Jeff Gordon

Getty IMages

Monster Energy All-Star Race by the numbers

Leave a comment

When NASCAR holds its annual All-Star Race this weekend, it will mark the 35th edition of the exhibition race that’s called Charlotte Motor Speedway home for all but one year.

In that time, the race has had a lot of different titles, many different formats and a lot of memorable paint schemes (say “Chromalusion” three times fast.)

The race has seen 23 different winners since its inception in 1985 and seven of them will be in Saturday night’s 85 lap main event as drivers compete for $1 million.

Here’s a look at other interesting numbers from the event’s three-and-a-half decades of history.

24 – Times Mark Martin competed in the All-Star Race, the most all-time. He did not miss the race from 1988 – 2013.

14 – Number of top 10s Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned in the All-Star Race, the most all-time. Jimmie Johnson is the active leader with 11.

12 – Number of laps Kyle Busch needs to lead to pass Bill Elliott (267 laps) for most laps led in the All-Star Race.

12 – Cars competed in the first All-Star Race on May 25, 1985. There will be 19 cars in this year’s race.

7 – Drivers who have multiple wins in the All-Star Race (Johnson, 4; Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, 3; Martin, Davey Allison, Terry Labonte and Kevin Harvick, 2)

5 – Poles Bill Elliott earned in the All-Star Race, the most all-time. Kyle Busch is the active leader with three.

4 – Times Sterling Marlin won the Monster Energy Open, the most all-time.

3 – Times Ken Schrader and Marlin finished runner-up in the All-Star Race, tied for the most all-time, without winning. Schrader competed in the race eight times and finished in the top five in six of them.

2 – Runner-up finishes by Brad Keselowski in the All-Star Race. He’s the active leader among drivers in top fives without an ASR win.

1 – Times that Jeff Gordon was sponsored by a dinosaur themed amusement park ride (1997). After winning the race, crew chief Ray Evernham was told not to bring that car back to the track.

Bump & Run: How much merit do Kyle Busch’s Dover comments have?

Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images
1 Comment

Kyle Busch spoke up about the speeds at Dover on Friday and called the package raced there “terrible” on Monday. Do the former champion’s comments have merit or are they sour grapes?

Nate Ryan: There is merit here. Drivers warned all weekend that they were on throttle too much, and even winner Martin Truex Jr. admitted it was hard to pass with a dominant car after starting at the rear. In changing its rules for 2019, NASCAR officials said an objective was to ensure cars didn’t “check out” on the field, and that’s what happened Monday. Busch is known for being churlish after a mediocre finish, but the 2015 series champion also doesn’t whine this way unless it’s justified.

Dustin Long: They have merit. Busch has been clear about how he didn’t want this high downforce package previously. So you know where he’s coming from, but he wasn’t the only driver to raise issues about the package after the race. While those comments weren’t as sharp as what he said, they further lend validity to his words. Busch’s comments about the higher speeds also should not be ignored.

Daniel McFadin: Sour grapes. Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman came from the rear of the field and placed 1-2. Busch was stuck in 10th-15th for most of the race. He didn’t have a better car than that. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Kind of in-between. I think there should have been more testing at Dover, given how much greater the speeds were compared to years past. Might smaller engines have been a better option? How will the fall playoff race be? Right now, there’s a lot of questions that need answering – and Busch certainly has quite a few – before the fall race.

 

Who was Dover a bigger race for — runner-up Alex Bowman, third-place finisher Kyle Larson or fifth-place finisher Chase Elliott?

Nate Ryan: While I agree with Jeff Gordon’s assessment of Dover being a “career race” for Bowman, Larson’s jump back into a provisional playoff spot was the bigger moral victory.

Dustin Long: Chase Elliott. While the race was a nice pick-me-up for Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman, Elliott scored back-to-back top 10s for the first time this season. That they were top fives meant even more. This is a team that could be a force in the playoffs (Chase won twice in last year’s playoffs) but needs to build momentum and consistency. Maybe these are the first steps toward a title run.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going with Bowman because he had to come from the rear. He also never had consecutive top fives before Monday, while Elliott and Larson have plenty of their own top fives. Larson definitely needed Monday’s race, but what Bowman did was more impressive.

Jerry Bonkowski: No doubt about it, Kyle Larson, with his season-best finish. He finally had a decent race with no incidents for the first time this season. Given how cyclical this sport is, for as bad as Larson may have been in the first 10 races, he now could potentially go on a big run over the next 10 races. The motivation and momentum from Dover could take him and his team a long way, potentially even to victory lane.

 

Are you surprised there hasn’t been a winning vehicle disqualified so far this season?

Nate Ryan: Very surprised. It’s only a matter of time, and the ticking clock will get much louder if it doesn’t happen before the end of the regular season (because teams are bound to push the limits in the playoffs).

Dustin Long: Mildly but it’s still early. I’ll be surprised if it goes a whole season without a winner from either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks disqualified.

Daniel McFadin: Absolutely. That it hasn’t happened at least once in all three of the national series is astounding. It’s possible the threat of losing wins actually did the trick. But I don’t see us making it back to Daytona without it happening for the first time.

Jerry Bonkowski: To an extent, yes. NASCAR is very adamant that it will no longer tolerate overt cheating, and potentially teams even working in the proverbial “gray area.” While disqualifying a winning vehicle would be embarrassing to the sport and especially the team involved, it’s good to know NASCAR has put some teeth in its bite if it needs to. And in a way, if/when (you know it’s going to happen sooner or later) a winning vehicle is DQ’d, it has the potential of bringing more fans back or into the sport, seeing that NASCAR means business about cheating.

Podcast: Chase Elliott on driving the No. 9, early start with Hendrick and more

1 Comment

The spotlight is shining bright on Chase Elliott this week after he earned his first Cup win of 2019 Sunday at Talladega.

The win came at an ideal time for NASCAR on NBC’s Steve Letarte, who interviewed Elliott this week for his “Letarte on Location” podcast.

The interview took place in Elliott’s hometown of Dawsonville, Georgia, at the famous Dawsonville Pool Room.

They covered a number of topics in the 45-minute episode. Here are a few of them.

Chase Elliott with Bill Elliott in 2002. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

MEMORIES OF BILL ELLIOTT’S RACING CAREER

“Obviously, they’re scattered, right? At that age they’re scattered. When you’re a kid I think you recognize big moments and obviously you can tell when something’s special. I do have a couple memories of Indianapolis when he won the Brickyard (in 2002), because I just remember being absolutely amazed by … when you win there they used to take the cars up on this lift gate thing and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. I remember that as a kid.

“I remember him blowing a tire at Homestead (in 2003) on the last lap and I think Bobby Labonte beat him. 

“The last one I remember, I remember him winning his last race (at Rockingham in 2003). A couple things about that I remember. He beat Jimmie (Johnson), which was pretty cool. Because Jimmie was getting started … He was obviously killing it. Came in and was having all this success and I remember all the hype around him and then just remember (Bill Elliott) beating him that day. Taking it to the young guy. I thought that was kind of cool. Victory lane was a lot of popcorn sponsor of some sort (Pop-Secret). They had popcorn. It was the car and it was popcorn. … I think I asked someone ‘Can I eat popcorn?’ So I’m sitting in victory lane eating the popcorn.”

HOW JAMES FINCH HELPED HIM JOIN HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AT 15 YEARS OLD

(Former Cup Series owner James Finch kept tabs on Elliott during his late-model career when he raced at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida)

“I think (Finch) had a car or sponsored a car down there. He loves the Snowball Derby, loves Pensacola and going over there and racing. So was in front of him a lot.

“We’re there and I didn’t know this, but apparently he was taking notice of some of the good runs we had at that point in time. He mentioned something to Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and I think Mr. Hendrick kind of thought about it and felt like he might want to help. He gave dad a call one day and dad and I flew to Charlotte one afternoon after school, sat down. Boss picked us up from the airport personally, drove us over to the shop, toured us around at his facility, sat us down in his office. … He’s like ‘I don’t really know what’s next or … what the right move is, but I want to help. Who knows where this is going to go, but I just want to help. I think we can make something work.’ So that was really where everything really started and nothing was ever really promised, he just wanted to help and he expressed that and really opened the door for everything else after that to transpire.”

DIFFERENCE IN RACING THE No. 24 AND No. 9

“I said it then and I’ll say it now, I honestly didn’t put a lot of thought into (driving the No. 24), the number thing. It didn’t bother me. I don’t think it ever really felt like home. (When I started) racing go karts, I didn’t want to be the 24. I wanted to be the No. 9. … It didn’t feel like home from that standpoint, but it’s not something that concerned me. It doesn’t make you go faster or slower what’s on the side of the car. That was kind of my big thing in my head. It is what it is, let’s just go and try to do good. …

“To me (the No. 9) just feels right. I don’t know what it seems like to you. But like me walking out to the grid to get in the car, that’s my car.”

You can listen to the whole podcast below, including Elliott discussing his friendship with Ryan Blaney.

After being ‘beat down’ by superspeedways, Alan Gustafson gets first win

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Coming off the first off-week of the season, crew chief Alan Gustafson and his No. 9 team at Hendrick Motorsports had an interesting three-race stretch awaiting them.

The Cup Series would head to Talladega Superspeedway, Dover International Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

The last two tracks hold good memories for Gustafson and driver Chase Elliott. Two of their three wins last year came in the playoff races at Dover and Kansas. The 1-mile Dover is also the site of Elliott’s best average finish (4.3) through six starts.

“Probably of the three, I was most looking forward to Dover,” Gustafson said Sunday.  “I just love Dover, because when you win Dover, you’ve done something.  That’s a tough, fast track.  There’s no place to hide.  There’s no way you can get away with not being on the edge all day.”

But they had to go through Talladega to get there.

“I was looking forward to coming here,” Gustafson said. “I mean, you get a little beat down after doing it for so long, not getting the results, how fickle it can be.  Certainly don’t want to say I wasn’t looking forward to coming here.  You’re a bit cautious with your expectations because this place can bite you in a second.”

Elliott’s win Sunday at Talladega came in Gustafson’s 58th Cup points race on a superspeedway, with 29 each at Talladega and Daytona.

In those races, the first being the 2005 Daytona 500, Gustafson has worked with the likes of Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears and Elliott.

Outside a win in a Daytona 500 qualifying race in 2018, Gustafson had come up one spot short of victory lane three times at superspeedways.

The closest he came was in the July 2007 race at Daytona, when Jamie McMurray edged Busch by .005 of a second to steal the win.

Nearly 12 years later, a day that saw an increased amount of coordination among Chevy teams, ended with Elliott leading 45 laps (his most on a superspeedway), including the final four, to score the win.

In addition to Gustafson and Elliott’s first Cup superspeedway wins, the victory ended a seven-race stretch of Ford wins at Talladega. It also was Chevy’s first Cup win of the season.

“We needed to win this,” Gustafson said. “We needed to consolidate our efforts.  We needed to break the streak that one of our rivals has here. … (Crew members at Hendrick have) worked really, really hard.  Really haven’t had the results to pay off their efforts.”

Chase Elliott celebrates his first Cup win of 2019. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The win was also Hendrick Motorsports’ first on a superspeedway since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the July 2015 race at Daytona.

“Just thinking back a year or so, we’ve been so close to winning one of these (superspeedway) races for so long, haven’t been able to do it,” Gustafson said. “Happy for them we were able to get that done today.”

Elliott noted that it was “pretty cool” to get Gustafson’s first superspeedway win, but he observed that “a sticker is a sticker, the Playoff points are what they are.  I think it’s important to rack them up as early as you can, as long as you can keep stacking on top of it.”

While the No. 9 has been to victory lane four times in the last 25 races, Elliott doesn’t think they’re “winning often enough.”

“I feel like we need to be contending more,” Elliott said. “I see some of our competitors being in contention more than we have been throughout the season.  I think we can certainly do a better job.

“To have a win this early in the year I think is nice. And just because we won at Dover and Kansas last year doesn’t mean we’re going to go run good there, too. You know that.

“It’s going to be hit‑or‑miss.”

Friday 5: Can Kyle Larson break out of his slump at Talladega?

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two years ago, Kevin Harvick called Kyle Larson “the best driver to come into this sport since Jeff Gordon.”

Harvick remains bullish on Larson even though the 26-year-old enters this weekend on a 55-race winless drought.

Few drivers could have used last weekend’s break more than Larson — he said at Richmond it has been “a pretty crappy start to the year” — but can he turn things around starting at Talladega Superspeedway?

Larson’s struggles were discussed by Kevin Harvick and co-host Matt Yocum on “Happy Hours” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week. Yocum asked Harvick how he kept himself mentally up when things aren’t going well.

Harvick responded by raising questions about Larson’s crew chief, Chad Johnston.

“I think when you look at (Larson’s) environment, I look at his crew chief,” Harvick said. “I don’t think he’s the most positive guy in the world. When you have a driver that is in a slump, I don’t think it’s going to come from his crew chief. I think Chad is a pretty low-key guy that kind of complains a fair amount.

“I think as you look at that, I don’t know if it’s going to come from his crew chief. I think it will have to come from (car owner) Chip Ganassi or somebody outside of what they do, crew chief to driver. (Larson is) still really young, so he needs some guidance and he needs some help to get through the situations that he’s in. In the end, when his contract is up, I don’t know exactly when that is, but he’s going to be a hot commodity.”

Johnston has been Larson’s crew chief since 2016. Johnston came to Chip Ganassi Racing after he was Tony Stewart’s crew chief in 2014-15. Those were Harvick’s first two seasons at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Larson has scored all five of his Cup victories with Johnston as his crew chief.

Harvick said on his show of Larson: “The bottom line is Kyle Larson is a very, very talented driver that can win a lot of races with the right people around him and the right guidance from somebody kind of helping him finish races and helping him understand when things are good or if things are bad, if you’re running fifth, you need to finish fifth. Having those people around him would in the right environment, the right chemistry and the right things to go with it are really going to help him along in his career.”

It has been a tough start of the season for Larson, who has not finished better than sixth. He led 142 laps at Atlanta but saw his chances to win fade when he was penalized for speeding. Larson finished 12th that day.

Chevrolet’s struggles also haven’t helped Larson or teammate Kurt Busch. Joe Gibbs Racing has won six races for Toyota, and Team Penske has won three races for Ford this season. They’re the only two organizations to win in the first quarter of the season. Chevrolet teams have combined to win four races in the last 45 races, going back to last year’s Daytona 500.

Ganassi noted this week on Twitter the challenges Chevrolet teams face.

Larson’s task doesn’t get easier this weekend. He has five top-10 finishes in 21 Cup starts at Talladega and Daytona. Larson has never finished better than sixth at either track. After finishing 11th at Talladega in the playoffs last year, Larson lamented: “We just had a terrible race car and were really slow all weekend.”

Will the new package this weekend change Larson’s fortune?

2. What to expect this weekend?

Depends on who you ask? Drivers have different takes on what might happen.

There are many questions because of a few changes. Tapered spacers have replaced restrictor plates. Teams are getting about 100 more horsepower, meaning engines will top 500 horsepower.

To offset that speed gain and slow the cars, NASCAR raised the rear spoiler an inch to 9 inches. NASCAR also is mandating a 1-inch bolt-on track bar mount to change the height from 11 to 12 inches, raising the rear of the car by an inch.

“Handling should not be an issue at all, I’m pretty confident in that,” said Joey Logano, who has won three of the last seven Talladega races, including last spring’s event. “It was (before). You could tell some cars were better than others.

“Now, I think the field will be more equally matched. It’s already the great equalizer, and now we’re equalizing it even more. I would assume the pack will be tighter, cars will be closer, more aggressive moves, probably closer blocks. Maybe the runs happen quicker because the hole in the air is bigger. Maybe the runs on the leader will be bigger.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a tandem (draft). That can happen. I don’t know if it will or not. You would think with a spoiler that big there is a good chance of that. We’ll see.”

Paul Menard is among those who question how long tandem drafting — which was prominent about a decade ago — can work, if at all.

“The big restriction with tandem racing is cooling,” he said. “Our radiators and things aren’t made, the spec radiators don’t have the cooling we had a few years ago when we did the tandem. I think you will see people get to people’s bumpers and push as long as they can.”

There are other questions as well

“I am wondering how the side draft will work,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won this race in 2017 for his first career Cup victory. “How you can get different runs on cars and ultimately what you can do when you are out front to maintain the lead. That is what our speedway racing has turned into, get to the top five and if you are in the top two of each lane, bottom or top, how do you stay there. I think a lot of people have it figured out now, but now that the package is going to change. Is that still going to be something easy or capable of doing?”

Practice should be interesting today but even that will not provide all the answers. Those will come Sunday.

3. Memorable moment 10 years ago

The end of the April 26, 2009 race at Talladega will remain one that is replayed with one car flying into the fence on the last lap, a new Cup winner being crowned and the driver whose car flipped running across the finish line to complete a race his car couldn’t.

Brad Keselowski celebrated that day, driving for car owner James Finch in a part-time ride that saw Keselowski drive the No. 09 car five times that season. Keselowski was running full time in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports and did seven Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports in a fifth car teams were allowed to run with a rookie driver.

Keselowski’s future, though, wasn’t with Hendrick Motorsports. The team didn’t have an opening with its four-car team filled by Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin. That lineup would remain intact through the 2011 season.

In October 2009, Keselowski signed with Team Penske. That came less than a month after Martin inked an extension through the 2011 season with Hendrick Motorsports.

Keselowski’s Talladega victory a decade ago was the first of 29 in Cup for him. Six of those 29 victories have come at the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega. He’s won five times at Talladega and once at Daytona.

How different might things have been for Keselowski had he not won that race at Talladega in 2009?

“I’d like to think that it opened some doors for me,” Keselowski said. “It’s hard to say because none of us have complete control over our destiny, but when I look out the window, I’m not sure I would have ended up at Penske if I hadn’t won that race. 

“It was a major marker. It opened up, in my mind at least, but I can’t speak for Roger (Penske) or Discount Tire. It opened up the window for me to get the Discount Tire deal, which I needed to really feel good about driving for Team Penske because that opened up the Xfinity Series for me, opened up the team development side that I thought was going to be so critical to our success and to kind of get Penske on its feet. 

“If you recall, they were in a bad place at the time, and I don’t know if that would have happened without winning that race. Maybe it would have. I don’t know. It’s a better question for Roger and Discount Tire, but either way, I’m glad it happened. I’m thankful and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

4. Working together again?

One of the fascinating elements from the Daytona 500 was how Toyota and Hendrick Motorsports worked so well together to offset the dominance of Fords.

NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan revealed the inside story of that deal after the race.

The question is will such a union be needed this weekend to combat the Fords or will the rules help others gets to the front?

Keep an eye on how this plays out this weekend.

5. White House visit 

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced during a briefing Thursday that reigning Cup champion Joey Logano would be honored at the White House next week, continuing a tradition of Cup champions visiting the President.

Logano and members of his team are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump at 3:30 p.m. ET Tuesday on the South Lawn at the White House.

 and on Facebook