Jimmy Spencer

April 16 in NASCAR: Jeff Gordon surges for 2000 Talladega win

Leave a comment

As the 21st Century dawned on NASCAR, three-time Cup Champion Jeff Gordon was going through something he hadn’t really experienced since his rookie year in 1993. A rough patch.

In 2000, his first full season with a crew chief not named Ray Evernham (he was paired with Robbie Loomis), Gordon and the No. 24 team entered the April 16 DieHard 500 at Talladega seeking to end a 13-race winless streak. Gordon also only had one top-five finish in that stretch, finishing fourth in the race before at Martinsville.

He didn’t get off to the best start in Talladega, qualifying 36th.

But Gordon would lead six times in the 188-lap event for a total of 25 laps. He would take the lead for good with six laps left with a pass of Mark Martin that took Gordon to the apron of the track near the entrance to pit road. It’s a move that would be made illegal at superspeedways in the ensuing years.

Gordon beat Mike Skinner, who earned his career-best finish and last top five, and Dale Earnhardt, who was in the midst of winning three of four Talladega races, including his final Cup win later that year. Rounding out the top five were Kenny Irwin Jr., who earned his final top five before his death less than three months later and Jimmy Spencer.

The victory was Gordon’s 50th on the Cup circuit.

“We qualified horrible, but the second we got out there on the race track the DuPont Chevrolet was really, really good,” Gordon told ABC Sports in Victory Lane. “I told these guys if we can just stay out of trouble and be real patient we’ll work our way to the front. And it took a while. … I learned from the best, Earnhardt. I didn’t want to see him come up through there because he’s the toughest guy there is to race with at these places because he’s so good with the air. Learned a lot of things from him and they paid off today.”

Also on this date:

1964: After an early one-car incident put him a lap down in a race at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway, Ned Jarrett roared back to the lead lap, took the lead on Lap 137 and began lapping the field. He beat Marvin Panch by one lap.

1967: Darel Dieringer, driving for Junior Johnson, won at North Wilkesboro after leading all 400 laps from the pole. It was Dieringer’s seventh and final Grand National Series win.

1972: In his first career start for Wood Brothers Racing, David Pearson led 202 of 293 laps from the pole and scored the win at Darlington by one lap over Richard Petty. It was Pearson’s first win in 14 starts and his first speedway win in two seasons.

1989: In the official debut of Goodyear’s radial-ply tires, Dale Earnhardt won at North Wilkesboro over Alan Kulwicki and Mark Martin. The introduction of the radial tires had been aborted during Speedweeks in Daytona following crashes by Earnhardt and Bill Elliott that were blamed on tire failures, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

Leave a comment

Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

March 24 in NASCAR History: Buddy Baker breaks 200 mph barrier

Leave a comment

Earlier this year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the pole for the Daytona 500 with a qualifying speed of 194.582 mph.

That’s fast.

But that’s how fast today’s Cup Series cars go on superspeedways with tapered spacers restricting engines.

On this day 50 years ago, Buddy Baker got to go really fast.

On Tuesday, March 24, 1970, Baker strapped into a blue Dodge Daytona during a tire test at Talladega Superspeedway, the largest oval track in NASCAR. During the test, Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier on a closed circuit.

His fastest lap around the 2.66-mile oval was recorded at 200.447 mph.

“Gosh, it’s the most wonderful feeling I’ve had in a long, long time,” Baker said after the test. “This is something nobody can ever take from you, being the first guy to run 200 mph on a close course circuit. Gosh, I’m just tickled to death.”

Baker said when you’re going 200 mph, the track’s high-banked turns “feels just like it’s flat. Because it takes every bit of the banking to run this speed. ”

Of course, stock cars would only get faster over the ensuing decades.

By 1987, Bill Elliott would establish the qualifying speed records at Daytona (210.364 mph) and Talladega (212.809 mph).

In 1988, following a violent Bobby Allison wreck at Talladega in 1987, NASCAR instituted restrictor plates for races at Daytona and Talladega. They’d be used through the 2019 Daytona 500 before being replaced by tapered spacers.

Other tracks have seen the 200 mph qualifying barrier broken since then, but we’ll likely never see it again at Daytona and Talladega.

UPDATE: According to allpar.com, Larry Rathgeb, the Chrysler engineer who led the test session to reach the 200 mph barrier, died Sunday as a result of the coronavirus.

Also on this date:

1991: Kenny Wallace, the younger brother to Rusty and Mike Wallace, won his first career Xfinity Series race at Volusia County Speedway in Barberville, Florida. The series would make its fourth and final visit to the half-mile track the next year.

2002: Kurt Busch executed a bump-and-run on Jimmy Spencer with 56 laps to go to take the lead in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch led the rest of the way, surviving a restart with 15 laps to go, and scored his first Cup Series win. Busch would win three of the next four Cup races at Bristol.

Furniture Row Racing to cease operations after 2018 season

20 Comments

Furniture Row Racing, the reigning Cup championship team, announced Tuesday it will cease operations after this season, citing a lack of necessary funding.

“I’ve always felt that we could be a competitive team and run for a championship even when it seemed like a pipe dream to many racing insiders,” car owner Barney Visser said in a statement. “But to be successful in any business you need to assemble the right people and make a strong commitment to succeed. We achieved what we set out to do and feel like we climbed Mount Everest. To continue with anything less than a competitive team would not be acceptable. It’s been one incredible ride.”

The announcement comes less than a month after car Visser issued a statement that “not fielding a team in 2019 is not an option and we have every intention of continuing to build on our success for years to come.”

The move also comes after primary sponsor 5-hour Energy announced in July that it would no longer remain in NASCAR after this season. 5-hour Energy is serving as co-primary sponsor of the team with Bass Pro Shops for 30 races this year. Furniture Row Racing was unable to find any income to replace what it would be losing.

“This is not good for anybody,” Visser said in a statement about closing the team down after this season. “The numbers just don’t add up. I would have to borrow money to continue as a competitive team and I’m not going to do that. This was obviously a painful decision to arrive at knowing how it will affect a number of quality and talented people.

“We’ve been aggressively seeking sponsorship to replace 5-hour ENERGY and to offset the rising costs of continuing a team alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing but haven’t had any success. I feel that it’s only proper to make the decision at this time to allow all team members to start seeking employment for next year. I strongly believe that all of our people have enhanced their careers by working at Furniture Row Racing.”

This announcement comes as Martin Truex Jr. is third in the points after winning his first series title last season.

Truex, who joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014 as the driver of the No. 78 car, said: “While I am saddened by today’s announcement, I totally understand the decision. Barney Visser, Joe Garone and the entire Furniture Row Racing team took me in while my career was in a bad place, and together we reached the pinnacle of the sport. I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them, and also to Furniture Row, Denver Mattress and the Visser family.

“But make no mistake this is not the immediate end. We still have unfinished business to attend to and that’s to give everything we have to successfully defend our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Right now that is foremost on my mind as it is with the entire team.”

With Furniture Row Racing leaving after this season, it will have a charter to sell. That will be among the more valuable charters. Cup charters guarantee a starting spot in each race but also a set amount of money per race. One portion of the team payments is based on performance in the past three years. Furniture Row Racing has made the playoffs each of the past two years and will again make the playoff this season.

Furniture Row Racing, based in Denver, Colorado, started its NASCAR program in 2005 as an Xfinity team before moving to Cup. The team made its Cup debut in Nov. 13, 2005 at Phoenix with Jerry Robertson. He started 43rd and finished 41st, completing 51 laps.

The team’s first Cup victory was by Regan Smith in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The team has since scored 17 more wins with Truex, including victories this season at Auto Club Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Sonoma Raceway and Kentucky Speedway. Furniture Row Racing has won 12 of the last 59 Cup races (16.9 percent).

Others who drove for Furniture Row Racing included Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek and Jimmy Spencer.

“There are so many people I want to thank because without them winning a championship and being competitive would never have happened: Joe Gibbs Racing for our technical alliance, Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Bass Pro Shops, 5-hour ENERGY, Auto-Owners Insurance, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress,” Visser said in a statement from the team.

“A heartfelt thank you to Joe Garone, Martin Truex Jr, Cole Pearn and all of our team members for their talent, dedication and sacrifices they made along the way. To the Furniture Row and Denver Mattress employees I want to express a special thank you for always having my back from the early years of our race team to our championship run.

“I also want to thank the fans, the Denver community, NASCAR, International Speedway Corporation (ISC), Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) and independent track owners for providing and maintaining the venues that we compete at. A special tip of the hat to the media and to NASCAR’s broadcast partners – FOX, NBC, Motor Racing Network (MRN), Performance Racing Network (PRN) and SiriusXM Radio. We’ve always been treated fairly by members of the media and I appreciate their hard work in one of the most demanding schedules in major league sports.”

NASCAR issued a statement Tuesday: “NASCAR wishes the very best to Barney Visser and his family. Barney has been a successful owner and an amazing champion, and his presence will certainly be missed. We look forward to seeing Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and the entire No. 78 team finish the 2018 season strong and competing for another championship. NASCAR will continue to work on growing the sport and working with the race teams on competitive and operational excellence. Much of those efforts have already been put in place, and will continue to be a focus.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs, whose team is aligned with Furniture Row Racing, said in a statement: “We have a great partnership with Barney and everyone at Furniture Row Racing. It’s unfortunate that they will not be continuing after this season and I know it was a difficult decision for them. They have accomplished so much and I know they would like nothing more than to win another championship this season.”

In a statement, Laura Pierce, General Manager for Motorsports, Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) said: “We want to thank Barney Visser, Joe Garone, Martin, Cole and everyone at Furniture Row Racing for a successful partnership over the past few years. The team’s dedication and hard work in the sport was instrumental to our racing family as they helped us win our first NASCAR Cup Series manufacturer’s championships as well as reach the pinnacle of the sport with last year’s championship. We look forward to continuing to work with the Furniture Row Racing team as they defend their championship in the upcoming playoffs.”

Daytona 500 victory 50 years in the making for Austin Dillon’s tire changer

Photo: Dustin Long
Leave a comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — The younger members of Austin Dillon’s team, full of adrenaline-fueled energy and excitement, celebrated their Daytona 500 victory Sunday with a late-night visit to a tattoo parlor to permanently etch their achievement on their rear end.

Terry Spalding didn’t make it that far. It was time to turn in.

That’s OK, Sunday was a big enough day for the 50-year-old front tire changer, who experienced his first Daytona 500 win.

Yes, Spalding is 50 years old and changes tires for a Cup playoff team. Age alone gives him a different perspective on the Daytona 500 victory.

“I’m really able to appreciate it,’’ Spalding told NBC Sports. “I’ve been doing it 20-some years. Only since I’ve been at RCR in the last seven or eight years have I really been able to win the races that I won.’’

Dillon says Spalding doesn’t need a Daytona 500 ring to note how special he is.

“Terry is just a champion in life, period,’’ Dillon said. 

Spalding grew up the son of a racer in Pennsylvania and moved to North Carolina to pursue a job in the sport in 1990 — the same year Dillon was born.

Along the way, Spalding has worked in Cup for car owners such as Travis Carter, Ray Evernham, Richard Petty, Michael Waltrip, Richard Childress. Spalding has gone over the wall to service cars for drivers such as Jimmy Spencer, Elliott Sadler, Tony Raines, David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Dillon.

Spalding went to in Victory Lane at Indianapolis in 2011 when Paul Menard won. Spalding was in Victory Lane last year when Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600.

That he is still going over the wall is a feat considering the radical changes for pit crew this season. With NASCAR eliminating one of the over-the-wall positions, pit crew members are having to redefine their roles. Those that haven’t adjusted as well have lost jobs or been dropped down a series. Spalding’s duties have changed. He now carries a 60-pound tire with along with his air gun.

He’s always managed to adjust through the years. When he turned 40, he often was asked how much longer would he wanted to change tires. He randomly said 50. It’s a nice round number. Realistically, as pit crews have become more athletic and younger — many are in their 20s — that seemed like a pipe dream.

Now that he’s 50, how much longer will he go?

“I feel as good as I did when I was 40,’’ Spalding said. “I thought about when I can’t go over the wall anymore, starting to coach.’’

He’s got to find time. He plays in the same basketball league Denny Hamlin hosts at his house that includes Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Blaney and others. In recent years, Spalding competed in slalom ski races. He’s also played in a roller hockey league. He’s competed in mountain bike races.

“I still go in the weight room, I don’t hit it as hard as I used to,’’ Spalding said. “I like to do things … and stay active that way.’’

He’s not ready to quit any time soon.

“I want to go as long as I can,’’  he said. Barring some freak injury, I honestly think 55 is no problem.’’ 

That would be at least five more Daytona 500s.

 and on Facebook