Friday 5: Tony Gibson seeks to win Cup title four months after hospitalization

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Four months after suffering what he called a “mini-stroke” that impacted his vision and hearing, Tony Gibson could help lead Kevin Harvick to the Cup title.

The 54-year-old Gibson, as affable and easygoing as anyone who has worked a lifetime in the Cup garage, will be on Harvick’s pit box Sunday in Miami as crew chief Rodney Childers sits out his last race of a two-race suspension.

Gibson will be there after spending more than a month off from work recovering from his health issues.

“I was actually just driving home from work (July 6) and just had a real, I just could not get my brain to function with my hands and my feet, and I could not drive any further and knew something was wrong,” Gibson said. “Just wasn’t sure, and ended up going to the emergency room and put me in for observation that night, and then about one in the morning they came back and they had done several scans and told me I had a blood clot in my vertebral artery.”

Gibson said he was hospitalized more than a week before he was released. The blood clot started to dissolve but then it caused what Gibson called a mini-stroke, leaving him without 85 percent of his hearing in his left ear and cost him most of the function of his left eye.”

He went through therapy. He continues to see doctors. Gibson had an appointment with his neurologist today that had to be canceled since he’s in Miami.

“I was very lucky, and I don’t take that for granted,” Gibson said. “There’s a lot of people out there that are way worse than me, so it’s just something that I’ll overcome and I’ll get used to it and go on.”

When Stewart-Haas Racing asked him to fill in for Childers after his penalty for an infraction discovered in Harvick’s winning car at Texas, Gibson had to consult his doctors to make sure it was OK for him to fly.

“They said I’m probably safer than anybody on the plane as far as blood clots with the medicines that I’m on,” Gibson said.

“Other than having to get up and walk around on the plane and do my normal stuff that I do, they were pretty satisfied with me doing it, and if all possible, I was going. There was no way I was going to let those guys down.”

Gibson was a natural choice to fill in for Childers. Gibson has faced championship pressure before. The Daytona Beach native was on Alan Kulwicki’s crew when Kulwicki won the 1992 title. Gibson was the car chief for Jeff Gordon’s team when Gordon won crowns in 1998 and 2001. Gibson was a crew chief from 2003-17, winning the 2017 Daytona 500 with Kurt Busch.

But Gibson decided in December he wanted off the road, writing on social media “Traveling 4 days a week for 31 years can take a toll on you.”

He took a role in the shop, coordinating the work on the cars for all four Cup teams as production manager. That kept him at home with family and gave him plenty of time for fishing.

Then again, it’s hard to keep racers from the track. That’s where he’ll be Sunday.

2. Got his back

For as much success as Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have had in their time together since 2014, their winning percentage (12.5 percent) is just slightly better than what Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn have accumulated (12.0 percent) since 2015.

So how have Truex and Pearn achieved such success? It started when Pearn was Truex’s engineer at Furniture Row Racing in 2014 when the team struggled.

“Our cars were not very good,” Truex said. “We had some major issues that took a while to figure out. But he never pointed the finger at me.  He did a lot of the setups and a lot of the work on the cars, and he was the one writing down the notes and taking all my feedback.

“As far as I know, and as far as I could tell, he believed in me 100 percent in that time when we were running 20th. I felt like (he) always had my back and was always willing to go the extra mile to figure it out. Once we did, obviously, you’ve seen what happened. But that just gave me the trust and the confidence that he had my back and he was my guy, and we figured it out together.”

3. Success of failure?

Kyle Busch has tied his career-high for wins in a season with eight, already has a career-high in top fives (21) and top 10s (27) and has the best average finish (8.4) of his career.

But can such a year be successful if it doesn’t come with a championship?

 “I would say it’s certainly been a successful year, but I don’t think it would be truly successful without being able to bring home that championship,” Busch said.

Busch was asked if it would be more disappointing to lose the title this year after the season he’s had.

“I guess it depends on who you lose it to,” he said. “Obviously, Harvick’s done a phenomenal job. Those guys and that group have been so good all season long, even in the late stages of last year. You lose it to him, and it’s like, yeah, okay, I can see why they got it. In all honesty, I feel like we’ve been right there toe-to-toe with them. He wins a week, I can win a week, he wins a week, I can win a week. Truex wins a week, I win a week, he wins a week. That’s kind of the way this season’s gone.”

Busch was asked if it would be more disappointing to lose the title to Logano since Logano hasn’t had the overall season Harvick and Truex have had.

“I would agree with that statement,” Busch said. “(Logano has) been there. He’s been consistent. He’s been good. He hasn’t necessarily performed to the level of the big three, and that’s no shake on them at all. 

“It’s just the fact of the matter. So if he wins the title over the rest of us, then that would certainly be a little bit more disappointing.”

4. Back in time

The past four years, the driver who won the championship won the race. If that trend continues this year, then Joey Logano would need to win on a 1.5-mile track for the first time in 2015 at Kansas in the playoffs – a span of 34 races on 1.5-mile tracks.

Logano is encouraged with how his team has performed in recent races on 1.5-mile tracks.

“I think we were really good at Kansas this year,” Logano said of a race he led 100 of 267 laps before placing eighth. “We may not have won the race, but we sat on the pole, led most laps that race.

  “We ran pretty well (at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year), as well. I feel confident in that. I feel confident we’re going to make a lot of pit stops because the tires wear out really quick. I have so much confidence in this pit crew to do their job that we’re going to go out there and do our things, have fun with that.”

5. A special celebration

If Kevin Harvick wins the championship Sunday, 6-year-old son Keelan has a special celebration he wants to do.

Harvick said Keelan asked him Wednesday night that if he won the championship could they do anything they wanted.

“If you win the championship, you can do pretty much anything you want,” Harvick told his son.

“He’s like, We’re going to climb the fence, dad. I said, Okay, I’ll watch. You climb the fence.”

NASCAR America: Assessing Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus’ historic tenure

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After 17 years, seven Cup championships and 81 wins, the checkered flag will wave on Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus this weekend.

Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will mark the final time Johnson and Knaus will work together as driver and crew chief.

In 2019, Johnson will be paired with Kevin Meendering while Knaus will work with William Byron on the No. 24 team.

On NASCAR America, three-time Cup champion and Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham and Kyle Petty discussed the legacy of the Johnson-Knaus pairing and how it compares to what was accomplished by Richard Petty and crew chief Dale Inman and Jeff Gordon and Evernham.

“The most underrated record in this sport is five (championships) in a row,” Petty said, referring to the No. 48 team’s title run from 2006-10. “Nobody gives them enough credit, I just don’t think so. … The crew chief job that Ray did is a completely different job than what Chad does. The crew chief job that Chad does, Dale Inman wouldn’t even recognize it in 1967, ’68.”

Said Evernham: “Jimmie and Chad are right there with those guys. Without a doubt it’s Petty-Inman, Johnson-Knaus. What Jeff I did together was great, but we weren’t together that long. … To me it’s incredible to win that many championships, not just mechanically, but what it takes emotionally to do that. To hold those teams together and be that good for that many years is to me incredible. That’s longer than most marriages.”

Watch the above video for more.

 

NASCAR America: Is this the best Championship 4 ever?

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In the fifth year of the current format, the question being asked on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America is whether this is the greatest assembly of Championship 4 drivers of all times.

The answer is undeniably yes, according to the Dale Jarrett. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano constitute the best Championship 4 thus far.

“We could sit here and talk about how strong they are,” Dale Jarrett said. “We’ve talked about the Big 3 all year and who was going to be that fourth. Joey Logano showed strength as they got into the playoffs. But you don’t have to believe all that we are telling you. Just look at the numbers.”

It is a phrase repeated all too often, but in 2018 the numbers really do speak for themselves.

With his win last week at Phoenix, Busch tied Harvick with eight wins apiece, Truex earned four wins and Joey Logano scored two. With one race remaining, that totals 22 victories. The most previous to this season came last year when Truex, Busch, Harvick and Brad Keselowski combined for 18 wins including Truex’s Miami win.

The Championship 4 combined for 74 top fives. Last year, they had 62 top fives through the season finale in Miami.

“When we talk about the numbers, it is impressive,” Steve Letarte said. “Joey Logano has had a great year, but it has been dominated by three names. I would expect the race (at Miami) to be no different.”

“I think going into Miami, the big deal is they have all been there before,” Burton said. “Having been there; done that matters. The pressure of being in that situation? They’ve all experienced it.”

This will be the fourth appearance among the Championship 4 for Harvick (previously appeared in 2014, 2015 and 2017) and Busch (2015, 2016 and 2017). Truex (2015 and 2017) and Logano (2014 and 2016) have two appearances each.

The Big 3 have been together twice before (2017 and 2015).

2017: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski (combined for 18 wins, 62 top fives)

2016: Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards (15 wins, 53 top fives)

2015: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. (10 wins, 48 top fives)

2014: Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano (11 wins, 42 top fives)

For more, watch the videos above.

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NASCAR putting procedures in place to avoid ‘unacceptable’ mistake

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NASCAR will put additional procedures in place this weekend to avoid repeating the mistake series officials made in making Jimmie Johnson start at the rear of Sunday’s race, Steve O’Donnell told “The Morning Drive” on Monday.

NASCAR sent Johnson to the rear before the start of the race because it incorrectly noted that Johnson’s car failed inspection three times Sunday. Johnson’s car passed on its third attempt and should have been allowed to start in his original spot.

O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, called the mistake “unacceptable.” Series officials met with Hendrick Motorsports personnel, which included crew chief Chad Knaus and Jeff Gordon, after the race and apologized.

“We’ll certainly put procedures in place prior to Phoenix to ensure that just can’t happen going forward,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It was one of those things, again, a human error that we’ve really got to look at and look at some additional procedures we can have in place prior to Phoenix. We’ll have those done today, and we’ll be communicating those first and foremast to the team that was affected and then to the industry as well.”

Among the changes O’Donnell said would be in “the number of people that confirm a call prior to the race. Once the race started, we’re in trouble. It’s plain and simple.”

 

 

 

Jimmie Johnson, Fernando Alonso to swap rides for a day

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A random meeting in January will lead to “the chance of a lifetime” for Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson and Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso, who met in Charlotte in January during NASCAR’s Media Day, will drive each other’s race cars Nov. 26 at Bahrain.

“He mentioned something there and we just stayed in touch,” Johnson said of where the idea spawned.

This is more than Johnson just jumping into Alonso’s car. Johnson will tour the McLaren shop and test on the team’s simulator.

“We really want to have a full day to experience each other’s cars and mess around,” Johnson said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports shipped a car Oct. 9 to go by boat to Bahrain for Alonso to drive. Johnson said the team “packed the container with plenty of tires and equipment to let him run as long as he wants to get the full experience, and they’re offering that same thing to me.”

Johnson said the challenge was to find a place for them to run each other’s car. Originally, they looked at tracks in the U.S., including Indianapolis, Homestead-Miami and Charlotte but schedules didn’t work. Eventually, the idea to do it overseas after the NASCAR and Formula 1 seasons ended made the most sense.

To prepare, Johnson has done additional neck exercises because of the additional G-forces he’ll endure in Alonso’s car. It was a tip Johnson gained from Jeff Gordon, who drove Juan Pablo Montoya’s Formula 1 car in 2003 at Indianapolis.

“In talking with Gordon, he had the ability to run more laps in the setup that they had but his neck wouldn’t let him,” Johnson said. “Our cars, especially on the brakes, we do not create the Gs and we only have a couple of road courses a year, so our neck muscles are pretty far behind (F1 drivers).”

The last time a NASCAR driver and Formula 1 driver switched cars was 2011 with Tony Stewart and Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen International.

“It’s the ultimate car,” Johnson said of why he wants to try the F1 car. “To feel the downforce of one of those cars has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve always wanted to experience it.”

For those wondering, Johnson said he has no hint that Alonso is doing this to consider a future racing NASCAR. Alonso will leave F1 after this season. 

“I have seen plenty of chatter about that on social (media),” Johnson said of speculation of Alonso driving some in NASCAR. “He’s not led me to believe any of that. If I was in his shoes and had the opportunity to go drive an oval, I would have taken it if NASCAR was the destination for me. He wants to drive it on the road course. Maybe he has some road course ideas if he was to come. He has not led me to believe in any way shape or form there’s more than this.”