Jeff Gordon

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Kyle Busch to compete in Rolex 24 in 2020

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PLANO, Texas — Kyle Busch will compete in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Toyota Racing announced Monday.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is scheduled for Jan. 25-26.

Busch will be one of the drivers for AIM Vasser Sullivan and drive the Lexus RC F GT3 car.

“I’d like to thank everyone at Lexus Motorsports and AIM Vasser Sullivan and Toyota for this opportunity,” Busch said. “To have the chance to run in such an iconic race as the Rolex 24 is certainly something I’ve thought about and wanted to do. My partnership with Toyota and the history we’ve had together has been incredible. I would love to continue that history and maybe get my Daytona Rolex to add to my trophy collection.”

This will mark Busch’s debut in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Rolex 24. He will compete in the GTD class.

“We’re thrilled to have a racer of Kyle’s caliber join AIM Vasser Sullivan to open our 2020 season at the Rolex 24 at Daytona,” said Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of the team. “Kyle has proved he can compete and win in many forms of motorsports and we look forward to having him drive the Lexus RC F GT3 at Daytona.”

Busch will participate in the 2020 Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 3-5 to prepare for the race.

Busch follows several NASCAR drivers who have competed in the event, including Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and AJ Allmendinger, among others.

The only other time Busch has competed on Daytona’s road course was in 2009 when he co-drove a Lexus with Scott Speed for Chip Ganassi Racing and finished 10th in the Brumos Porsche 250, the night before the July Cup race there.

Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Cup champion, seeks to advance to the championship race in the Cup Series for the fifth consecutive year.

Brad Keselowski: How NASCAR brawls evolved ‘for better or worse’

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With so much talk lately about the recent scuffles between a number of NASCAR drivers such as Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin at Martinsville Speedway and Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick at Kansas Speedway, it got Cup driver Brad Keselowski thinking.

And tweeting.

With the Cup Series back at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, Keselowski took to Twitter and reflected back on the big brawl ignited by late-race contact between him and Jeff Gordon in the Nov. 2, 2014 race.

It’s a subject that even five years later, still comes up every time the Cup Series heads back to Fort Worth.

Check out the thread by the Team Penske driver:

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Friday 5: Bowman Gray’s Madhouse represents what NASCAR’s future could be

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As the NASCAR community caravans to Martinsville Speedway this weekend, many will drive by Winston-Salem, North Carolina on the way to the Cup Series’ shortest track.

Although one can’t see Bowman Gray Stadium from the roads that many teams, media and fans will take to Martinsville, its impact on the sport can’t be overlooked.

Bowman Gray Stadium, which recently completed its 71st season of racing, could be the most important track to NASCAR.

As the sport looks to 2020 and beyond, NASCAR is carving a schedule that increases the chance for conflict and controversy — exactly what made Bowman Gray Stadium a must-see for fans, inspired the TV show “Madhouse” and stocks Google searches with stories and videos of altercations and cars ramming each other.

This could be the future of the Cup Series.

Call it a return to its past.

Beating and banging is nothing new in NASCAR. It’s part of Dale Earnhardt’s legacy. It’s why fans long for North Wilkesboro. It’s how some measure the present.

But NASCAR is putting in motion a plan that could increase the likelihood that the chaos often seen at Bowman Gray could become more common in Cup.

While next year’s Cup schedule features the same six short track races as this year, those tracks will have greater significance in the playoffs.

The Bristol night race moves into the playoffs for the first time and is the opening round’s elimination race. It will be held the week after Richmond, marking back-to-back short track playoff events for the first time. Don’t think there won’t be some contact and tempers?

And to raise the intensity, NASCAR moved Martinsville Speedway to the final race before the championship race next year.

Look at what Joey Logano did last year at Martinsville when it was the opening race in the Round of 8. Knocking Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead on the final lap to win guaranteed Logano a spot in the championship race in Miami. Logano went on to win at Miami to claim his first Cup title.

Aric Almirola said on NASCAR America’s MotorMouths this week that “Martinsville is always kind of a place where you have to get rough when you need, but I do feel like that Joey opened Pandora’s box there. … I think anybody else that is in the Round of 8 that saw that and sees that if they have an opportunity to win at Martinsville, don’t be nice. You have to take that opportunity.”

Imagine what it will be like next year when Martinsville is the last chance to get into championship race (which will be held at ISM Raceway, a track more conducive to beating and banging than Homestead-Miami Speedway).

Desperate times call for desperate measures. That could lead more contact on the track, which would could lead to an altercation with drivers and crew members on pit road after a race.

Isn’t that what many fans want to see? Drama, conflict and controversy.

Fans could see that again Sunday at Martinsville (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and even more likely next year with its place in the playoffs.

Yes, it could be just like a Saturday night at Bowman Gray Stadium.

“The first year moving here, I went to Bowman Gray,” AJ Allmendinger said on NASCAR America’s MotorMouths this week. “I was like what is this place? This is insanity … but this is awesome. I love this place.

“I love seeing the races there, the videos that go with it because it’s true passion and a little bit of craziness mixed in.”

And the future.

2. A faster approach

Although Corey LaJoie says he hasn’t signed anything with Go Fas Racing for next year — “we’re working toward making that happen,” he said last weekend at Kansas Speedway — he is seeking to add partners so the team can purchase better engines for some races next year.

Corey LaJoie (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“Faster you can make that horse that I sit on every week run a little faster, it hopefully puts me in the conversation the next couple of years for a race-winning ride,” he said.

“It costs money to go fast. It’s a matter of trying to get more and more of that money, because upgrading the engine package is substantial, especially stretched out for majority of the year.”

LaJoie said the focus is on upgrading engines with plans for the team to purchase some cars from Stewart-Haas Racing.

The key will be money. As it is for any driver and team.

“Bringing funding is the name of the game,” LaJoie said. “You can act like it doesn’t exist, but it does. The first thing they say is, ‘We’d love for you to drive for us.’ The second question is ‘How much you got? Because I’ve talked to this guy and he’s got $2 million and this guy has a million and a half. What are you bringing to the table?’ Bringing helmets and seats isn’t what moves the needle. You have to have actual cash money.”

3. Chasing a record

Joe Gibbs Racing’s 16 wins this season are two short of the modern-era record of 18 set by Hendrick Motorsports in 2007. NASCAR’s modern era is from 1972.

It seems likely JGR will tie the mark with four races left. JGR drivers have won the past four short track races: Kyle Busch won at Bristol in April, Martin Truex Jr. swept the two Richmond races this year, and Denny Hamlin won the Bristol night race in August.

Also, consider Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance at short tracks since 2009.

JGR drivers have won 31 of the 65 races at short tracks since that time. The next three teams: Hendrick Motorsports (10 wins), Team Penske (10) and Stewart-Haas Racing (seven) combine for 27 wins in that stretch.

4. A new look

The Kannapolis Intimidators are no more. The minor league baseball team, which took its name from Dale Earnhardt, announced previously that this would be its last season with that name. A team official told NBC Sports in February why it was changing the name that it had used since 2001.

Kannapolis Cannon Ballers logo (Photo: Kannapolis Cannon Ballers)

“Dale’s always going to be the Intimidator, Vince Marcucci, assistant general manager of the team told NBC Sports in February. “We’re not trying to get away from (it). I don’t think that’s the right way to put it. But, like, own our own brand. Because we don’t own the Intimidators. (Earnhardt’s widow) Teresa has the rights to that.

“So for speed and flexibility as we try to do creative things in the future, we’re going to need something we own ourselves.”

The team will be known as the Cannon Ballers.

But there still be an homage to Earnhardt. The mascot will have a bushy mustache like Earnhardt did. Also, in the logo, the B in Ballers is shaped like a 3 for Earnhardt.

5. Streaking

Kyle Busch seeks to tie Jimmie Johnson this weekend for second on the all-time list of most consecutive top-five finishes at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch has placed in the top five in each of the past eight races at Martinsville. Johnson had a streak of nine top-five finishes in a row from Oct. 2005 – Oct. 2009.

Jeff Gordon holds the record at the track with 11 consecutive top-five finishes. The streak began in April 2005 and ended in March 2010.

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By the numbers: The first 100 Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway

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Talldega Superspeedway is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which included holding its 100th Cup Series race at the track in April.

Sunday’s race on the 2.66-mile track (2 p.m. ET on NBC) will be the 101st Cup event and represents the second race in the second round of this year’s playoffs.

The first Cup race on the Alabama track was held under controversial circumstances on Sept. 14, 1969.

NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. was forced to fill the field with drivers from the Grand American Series after many of NASCAR’s stars, including Richard Petty, boycotted the race over safety concerns.

The field was made up of 36 drivers – including future NASCAR team owner Richard Childress in his first career Cup start as a driver. Fifteen drivers made it to the finish as Richard Brickhouse took home the victory. It would be his only win in 39 Cup starts.

Here are some highlights and notes from the first 50 years of NASCAR racing at Talladega.

– Dale Earnhardt Sr. is the winningest driver in Talladega history with 10 wins. NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are tied for second with six.  Brad Keselowski leads active drivers with five wins.

– Six drivers have swept both races at Talladega in a season: Pete Hamilton (1970), Buddy Baker (1975), Darrell Waltrip (1982), Dale Earnhardt (1990 & 1999), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2002) and Jeff Gordon (2007).

– Eleven drivers have earned their first career Cup win at Talladega: Brickhouse, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017), Keselowski (2009), Brian Vickers (2006), Ken Schrader (1988), Phil Parsons (1988)*, Davey Allison (1987),  Bobby Hillin (1986)*, Ron Bouchard (1981)*, Lennie Pond (1978)* and Dick Brooks (1973)*. *Denotes their only Cup win

Keselowski’s win in 2009 is the only example in Cup Series history of a driver’s first career lap led being the final lap of a race.

– Of the Cup champions who have competed at Talladega, only seven have failed to win there: Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, Hall of Famer Benny Parsons, Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac and Hall of Famer Buck Baker.

– Of the 48 drivers who have won at Talladega, 11 will be in the field for Sunday’s race.

– The lowest a driver has started a race at Talladega and won was Jeff Gordon, who won the spring 2000 race after starting 36th.

– Sixty-nine drivers have dared to make their first career Cup start at Talladega.

– The record for most cars in a race was 60 on May 6, 1973.

– The record for most lead changes in a race is 88, which has occurred twice (most recent on April 17, 2011).

– While the record for cautions at Talladega is 11, the track has seen three caution-free races, in 1997, 2001 and 2002.

– The October 2018 race had only one DNF, the fewest in track history.

– Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has the best average finish among active drivers (11.8).

– Bill Elliott owns the track’s qualifying record, 212.809 mph, set on May 3, 1987. He also has the record for Talladega poles with eight.

– Speaking of Bill Elliott. In 1985, Elliott dramatically came back from being two laps down to win the Winston 500.

– The closest margin of victory is 0.002 seconds. It came on April 17, 2011 with Jimmie Johnson winning over Clint Bowyer.

Kyle Larson latest Cup playoff driver to get first win of season in playoffs

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Kyle Larson has to be feeling good.

He finally ended a two-year winless streak (75 races) Sunday at Dover International Speedway. On top of that, it was in the playoffs.

The victory sends him and Chip Ganassi Racing to the third round of the postseason for the first time.

Now what?

“You know, depending on who makes it out of this round, I’m still going to be a ways back on points to Martin (Truex Jr.), Kyle (Busch), Kevin (Harvick and) Joey (Logano) to start the next round,” Larson said Sunday. “To start today, I was (eighth in the standings) like 18 points back from Keselowski (in seventh), so like that’s still a lot to overcome. It’s going to be even bigger probably to start the next round.”

Larson’s win puts him at fifth in the standings overall, but he only has 11 playoff points. That trails the totals of Busch (46 playoff points), Truex (42), Hamlin (31), Logano (29), Harvick (28), Chase Elliott and Keselowski (24).

Larson gave his assessment of the three tracks awaiting him in the Round of 8.

“Texas we could go there and win,” Larson said. “We could go to Phoenix and have a good shot to win, Martinsville, hopefully we can go have a good run there.  But we’ll see.  It’s just nice to get a win, get some playoff points and just kind of chip away at our deficit …. compared to those guys.”

Larson’s win Sunday is the 15th time a Cup playoff driver has earned their first win of the season in the playoffs.

It first happened in 2005 with Ryan Newman at New Hampshire and Mark Martin at Kansas Speedway. Since then it’s occurred at least once in all but four seasons.

But…

Only once out of those 15 occurrences has the first-time winner gone on to win the championship.

That distinction belongs to Tony Stewart, who did it in spectacular fashion in 2011.

After winning the playoff-opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Stewart then reeled off five wins in the 10-race playoff, including winning consecutive races twice and then claiming the race win and title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Further, since the elimination format began only one first-time winner in the playoffs has wound up in the Championship 4. That was Jeff Gordon after he earned the last win of his Cup career in the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway in 2015.

If Larson can stay relatively mistake free over the next five races and possibly grab another win in the Round of 8, he’d get the chance to match Stewart’s feat.

“To move on to the next round is special, but we’re not just satisfied with being in the Round of 8,” Larson said.  “We want to go and make it into that final round of (Miami), where it’s my best track. It’s the final year for the championship race to be at (Miami), so I’ve looked at this ever since they released next year’s schedule as this is my best opportunity to win the championship. I’ve got to take advantage of that.”

Here’s every instance of a playoff driver earning their first win of the season in the playoffs.

Event Date         Track                   Race Winner
10/6/2019          Dover                   Kyle Larson
10/14/2018        Talladega             Aric Almirola
9/30/2018         Roval                     Ryan Blaney
11/1/2015           Martinsville          Jeff Gordon (advanced to championship race)
10/27/2013        Martinsville          Jeff Gordon
11/11/2012         ISM                        Kevin Harvick
9/19/2011         Chicago                 Tony Stewart (went on to win championship)
11/14/2010        Phoenix                 Carl Edwards
9/19/2010         New Hampshire    Clint Bowyer
10/5/2008        Talladega               Tony Stewart
9/14/2008        New Hampshire    Greg Biffle
9/16/2007        New Hampshire    Clint Bowyer
9/24/2006       Dover                      Jeff Burton
10/9/2005       Kansas                     Mark Martin
9/18/2005       New Hampshire      Ryan Newman