMC Matador between 1972-74. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

“I worked on my own car and on the chassis and we always seemed to get the car handling good and be able to get qualified. In those days, everybody had to qualify and sometimes you had 62 cars trying to qualify for 40 or so places.”

Between his 33 starts in the 500, Marcis became one of NASCAR’s most prolific drivers, making 883 career starts, behind only Petty (1,185), Ricky Rudd (906) and Terry Labonte (890).

Even though his best finish in the 500 was sixth (in 1975 and 1976), Marcis didn’t consider Daytona his toughest track.

“Trenton, New Jersey (Trenton Speedway) used to be a real tough race track when they put the dog leg in the back straightaway, and Dover, Delaware (Dover International Speedway) was a real tough race track because you’d spend 5 ½ hours in that heat, at 130 degrees in that race car,” he said. “It got pretty warm up there. And Bristol was really, really tough on your neck and the heat was pretty bad there, too.”

When it came to the toughest foes he faced on the track, Marcis said the late Dick Trickle, a fellow Wisconsin native, was the toughest on Midwest short tracks, while Petty was among the hardest on NASCAR’s bigger tracks.

Marcis didn’t have the winning success in NASCAR that he enjoyed in short track racing in his home state. He earned five Grand National/Cup wins, but as one of the sport’s last independent team owner/operators, he earned 94 top five and 222 top-10 finishes.

“You couldn’t keep up with the schedule as an independent owner/operator,” Marcis said. “I’d work night and day so half the time I’d be worn out by race day. It wasn’t easy but it’s what I wanted to do.”

Marcis’ best seasons in NASCAR were 1975, when he finished a distant second in the points to Petty, and in 1978, when he finished fifth, driving for team owner Rod Osterlund.

Marcis’ replacement for the 1979 season was Dale Earnhardt. They would become close friends.

Earnhardt won his first of seven Cup championships in 1980 in his second season of driving for Osterlund before the team imploded two-thirds of the way through the 1981 season.

After the 2002 Daytona 500, Marcis made one more race start in his career, finishing seventh in the 2010 Scotts EZ Seed Shootout, an exhibition race for retired drivers 50 years and older at Bristol Motor Speedway, at the age of 69.

Now 79, racing and life has been good to Marcis.

“I’m doing fine, I have no health problems and am on zero medications of any kind. I’m probably ready to hop back into a race car,” he said with a laugh. “Of course, my wife doesn’t want me to, but yeah, I still would like to.”

Marcis and wife Helen have spent the last 51 years living outside Asheville, North Carolina, where he’s far from retired, owning Street Rods by Dave Marcis. He often returns to Wisconsin, where he owns a few businesses and property. He’s also an avid hunter and fisherman.

“We went bear hunting in Canada last year and we’re going to go moose hunting next year, I think,” he said. “I stay busy, I don’t sit around.”

Marcis also still keeps up with NASCAR.

“Oh sure, I still follow it,” he said. “(NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton sent me a (hard card) so I can go. I was going to go to Atlanta last week to watch Johnny Sauter, who I know pretty well, in the pick-up truck race, but obviously that race didn’t take place (due to the coronavirus outbreak).”

Even with the lengthy NASCAR career he enjoyed, Marcis has never forgotten his short track roots.

The Badger State not only sent Marcis but also several other notables to NASCAR, including Trickle, Sauter, Alan Kulwicki, Matt Kenseth and longtime crew chief Jimmy Fennig.

Last July, Marcis returned to his hometown, along with Sauter and others to take in a CWRA Stars to Legends Tour race and share many memories in and around his old stomping grounds of State Park Speedway.

“There’s a lot of memories when you race the number of years I did, moving from the ranks of a short-track guy who really had nothing and no big sponsorships and running the 1/3- and 1/4-mile tracks,” Marcis said. “We didn’t even have a 1/2-mile track we ran on weekly.

Dave Marcis watches Southern 500 qualifying in 2018. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“There were nights where I’d win $142 for winning a race, and others where I was the top qualifier, finished third in the heat race and second in the feature and won only $60.

“But gas was only 27 cents a gallon. And unless we cut them or blew them out, we could run the same set of tires for a whole year. I think that’s another thing that made us better racers because we learned how to set those cars up with those old, hard tires. They were really hard, they didn’t wear. You had to work hard to get those cars handling good. It wasn’t because of a good, soft tire, because we didn’t have them.

“Being able to come to NASCAR and try it, it was just hard to believe that we could even do it. We didn’t have no money or big sponsorships when we did it. I tell people I didn’t know what I was really getting into when I came down there to NASCAR.

“Thankfully, I had a lot of help when I first came here. Way up in northern Wisconsin, I didn’t know that much. I got Hot Rod Magazine and whatever articles they had, that was all I knew about NASCAR.

“If you wanted to race for a living, I decided I needed to go to NASCAR and do it because we started in February and would go through October in those days.”

There was one other incentive, Marcis said with a laugh from his North Carolina home:

“One thing I’ll always remember is around Easter time, they were running at Hickory (Motor Speedway), while we were still shoveling snow back up in Wisconsin. That’s one of the reasons why I moved down here in 1969 and have been here ever since.”

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Busch Clash moved to road course in Daytona Speedweeks 2021 overhaul

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The Busch Clash will move to the Daytona International Speedway road course next season as the centerpiece of an overhaul to Speedweeks.

The season-opening exhibition event for pole winners will be held at night on Tuesday, Feb. 9. It’ll mark the official start of Speedweeks and the debut of NASCAR Cup cars on the track’s road course, which is used for the Rolex 24 and incorporates part of the 2.5-mile oval.

“We continue to look for opportunities to differentiate the Busch Clash from the Daytona 500 and obviously everything we do around Speedweeks is about building toward the 500,” track president Chip Wile told NASCAR.com. “We’ve seen growth year over year with the Busch Clash and that weekend, but to see the resurgence in road-course racing and the excitement around it from the fans, we thought, ‘Why can’t we do this?’ ”

After a wreck-plagued 2020 Clash, NASCAR will have its teams use the current model in next year’s exhibition race instead of the NextGen car. Because of the switchover to the NextGen, teams will be operating with limited fleets of cars to start 2021.

The new six-day Speedweeks schedule will begin with the Busch Clash and end with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 14.

Daytona 500 qualifying will be held Wednesday, Feb. 10 with the qualifying races Thursday, Feb. 11 and the truck race Feb. 12. The Xfinity and ARCA races will be held Feb. 13.

“The famed road course at Daytona has a long and storied history with sports cars and motorcycles, and now we can write a new chapter on it with stock cars,” vice president of racing development Ben Kennedy said in a release. “Fans coming to the track will get to see six consecutive days of exciting NASCAR action, with no two days being the same.”

Power Rankings: Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin a unanimous No. 1

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This season’s debut of NBC Sports’ NASCAR Power Rankings was similar to the Daytona 500: a wild affair.

Our NASCAR writers chose 16 different drivers after the opening weekend of racing across all three of NASCAR’s top series. There were several surprises, for sure.

Not surprisingly, though, was Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin as the unanimous choice for the top spot in the rankings.

Here’s how we called ‘em:

1. Denny Hamlin (40 points): While the prevailing thought is that luck plays a key role in how a driver finishes in the Daytona 500, consider what Hamlin has done — three wins in the last five races and six top-five finishes in the last seven 500s. That ain’t luck.

2. Ryan Newman (30): Was only seconds away from his second Daytona 500 win before his horrific crash. Finished third in his qualifying race and was fifth in the Busch Clash. He and Kyle Larson were the only drivers to score a top 10 in all three events during Speedweeks.

3. Ryan Blaney (26 points): Was in position to win the Daytona 500. Would have given him back-to-back wins at speedway tracks after his victory at Talladega in last year’s playoffs.

4. Kyle Larson (24): Came close to winning his first career Daytona 500. Joined Ryan Newman as the only driver to score top 10s in the Clash, their qualifying race and the Daytona 500.

5. Chris Buescher (22): Had a strong showing and career-best Daytona finish in his return to Roush Fenway Racing. His third-place finish marked his second top five in the 500 in the last three years.

(tie) 6. David Ragan (15): What a way to go into retirement from the Cup Series. In his last Cup start, Ragan finished fourth, his best showing in the 500 (he won the 2011 summer Daytona race). Happy trails to the Georgia native in retirement.

(tie) 6. Kevin Harvick (15): If there had been another lap or two left and had it not been for Ryan Newman’s frightening wreck, the man known as “the closer” may very well have stolen the win away from Hamlin.

8. Clint Bowyer (13): Placed third in the Clash and sixth in the 500, not a bad way to start the season.

9. Chase Elliott (10): Even though he finished 17th, Elliott had some strong segments during the race, including leading 23 laps. Trailed off in the closing laps; otherwise he may have wound up with a top 10.

10: Brad Keselowski (7): Led 30 laps and had one of the fastest cars in the field but was collected in the big wreck on Lap 183. Still, a strong start for Keselowski and his new crew chief, Jeremy Bullins.

Others receiving votes: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (5), Noah Gragson (5 points), Joey Logano (3), John Hunter Nemechek (3), Corey LaJoie (1), Grant Enfinger (1).

Noah Gragson heads home to Las Vegas after Daytona win

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It would be easy to label Noah Gragson as a typical 21-year-old (who happens to drive race cars for a living).

“I feel like I’m a pretty impatient person looking for instant gratification I would say,” Gragson tells NBC Sports.

But he’s working on that.

“I’m starting to learn to be more patient and just appreciate the process maybe a little bit more,” Gragson says. “I think that is showing me it can be more rewarding at times when you can just trust that process and not look for that instant gratification and just be results driven.”

Gragson came close to instant gratification in the Xfinity Series two years ago when he finished second in his first career start at Richmond Raceway while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

The 35 races between that near miss and his win last Saturday at Daytona International Speedway “got frustrating at times” for the JR Motorsports driver.

“I don’t know if I feel regret,” Gragson says. “Last year I put a lot of pressure on myself, like ‘Do I not know how to do this? Do I suck really badly? Like what’s the deal?’ Put a lot of pressure on myself, more than anybody else. Just trying to learn a new organization and a new group of guys and new situations, scenarios. It took me a little bit, but that also is what made that win at Daytona so much sweeter.”

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

After giving JR Motorsports its third straight win in the season-opening race, Gragson milked the moment for all it was worth. He performed a burnout that caught the track on fire, climbed the catchfence with his team, chucked his water bottle into the stands (on his second attempt), planted the checkered flag in the roof of his No. 9 Chevy and slid across its hood like Bo Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard.

“My biggest focus after the race on Saturday was to try to soak it all in, try and experience the moment because you don’t get to race at these places all the time … much less win there,” says Gragson. “You can’t take it for granted. I feel like I’m one of the guys who tries to live up every moment I get because you never know how many times you’re going to get to go back there and experience that.”

Gragson is quick to acknowledge Daytona and the biggest win of his career are in the past. Up next is a trip to his home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“There’s still a task at hand,” Gragson says. “We can’t lose sight of what our goal is this weekend and definitely need to stay available and accountable and ready to go for this weekend. It’s really easy to get sidetracked with the past weekend’s results.”

Saturday’s race (4 p.m. ET on FS1) will be Gragson’s third Xfinity start on the 1.5-mile oval and his sixth overall after three Truck Series starts.

Unlike in Trucks, where he led 57 laps around the track but never finished better than 12th, Gragson has had more success on the Xfinity level.

He finished third there last spring. In the fall playoff race, he started from the rear after a spin in qualifying and drove to a sixth-place finish. In total, he finished sixth or better in six of the nine races on 1.5-mile tracks.

“I feel like last year I really paced the (1.5-mile) races really well and had a car to be able to be in contention at the end of the races,” says Gragson. “I’ve been to these race tracks once or twice now. I know where the bumps and the seams and the cracks are, how the car’s going to be affected. My focus isn’t what it’s going to drive like when I get to these race tracks, it’s going to be OK. I know what the car needs to feel like and I know how to go fast at these places.”

What does Gragson like about the cracks and seams of Las Vegas compared to other intermediate tracks?

“Probably that you can move up to the top side and you have different options,” says Gragson. “It’s a really challenging race track, especially to get off Turn 4. It gets really, really sharp and narrow. … It’s like a double-edged sword. It’s a really fine balance of not being too loose on entry, but having enough turn in the car to be able to wrap the corner on exit where you don’t have to back out of the throttle on exit to make it to the straightaway.”

Gragson says it “would be a dream” to follow up his Daytona win with a victory in front of his home crowd, adding “I don’t know what I could compare it to until if it were to happen.”

If it does, you likely won’t see him attempt another Dukes of Hazzard-esque slide across the hood of his No. 9 Chevy.

“I might get my ACL caught up on the hood pins,” Gragson observes. “I didn’t realize that until they told me the next day. They’re like, ‘Man, you almost caught your leg on that thing.’ ‘Oh, that would not be good. You’re probably right about that.'”

Gragson is a guest on this week’s episode of The Dale Jr. Download, which airs today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Injured Ryan Newman taken to hospital after crash ends Daytona 500

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Roush Fenway Racing driver Ryan Newman was in serious condition Monday night at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, after a hard crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

During a short briefing at the Daytona International Speedway media center, NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell read a statement from Newman’s team.

Roush Fenway Racing said doctors have indicated Newman’s injuries are “not life threatening.”

The first official update on Newman’s condition came shortly after 10 p.m., a little more than two hours after his No. 6 Ford took a hard right into the outside wall while battling for the lead off Turn 4 with race winner Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney

Newman’s car went airborne, landed upside down on the pavement and then was struck in the driver’s side door by Corey LaJoie‘s Ford at full speed. The impact caused Newman’s Mustang to slide a few hundred feet down the frontstretch on its roof.

Newman’s car came to a stop at the end of the pits, and fuel appeared to be pouring out of the rear end.

It took safety workers more than 10 minutes to remove Newman from the car. Fox didn’t show any replays of his removal from the car.

“Ryan Newman has been helped from his car by the AMR safety team, loaded into an ambulance and taken to a local hospital,” announcer Mike Joy said on the Fox broadcast. “That’s all the information we can provide at this time.”

Fox analyst Jeff Gordon added that “it was a phenomenal race all the way until we came into the trioval there. Safety has come a long way in this sport, but sometimes we are reminded that it is a very dangerous sport. Thoughts and prayers right now are with Ryan Newman and his family.”

Newman is entering his 19th season in NASCAR’s premier series and won rookie of the year in 2002.

He has 18 career victories, including the 2008 Daytona 500, and finished second in the 2014 standings.

Newman, 42, has driven for Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Childress Racing and is in his second season with Roush Fenway Racing after taking the No. 6 to the playoffs last year.

Safety workers move Ryan Newman into an ambulance after removing him from his mangled No. 6 Ford, which was involved in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway (AP Photo/David Graham).