Jeff Burton

March 25 in NASCAR history: Car of Tomorrow makes debut

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After years of development with the intention of making stock car racing safer, NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow” or the Gen 5 car if you’re into that – made its debut on the Cup Series stage on March 25, 2007 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The race featured a thrilling green-white-checkered finish, as Kyle Busch held off Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon to win the Food City 500.

Then Busch, who’d led the final 20 laps, thew water on NASCAR’s new toy after the usual post-race interview pleasantries.

“I’m still not a big of these things,” Busch told Fox. “I can’t stand to drive them, they suck.”

Busch and the rest of the Cup Series would be stuck with that generation of car, and its ugly rear wing for a few more years. After rolling out full-time in 2008, the “Car of Tomorrow” stuck around through the 2012 season.

Even today, the well intentioned car leaves a bad taste for some.

Also on this date:

1973: Cale Yarborough led all 500 laps to claim a Cup win at Bristol Motor Speedway. For Yarborough, it was his first Cup win since returning to NASCAR full-time after two years spent competing in USAC Champ Cars. Yarborough finished two laps ahead of second-place finisher Richard Petty.

March 21 in NASCAR History: Jeff Burton wrecks in rain, wins at Darlington

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If it were any other race, Jeff Burton would not have won.

But on March 21, 1999, the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington Raceway did not end like any other race.

Burton, the future NBC Sports analyst, was in the middle of leading a 45-lap stint around the “Lady in Black” when Mother Nature butted in.

With rain starting to come down on the 1.366-mile track, a wreck began on the frontstretch on Lap 162. As cars scattered and checked up, Burton ran into the back of Jerry Nadeau and then smacked the outside wall.

His No. 99 Exide Ford’s right side was crumpled, the right-front tire no longer straight.

For two more laps, Burton led the field under caution as the rain increased into a downpour and brought out the red flag.

“I saw the wreck and I got slowed down, but there must have been something on the race track because I slowed down and it just kept going straight and hit the wall pretty hard,” Burton told ESPN. “It’s torn all to heck. … It was getting so dark you couldn’t see. … If it doesn’t (keep) raining we’ll finish last, if it does rain we’ll win.”

Eventually, NASCAR called the race.

It gave Burton his seventh Cup win and his second of six victories that season, including completing a Darlington sweep in the Southern 500 in September, which was also shortened by rain.

Also on this date:

1976: David Pearson erased a one-lap deficit and led the final 31 laps to beat Benny Parsons at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

1982: With rain about to be unleashed on Atlanta, Darrell Waltrip passed Richard Petty in the final turn on the last green-flag lap and beat Petty to the finish line by two inches according to NASCAR officials (from “40 Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era”). After waiting an hour, the field returned to the track for twelve laps under caution before the race was called, giving Waltrip a win in the Coca-Cola 500.

 

NBC on NASCAR podcast: Parker Kligerman on iRacing, tonight’s race

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We’re going racing tonight!

While NASCAR and all other forms of sports in the U.S. are shut down due to the COVID-19 virus, iRacing.com is the place to be tonight for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event at 9 p.m. ET from a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Click here for a preview of tonight’s race.

One individual who is in his second season as an iRacing team owner is NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman, who co-owns Burton/Kligerman eSports with fellow NBC Sports NASCAR analyst and former Cup driver Jeff Burton.

Their drivers are Ashton Crowder (drives the No. 77 Valvoline car) and Logan Clampitt (drives the No. 99 Valvoline car, an homage to Burton, who primarily drove that car number during his Cup career at Roush Fenway Racing). Crowder currently leads the series’ points, coming off a recent win at the virtual Auto Club Speedway.

 

Kligerman joined Nate Ryan on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast and spoke about his involvement in online sports, as well as being a iRacing team co-owner.

“Obviously, eSports is a big topic these days,” Kligerman told Ryan. “I’ve always been a big fan of Valvoline cars growing up, how good they looked, the paint schemes and everything and I thought how cool it would be to have them as those cars.”

Crowder and Clampitt are among the 20 drivers in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Among other team owners in the series are NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte, as well as NASCAR Cup drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and William Byron.

Byron is particularly notable as he literally began his racing career on the iRacing platform just nine years ago.

The eSports and iRacing platforms have become quite popular – and likely will gain even greater notoriety and attention during the current conditions.

Of note, Kligerman gave Ryan some key statistics: Across the Twitch, YouTube, eNASCAR.com and Facebook platforms, iRacing has averaged 180,000 viewers live, with an average retention time a person watches a race of between 19 and 30 minutes per person.

Another key point: the annual championship purse has jumped from over $100,000 last year to $300,000 this season.

“I don’t like the term ‘eSports’ anymore because I think of traditional eSports as doing something different,” Kligerman told Ryan. “We’re ‘eMotorsports’, we’re trying to help a sport that already exists build a base and gain a new audience and be exposed to people that can never be exposed to it on a competitive level.”

That fellow drivers like Hamlin, Larson and Byron have joined the series as team owners also speaks to the increasing popularity of eSports, particularly on the iRacing platform.

“It’s big,” Kligerman said. “When you get people like Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and William Byron, that sort of continually validates that.”

Owning an eSports/iRacing team also gives individuals a chance to do something they probably wouldn’t be able to do in real life.

“There’s 13 owners of the 20 that don’t own a real car in NASCAR and maybe never will,” Kligerman said. “And I think there’s six or seven that don’t own a real race car at all, maybe eight.

“So, we’re expanding outside the motorsports ecosystem to people that would never be involved in motorsports at the level of being an owner, and yet this allows them to do it, it’s fun and something they can promote and be excited about and promote motorsports and NASCAR to a base that never would have touched it before.”

Even NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan is tied to iRacing via a partial sponsorship of Hamlin’s e-team, including Jordan’s famous “Jump Man” logo on the side of the virtual race car of Hamlin’s team.

“One of the pitches to the driver pitching that was that he could meet Michael Jordan,” Kligerman said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I can’t compete with that.’

“Jeff (Burton) and I are really cool, but we’re not Michael Jordan. That was a tough one. I just can’t get over how cool that is. You just brought someone in because it’s not the massive undertaking of having a real race team, and frankly a real race team right now as a business decision is not a very viable business decision as we all now.”

But obviously having an eSports race team is proving to be a very viable and inexpensive business decision and option for many.

To hear this week’s complete podcast, click here.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR America’s MotorMouths live at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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NBC Sports
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Today’s episode of MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Jeff Burton, Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

You can call into the show via 844-NASCAR-NBC or submit your questions/comments via Twitter using #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Auto Club winners and losers

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WINNERS

Alex BowmanAfter his chance to win at Las Vegas ended because of a pit call, Bowman rebounded to win at Auto Club Speedway and score his second career victory.

Parity — A year after Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing won 19 of 36 races, all three manufacturers have a win in the first three races of the season. Chevrolet was the last to join the group with Alex Bowman’s win. It wasn’t until race 10 last year that a Chevrolet won a Cup race.

Harrison Burton (and Kim Burton) — Among the more entertaining moments when Jeff Burton won would be seeing wife Kim Burton’s reactions over the final laps of the race. That continued this past weekend with Harrison Burton scoring his first career Xfinity win. Kim’s reactions were priceless and Harrison’s burnout was spectacular.

Anthony Alfredo Had only made 13 Truck races last year and marked his Xfinity debut this past weekend by finishing sixth for Richard Childress Racing at Auto Club Speedway.

 

LOSERS

Martin Truex Jr. Pit road woes again cost Truex a chance at a top-five finish. Instead, a slow stop led to a 14th-place finish at Auto Club.

Ryan Blaney He appeared on his way to at least a runner-up finish until he had to pit in the final laps for a tire issue. That dropped him to a 19th-place finish … but he’s still the points leader.

Christopher BellA bolt from another car put a hole in the oil cooler, ending his day. Bell has begun his Cup career by finishing 21st (Daytona), 33rd (Las Vegas) and 38th (Auto Club)