justin haley

Bent fenders, first-time winners define start of NBC’s NASCAR schedule

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We’re four races into NBC Sports’ portion of the NASCAR schedule and actor Michael Rooker was right about one thing: things have gotten real.

There have been four Cup races shown on NBC networks and each has delivered a finish – or lightning strike – worth talking about.

Each race has been won by a different driver who also was making their first trip to victory lane this year. Two earned their first career Cup wins.

Here’s a look at the how the second half of the season has unfolded.

June 30, 2019 – Chicagoland Speedway

Alex Bowman finally punched his ticket to victory lane in the Cup Series.

It took 134 series starts, three consecutive runner-up finishes earlier in the year and a lengthy rain delay to begin the race day.

Racing under the lights, Bowman dueled with Kyle Larson over the last eight laps, with the two drivers making contact with six laps to go as Bowman drafted off the left side of Larson’s car.

After he took the checkered flag, Bowman’s victory lane visit was delayed even further when his No. 88 Chevrolet got stuck in the rain-soaked infield.

“I’m the dumb guy that won the race and then got stuck in the mud,” Bowman told NBCSN.

July 7 – Daytona International Speedway

Though there wasn’t a dramatic on-track finish to the final scheduled July Cup race at Daytona, there was a surprise winner.

Justin Haley had to wait a significantly shorter amount of time than Bowman to get his first Cup win, celebrating his in 131 fewer races.

Following a massive crash with 43 laps to go, leader Kurt Busch and a group of other teams elected to pit when NASCAR said they would go back to green in one lap.

Then lightning struck within eight miles of the track.

The field was brought to pit road with 33 laps to go and Haley scored as the leader in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet, a team and car in their first year of existence.

The race never resumed as NASCAR eventually called the race official.

“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega,” Haley told NBCSN. “It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

While Busch had been on the “wrong side of a lightning bolt” he wouldn’t have to wait long for his own celebration.

July 13 – Kentucky Speedway

“Hell yeah! Hell yeah!” bellowed Kurt Busch on the start-finish line after the Quaker State 400.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had plenty of reasons to be excited.

He’d just triumphed in an overtime finish over his little brother Kyle Busch.

It was the first time Kurt Busch had won in a 1-2 Cup finish against Kyle.

The elder Busch survived making contact with his brother twice on the final lap, including as they exited Turn 4 in the race to the checkered flag.

The victory was Kurt Busch’s first since joining CGR in December and also was the first career win for crew chief Matt McCall in 164 starts. The victory snapped a 64-race winless streak for Ganassi stretching back to the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond.

July 21 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick is the latest driver to end a lengthy winless streak with dramatic flair.

Sunday saw the Stewart-Haas Racing driver end a 21-race drought after he held off Denny Hamlin over the final 35 laps while racing on older tires.

After Hamlin and other drivers pitted under the final caution, Harvick and two other cars stayed out.

Hamlin wasn’t able to get within striking distance until the last lap. The two veterans slammed sheet metal twice, with Hamlin’s failed bump-and-run in Turn 1 and then Harvick cutting off Hamlin’s path as they exited Turn 4.

“I knew that (Hamlin) was gonna take a shot,” Harvick said. “I would have taken a shot. I stood on the brakes and just tried to keep it straight. I just didn’t want to get him back from the inside and let him have another shot. I wanted to at least be in control of who was gonna have contact in Turn 3 and 4. It was a heck of a finish, closer than what we wanted, but it was our only chance.”

Hamlin was left to re-think the final lap as Harvick celebrated in the background.

Second sucks,” Hamlin told NBCSN.

Up Next: Pocono

Six races remain in the regular season and the next chance for Cup drama will come at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), the 2.5-mile triangle that the series visited in June.

But the circumstances will be a little bit different. After complaints about the competition in June, the track will apply the PJ1 traction compound to areas in all three turns.

It’s the first time the track has applied the traction agent to its surface.

It will also be the third consecutive race the Cup Series has held on a track treated with it, following Kentucky and New Hampshire.

And we all know how those races ended.

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Ryan Newman will start at rear after car fails inspection

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SPARTA, Ky. – Ryan Newman, who holds the final playoff spot, will start at the back of the field after his car failed inspection Saturday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway.

Newman was to have started 23rd but an issue with the car’s body caused the failure. That led to his qualifying time being disallowed for tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Quin Houff was the only other driver whose car failed inspection. Houff is with Spire Motorsports, which won last weekend’s Daytona race with Justin Haley.

On Friday, Newman noted that passing could be difficult in the race.

“The cars are so fast, and the track is gripped up so much that it’s going to be a challenge,” Newman said Friday about this race. “We’re going to move around, but if you move around like for instance in (Turns) 1 and 2, you can’t outrun the guy that is wide open in front of you running the shortest distance, it’s just not going to happen. You’ve go to be way way faster.

“That’s not the case. The cars are so similar now that you really can’t just drive around somebody when they’re driving a straight line almost. I think that passing, it’s going to be probably the biggest challenge we’ve had this year this weekend.”

Newman enters tonight’s race 16th in points, holding what would be the final playoff spot. He has a three-point lead on Daniel Suarez, who starts on the pole and seeks his first Cup victory. Erik Jones trails Newman by 13 points.

Newman climbed into a playoff spot by scoring three top-10 finishes in the last four races, including a fifth-place finish last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. But Newman said Friday that his team can be better.

“I’m not proud of how we’ve done it,” Newman said of his recent run of top 10s. “We’ve kind of skipped by, whatever you want to call it, not been as good as we need to be and that’s my focus. It’s good to have some decent results, but it’s not good to have decent results when other guys are collecting top fives and wins.”

So what does his team need to get to Victory Lane?

“Just raw speed,” Newman said Friday. “We’ve been off on raw speed. Trying to figure out downforce vs. drag. Obviously, we can’t complain about a Roush Yates Engine when they’ve been to Victory Lane. So knowing that Doug (Yates) does a great job with all that stuff, we’ve got to work on our cars more.”

 

Joey Logano’s reign continues atop NBC Sports Power Rankings

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You like chaos in your superspeedway racing?

Daytona International Speedway delivered Sunday with a backup performance from Mother Nature to provide one of the most unexpected winners in NASCAR history in Justin Haley.

As a result, there are four new drivers in the top 10 of this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

The chaos also resulted in Joey Logano keeping the No. 1 spot for the second straight week. But this time the Team Penske driver is the unanimous pick.

1. Joey Logano (40 votes): Despite being involved in the 18-car wreck, Logano won a stage and kept his points lead. Last week: 1st

2. Kyle Busch (30 points): Was the only driver in the top 10 in points to finish in the top 15 at Daytona. Last week:   4th

3. Martin Truex Jr. (27 points): After three straight top 10s, had a slight bump in the road by finishing 22nd after a wreck. Now on to Kentucky where he is the two-time defending winner. Last week (2nd)

4. William Byron (23 points): Career-high runner-up finish was something to celebrate but to be so close to a win was a bit agonizing. Last week: Not ranked

5. Jimmie Johnson (22 points): After two consecutive top fives, Kentucky will be a good barometer for the No. 48 team. Last week: ties for 9th

6. Ross Chastain (19 points): His redemption story continues with his second career Xfinity win. Last week: (Unranked)

7. Denny Hamlin (11 points): Another solid showing at Daytona before being involved in the big wreck. Last week: 8th

8. Ryan Newman (10 points): Has three top 10s in the last four races and earned his first top five since 2017. Last week: Unranked.

9. Justin Haley (8 points): Finished second in Friday’s Xfinity race before pit strategy and a lightning strike helped give the 20-year-old driver his first Cup win in surprising fashion. Last week: Unranked

10. Ryan Blaney (6 points): Can’t seem to catch a break on the superspeedways. Has DNFs in last three Daytona starts. Last Week: 5th

Others receiving votes: Ty Dillon, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola (4 votes each), Brad Keselowski (3 votes) and Corey LaJoie (2 votes).

Retro Rundown 2019: Southern 500 paint schemes

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We’re 54 days out from the Sept. 1 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, which will mark the fifth year of NASCAR’s official Throwback Weekend.

That means there will be a multitude of retro paint schemes racing around the 1.3-mile track in Darlington, South Carolina. You’ll be able to see all of them in action on NBCSN.

Here’s your guide to the paint schemes that have been announced so far for the weekend, including schemes for the Aug. 31 Xfinity Series race.

Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet – Dillon will boast a paint scheme that was driven by his grandfather and team owner Richard Childress in the late 1970s.

Ryan Newman, No. 6 Ford – With Oscar Mayer taking the place of Valvoline, Newman’s car will take its cue from the scheme Mark Martin raced in 1993 when he earned Roush Fenway Racing’s first Southern 500 victory.

Via Roush Fenway Racing

Daniel Hemric, No. 8 Chevrolet – Hemric will drive a car inspired by the design of CAT equipment and the logo used on them from its launch in 1925 until 1931.

Chase Elliott, No. 9 Chevrolet – Elliott will boast the scheme his father, Bill Elliott, claimed his first Cup pole with in 1981 at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota – Hamlin’s car will evoke Darrell Waltrip’s Western Auto paint scheme from the 1990s.

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Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford – The Team Penske driver will have a scheme inspired by Michael Waltrip’s Pennzoil car from 1991-95.

Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Toyota – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will throwback to himself with the Bass Pro Shops paint scheme he drove during his 2004 Xfinity Series championship campaign. That year he drove for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Chance 2 Motorsports.

Paul Menard, No. 21 Ford – Wood Brothers Racing will pay tribute to late team founder Glen Wood with the paint scheme Wood drove himself in 1957, including in his only appearance as a driver at Darlington.

Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Ford – GoFas Racing’s car will be based on Dale Jarrett’s 1990-91 Nestle Crunch sponsored Xfinity car.

David Ragan, No. 38 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will drive a scheme inspired by David Pearson’s 1969 championship car.

Screenshot

Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet – Bowman’s Axalta-sponsored car is inspired by Tim Richmond‘s Folger’s Coffee scheme from 1986-87.

Stewart-Haas Racing – In celebration of co-owner Tony Stewart’s election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, three SHR drivers will have paint schemes based on the cars Stewart raced to his three Cup Series titles. Aric Almirola‘s No. 10 Ford will be based on Stewart’s 2002 car, Daniel Suarez‘s No. 41 Ford will be based on the 2005 season and Clint Bowyer‘s No. 14 Ford will look like the car Stewart drove to his 2011 title.

Xfinity Series

Michael Annett, No. 1 Chevrolet – The JR Motorsports driver will channel Jeff Gordon circa the 1992 Xfinity Series season with Gordon’s Baby Ruth paint scheme when he drove for Bill Davis Racing.

Via JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet – Earnhardt will pilot the scheme his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove in his first Cup start in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley, No. 11 Chevrolet – Kaulig Racing will boast Jeff Burton’s 1994 rookie Cup paint scheme with matching sponsorship from brake parts company Raybestos. It also serves as a tribute to team owner Matt Kaulig’s father and team chief financial officer, Bob Kaulig, who served as a vice president of Raybestos from 1985-2008.

Via Kaulig Racing

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NASCAR explains decision to stop Daytona Cup race

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Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that series officials hoped to run the final 33 laps of Sunday’s Cup race at Daytona International Speedway “but every indicator we had was that we weren’t going to be able to do that and kind of said enough is enough and for the safety and sake of everybody, unfortunately, had to call the race.”

The result was that Justin Haley, who was leading when the race was halted at 3:18 p.m. ET for a lightning strike was declared the winner when NASCAR called the event at 5:30 p.m. ET because of rain.

MORE: A look at other unlikely winners in recent NASCAR history

MORE: How signs pointed toward Justin Haley’s shocking victory 

The race had been delayed from Saturday night. O’Donnell addressed on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” why the series didn’t attempt to run the race later in the evening as it did in 2015. That race did not start until after 11 p.m. because of a rain delay and ended at 2:44 a.m.

“The time to dry the track (Saturday night) just didn’t give us the opportunity to potentially finish the race before 2, 2:30, 3 in the morning,” O’Donnell said. “We learned some hard lessons in the past of when we started a race really late, thought we had a window to finish the race, and we did but it was way too late, I think, for the competitors and for the industry. You learn as you go and not something we wanted to repeat, so we didn’t go ahead on Saturday night.

“(Sunday) again, long delay and long red flag and certainly wanted to see those last laps play out, but every indicator we had was that we weren’t going to be able to do that and kind of said enough is enough and for the safety and sake of everybody, unfortunately, had to call the race.”

Lightning delayed multiple activities throughout the weekend at Daytona International Speedway. O’Donnell explained the sport’s lightning policy.

“It’s fairly consistent for really outdoor events,” he said. “If you look at college football, they have the same policy. What that is, and it’s hard to understand if you’re sitting at home watching, but even if it’s not raining, if there is a lightning strike within 8 miles, that’s an immediate stop for us or as soon as we can get the cars stopped on track and an immediate plan for the track for them to evacuate their personnel.

“We rely on the track for that data and once that comes across our phones and notifications that it’s within 8 miles, we go into action and do that. From that strike, it’s a 30-minute minimum before we can resume activities. It’s almost like a countdown clock. You get another strike, you start the clock again. We had numerous (lightning strikes) throughout the afternoon. You saw us load the drivers back into the car and when we were about to fire the engines we had another lightning strike and that started the clock again.”

O’Donnell was asked about the key moment in the race just before the red flag. With the race under caution, series officials announced to the field that the green would come back out on the next lap. Kurt Busch led. Landon Cassill was second. Busch and Cassill pitted, allowing Haley, who was third, to assume the lead.

Shortly after that, NASCAR announced it was brining the cars down to pit road for a lightning strike. That would lead to Haley being declared the winner.

“We had obviously every indication that we were going to go back to green, but like I said, once you get an indication (of a lightning strike), you move as quickly as possible to bring the cars down pit road and red flag the race,” O’Donnell said. “We’re not watching who’s leading, who’s where in terms of when we get that indication. … We obviously put out over the radio that we were bringing the cars down pit road wherever we were on the track the next lap. This case, I think we were coming out of Turn 2 on that lap and notified everybody that we were bringing the cars down pit road.”

O’Donnell also explained how weather is monitored for NASCAR events.

“We’ve got about 20-plus people in race control ourselves with all the weather monitors,” he said. “Two doors down, the track has three or four people, all they’re doing for that race is looking at weather.

“We’re in direct contact on the phone. I was back and forth with those folks I’d say every five minutes. Very confident in the system that is in place, the alert system that is in place. Something that you never want to do, but when you’ve got safety of the fans and the industry at stake, you make that call. It’s the right call and we’re always going to do that.”

O’Donnell was asked that with only 33 laps left and the track having lights, why series officials didn’t wait out the weather and complete the race Sunday night.

“You look at when that race was supposed to start, which was the night before, already postponed,” he said. “You look at the following day when we started the race at 1 (p.m.) and the time of the red flag, how long we’ve waited for the entire industry and then what we’ve got to look at is what is a realistic time to get a race restarted and how long is right to have fans sitting around in poor elements across the board.

“All of our indicators were that was going to be an unrealistic timeline. We thought we put on a great race throughout the day and throughout the late afternoon. It’s unfortunate. We wanted to see those last 30 laps too, we thought in the interest of the safety and the fans that was the right call to make. You never know what is going to happen after make those calls but stand by it.”