Fireball Roberts

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William Byron looking to sweep poles for ‘Crown Jewel’ races

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On Sunday morning, William Byron will have the opportunity to make a little bit of NASCAR history.

Byron will attempt to put his No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole for the Brickyard 400 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC).

While it would be his fifth pole of the year, Byron would be able to say he’s the only driver to sit on the pole of all four “Crown Jewel” races in the same year.

Byron has been really fast this season.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has started on the front row of a Cup Series race nine times, including his four poles.

Three of those poles have been when the spotlight was the brightest.

When Byron claimed the pole for last weekend’s Southern 500 at Darlington, he became just the third driver in Cup history to sit on the pole for the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 in the same year.

He joined Fireball Roberts (1962) and Bill Elliott (1985) in the accomplishment.

Unlike Roberts and Elliott, Byron didn’t go on to win the Daytona 500, or even the Southern 500, which Bill Elliott did.

Byron is still looking for his first career Cup Series win entering Sunday’s race, which will be his 62nd start.

Byron is one of four drivers – including Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto – who have finished second this season but have yet to win.

With 180 laps led through 25 races, Byron has the third most laps led among winless drivers.

Luckily, Byron has some winning experience already at Indianapolis.

In 2017, the then 19-year-old won the Xfinity Series race at IMS to become the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR race at the track.

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

Bump and Run: Going back in time on a throwback weekend

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With this throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway, give us a driver, race or era in NASCAR you would have liked to have seen in person and why?

Dustin Long: Always heard so much about Curtis Turner and his talent. Would have liked to have seen him behind the wheel once.

Daniel McFadin: I wish I could go back in time and attend the inaugural Brickyard 400. Seeing the packed grandstands in highlights is one thing. I can’t imagine what the atmosphere must have been like in person for the first NASCAR race at such a historic facility. 

Tim Richmond. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Jerry Bonkowski: Actually, there are several drivers I’d love to have seen: Fireball Roberts, Tim Richmond, Lee Petty and Buck Baker.

As for races: I’d have loved to have been at the first Daytona 500 in 1959.

And as for era: While I’ve seen several black-and-white films over the years, I’d have loved to watch a race in person on the beach in Daytona long before they built Daytona International Speedway.

 

William Byron and Daniel Suarez are in position to each make the Cup playoffs for the first time. Byron is 75 points ahead of what would be the first driver out at this time. Suarez holds what would be the final playoff spot by two points. Do both make the playoffs?

Dustin Long: Not convinced Daniel Suarez remains in a playoff spot the next two races and makes it.

Daniel McFadin: I think William Byron makes it safely into the playoffs, while Daniel Suarez gets nicked thanks to a first-time winner.

Jerry Bonkowski: Daniel Suarez has to have two of the best races of his life at Darlington and Indianapolis to ensure he makes the playoffs. Anything less in either one and he could come up short, which would be a sad commentary on the strong season he’s had to date. As for William Byron, the main thing he has to do is play it safe at two of the most difficult tracks there are and not take any unnecessary chances that could lead to disaster. I think crew chief Chad Knaus will keep Byron in-check more than he ever has in the next two races.

 

Aric Almriola, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez are among the drivers who have not won a Cup race at Darlington. Who do you think will be the next from this group to win there?

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. Former champion’s day is coming at a track that often rewards champions.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson had the car to win at Darlington the last two years, leading 408 laps combined but finishing 14th (2017) and third (2018). He ends a nearly two-year winless streak Sunday.

Jerry Bonkowski: This is a tough question. But I have to go with the veterans as having the best chance, in order: Logano, Busch, Newman, Bowyer and Larson. It just goes to show how difficult Darlington is when you have several of the most successful drivers in the sport – including two former series champions – that have yet to win at such a storied and legendary track.

Friday 5: The impact Alex Bowman’s win had on a fellow competitor

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Seven words transported Landon Cassill through time and space last weekend.

After Alex Bowman retreated from the roof of his car at Chicagoland Speedway, celebrating his first career Cup win, he said of the triumph: “It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life.”

Those words struck Cassill.

“I’ve said the same thing a lot,” Cassill said Thursday, walking from the Xfinity garage to the Cup garage as he competes in both events this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “If I could win just one race. I’ve thought that to myself.

“I think that hit me because I saw myself as (Bowman) winning that race. Then it kind of made me think about everything it takes from the time you are a little kid and everything that somebody like Alex Bowman or myself has had to do in his career.”

Landon Cassill says that Alex Bowman’s win provides ‘a tremendous amount of hope’ that a driver can climb up to a race-winning ride. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Every driver’s journey is different. Cassill was hired as a development driver for Hendrick Motorsports before he graduated high school in Iowa. He served as a test driver, helping the team develop the Car of Tomorrow. Cassill drove for JR Motorsports in 19 of 35 Xfinity races in 2008 but then ran only one Xfinity race the following season.

He moved to Cup in 2010. His 16 races were spread among three low-budget teams. Much of his career has been with such operations. Cassill, who turns 30 Sunday, has driven for four Cup teams that since have folded.

Still, he’s made 305 Cup starts but has never won. His best finish was fourth at Talladega on Oct. 19, 2014. Combined with Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Cassill has made 440 starts in NASCAR national series. He continues to seek his first win in any of those series.

So when Bowman — whose first 71 Cup starts were with an organization that since has folded — won last weekend, the significance wasn’t lost on Cassill.

He tweeted about how he’s seen Bowman’s journey up close and how “there’s a lot of racecar drivers that felt that win.”

Bowman gives those racers hope, showing that one can climb from the depths of the sport to reach Victory Lane.

“It’s a tremendous amount of hope,” Cassill said of Bowman’s feat. “It’s a reminder to me, you still need massive support to get there, but it was hope that you still need to fight for the kind of support.”

Bowman saw Cassill’s tweet and appreciated the comments.

“Him and I raced each other a lot in the back half of the garage over the years,” Bowman said. “He’s obviously super good and does a lot with a little. You look at guys like Ross Chastain that have kind of had a similar career path. I feel like the back half of the garage doesn’t get the credit they deserve sometimes.”

It’s challenging to move up from the back half of the field. After losing his ride, Bowman was hired by Hendrick Motorsports to be its simulator driver. There were no races with that deal, but it led to nine starts for JR Motorsports, then to substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he missed the last half of the 2016 season because of a concussion. Bowman took over Earnhardt’s ride in 2018 after Earnhardt retired.

That Bowman’s victory happened just before Cassill’s 4-year-old son drove a go-kart for the first time also made Cassill pause.

“I was looking at a 4-year old,” he said, “and I’m like ‘Man, kid, there’s just no telling what it’s going to take to win just one race.’ ”

Bowman knows.

2. End of an era

This weekend marks the last time Daytona International Speedway is scheduled to host a Cup race on or near July 4. The track has held its race around that time every year but one since 1959. The exception was 1998 when wildfires forced the event to be rescheduled for October. Next year, Daytona will host the regular-season finale on Aug. 29.

In 1949, NASCAR’s inaugural season, the series raced on the beach at Daytona on July 10. When the track opened in 1959, the July 4 date became a staple.

While some view this as a significant weekend because of the date change next year, Clint Bowyer doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s a race, man,” Bowyer said. “I hate to say it. I hope this doesn’t rub someone the wrong way and me saying this, but it’s almost like don’t claim Fourth of July. That’s not the Fourth of July Daytona race. It’s the Fourth of Damn July. Make no mistake about it.

Richard Petty’s 200th and final career Cup race came in the July Daytona race in 1984. (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

“I don’t like having to be there practicing Thursday at Daytona. I feel like we’re asking our fans to be there as well. If we’re on the racetrack, that means you’re asking fans to be there. I don’t want it to take away from their Fourth of July.

“I got a family, I got kids. Everybody likes to come over to my house. And unfortunately, that’s going to be a Wednesday night show instead of on the Fourth. Still you could go down then and still put on a show. In my opinion, Daytona stands on its own two feet and it always will. It doesn’t need Fourth of July to be a part of that. Daytona is a celebration all of its own.”

Ryan Blaney said: “I always liked having the Daytona race that weekend, but at the end of the day, it is just a weekend and just a race, and you can move it to whatever date you want. As long as you are going there, you know you are going to a very special racetrack. I always enjoy it being on the weekend of the Fourth.”

But Daytona isn’t the only track to host a Cup race on July 4. Oswego, New York (1952), Spartanburg, South Carolina (1953), Weaverville, North Carolina (1954) and Raleigh, North Carolina (1956-58) also have held races with NASCAR’s top series on July 4.

David Pearson has the most Cup wins on July 4 with five. Tony Stewart and Cale Yarborough scored four wins each on or around July 4.

3. A new idea

Ty Dillon has expressed many ideas on ways the sport can engage fans. With NASCAR’s help, he had a link to a camera in his car at Sonoma that immersed fans in his world during the race.

“I just think the basis of that idea was to have live-streaming cameras in every single race car,” Dillon said. “We can afford that in this sport and whoever wants to do it can do it. That way, we can maybe live stream from each driver’s personal account, team’s account or it can vary week to week. This is to drive fan engagement to certain sponsors, teams and add value that way.”

Dillon wants to do more. He wants drivers to have the ability to respond to fans during a race. He’s willing to extend a stage break caution to do so.

“Drivers, owners, race teams, TV providers all have to understand the importance that we have to open our minds to the fact that between stages is just as important to the future of the sport to communicate to our fans as it is to get in the right call of information,” Dillon said. “Yes, you have to get the right information into our crew chief first, but we can maybe take an extra pace lap under caution for a social lap.”

It’s an interesting concept. Maybe there will come a day where competitors will take an extra lap of caution during stage breaks to answer questions from fans.

4. Not looking back

Justin Haley crossed the finish line first in this Xfinity race a year ago at Daytona International Speedway but was penalized for going below the double yellow lines at the bottom of the track to get by Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler to cross the finish line first.

As he returns for tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), he’s seeking to forget last year’s finish.

“I was more upset with myself and disappointed in myself,” Haley said of that finish. “I’ve never watched the race back. I’ve never seen the finish. I probably won’t watch the race still. It’s just a sore subject for myself. I’m upset that I let my team down and my family down more than anything.”

Even though he has not watched the end of that race, Haley showed Friday he had not forgotten what he calls his first Xfinity win, tweeting about the finish.

5. Tough trick

Only once since 1983 has a driver won both Daytona races in the same season. Jimmie Johnson performed the trick in 2013.

Why is it so much more difficult to sweep at Daytona and Talladega than other tracks?

Let Denny Hamlin, who is going for the sweep Saturday (7 p.m. ET Saturday) after winning the Daytona 500, explain.

“The reason it’s so hard is it’s not about a fast car,” Hamlin said. “It’s not like you can hit on a setup at a racetrack and sweep both races. You see that a lot in a season. Whoever wins the first race at say Pocono or Martinsville, or Richmond, they’ve won that race because they have hit on a setup and their car is fast. When they go back there, they use those notes and they are going to be fast again.

“At Daytona, it’s not setup driven. It is strategic that you really have to make yourself a great race-car driver here. It’s just putting yourself in the right position here at the right time and avoiding the wrecks. It’s hard enough to win one, let alone two, because of all of the variables. It’s so hard to do. The odds are stacked so far against you. That’s why you don’t see it happen very often.”

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Coffee With Kyle with Ned and Dale Jarrett Part 2: Ned will never forget Fireball Roberts tragedy

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Here’s Part 2 of this week’s edition of Coffee With Kyle, featuring NBC Sports’ NASCAR analyst Kyle Petty interviewing NASCAR Hall of Famers and father and son Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett.

Both men remembered the fateful day in 1964 when Glenn “Fireball” Roberts was involved in a horrific crash at Charlotte Motor Speedway that eventually took his life more than a month later.

It was on May 24, 1964, during the World 600 race that Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson were racing each other, vying for position when they got tangled in a wreck. In most cases, it would have been considered a typical racing crash. But this one was so much different.

Here’s how Ned Jarrett described it:

I remember Fireball had shared with me that he was going to retire at the end of the year,” Ned Jarrett told Petty. “He had not publicly made that announcement, but he was going to become a spokesperson for Falstaff Beer for $50,000 a year, which is a lot of money.

Junior and I were racing side-by-side going into Turn 1 and there’s a bump between Turns 1 and 2. Junior was on the inside, hit that bump, hit me and I spun to the inside of the racetrack while Junior spun to the outside. When I hit the wall, it burst the gas tank open. As I skidded down the wall, there was a spark and the gas caught on fire, so the car was on fire. Then, something caused Fireball to spin into me and his gas tank burst open as well, so all hell broke loose. We landed about 30 feet apart. I got out of my car and the wheels were still turning on his car. It landed on its top. I saw him trying to get out so I ran over and tried to pull him out.

He was wearing a custom made uniform. It had zippers on the sleeves and up the sides and looked very nice, but if you tried to pull it off in a hurry, we both got our hands burned from the heat on the zippers (of his firesuit). We had it basically torn off while it was burning on him. The rescue squad got there and I just turned it over to them, not thinking that it was that bad. I knew he had some burns and I had some burns on my hands and face, but it wasn’t okay and it finally took his life. It was a sad day for the sport.”

Dale Jarrett (R) and Ned Jarrett pose after Dale Jarrett won the Indianapolis 400 in Indianapolis, Indiana on August 3, 1996. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Ned Jarrett suffered those burns while trying to rescue Roberts from his race car turned inferno. It’s a memory that has stayed with him, as vivid today as the incident was 55 years ago.

Son Dale also recalled that race, but from a different perspective. Dale was only seven years old and was at the speedway to watch the race.

Here’s what Dale Jarrett remembers about that race, more so about the uncertainty of what happened in that crash and how his father was doing.

I can remember (older brother) Glenn and I were against the fence just coming off Turn 4, where the car was parked,” Dale Jarrett said. “We didn’t see a lot, just dad gone by and keep up with things. The next thing we see is this black smoke on the back straightaway and had no idea of what was going on. It seemed like 30 minutes, probably wasn’t that long, but it was the not knowing part.”

Also part of the interview: Ned Jarrett’s recovery from a horrible crash in a race at Greenville, as well as entering the world of television after hanging up his racing firesuit.

Check out the interview in the video above.

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