Michael Jordan

Bump and Run: NASCAR documentaries we’d like to see

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With sports documentaries the rage now thanks to film series on Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong, what’s a NASCAR story you’d like to see a documentary on?

Dustin Long: The 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. The sport was going through significant change. Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper all were killed in crashes that season. Roper died the day before the Talladega race from injuries suffered in a Truck crash at Texas. Talladega saw new rules to enhance passing after that year’s Daytona 500 had nine lead changes, the fewest in that race since the rain-shortened 1965 event. When speeds neared 200 mph, NASCAR made a restrictor-plate change the day before the Talladega race, an unheard move at the time. With all of that happening, the sport also was looking ahead to a 2001 season that would put races on Fox and NBC. In the midst of all that came a magical run, as Dale Earnhardt went from 18th to first in five laps, scoring his final Cup win. Afterward he simply said: “I don’t know how I won it. Honestly.” So much was happening in and around this one race. 

Daniel McFadin: I’d like a documentary on an obscure driver who finished second in one of NASCAR’s biggest races: Johnny Beauchamp. A native of Iowa, Beauchamp only made 23 Cup Series starts and won twice. But his legacy is mostly tied to the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. After a photo finish with Lee Petty, Beauchamp was declared the initial winner. But following days of reviewing film and photographs, NASCAR reversed course and made Petty the winner. Petty was already famous and would be for the rest of his life. How would the career of Beauchamp, who died in 1981, have been impacted had he won that race?

Jerry Bonkowski: I would love to see a documentary on Richard Petty and how much he has meant to the sport over the last 60-plus years. Unfortunately, many of today’s younger fans never saw Petty either race or race in his prime. He was the Michael Jordan of NASCAR, in my opinion, one of the most dominant drivers ever. Plus, he could spin hours of great stories that NASCAR fans would love to hear either again or for the first time. The King is a true NASCAR treasure and a documentary on him would only serve to further share his legend.

 

The first night Cup race at Martinsville Speedway is Wednesday but it won’t have any fans. What will it be like for you to see the historic race in such a setting?

Dustin Long: Sentimentality may tug at me a bit since I’ve covered nearly every Martinsville Cup race for more than 20 years. But my thoughts will be more with the fans who make the annual pilgrimage to the track and those who would have been making their first trip there and experiencing a Martinsville hot dog for the first time.

Daniel McFadin: The lack of fans definitely takes some of the luster off the race. This is an event that’s had multiple years of hype since the lights were installed. Outside the Bristol fall race, I can’t remember the last time I was excited about a night race like I am about Wednesday’s. It’s been very disappointing seeing historic races and controversial moments occur over the last three weeks without cheering fans as a soundtrack. 

Jerry Bonkowski: While it’s obviously not the situation the track or fans wanted, I’m convinced it will only serve to further whet fans’ appetite for when the next night race will be held at Martinsville – and with fans in attendance. This has been a milestone that fans and NASCAR have long waited for. In time, it has the prospect to become almost as popular as the annual night race at Bristol, in my opinion.

 

What driver or drivers have stood out to you since the series resumed last month?

Dustin Long: The talk is once a driver gets over 40 years old their skills diminish and their winning ways will dissipate, yet 44-year-old Kevin Harvick continues to win races and run in the top 10. That’s impressive. Chase Elliott also has impressed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull off a string of wins at some point.

Daniel McFadin: The Team Penske drivers. While Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have each won twice, Ryan Blaney has been a consistent frontrunner, finishing in the top four in three of the last four races while having a potentially winning car at Bristol before he was in a wreck. So far, the decision to swap all three crew chiefs in the offseason is proving to have been a good one.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch. All but Busch have won a race since the sport’s return – and Busch has been knocking on the door with two top five and three other top-10 finishes. It’s just a matter of time before he takes the checkered flag. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do so Wednesday at Martinsville.

 

How soon until Jimmie Johnson wins a race?

Dustin Long: If he doesn’t do it soon, it could be much more difficult. Hendrick Motorsports is viewed as having the top cars but how long will the organization hold that advantage?

Daniel McFadin: I give it at least five races if he doesn’t win Wednesday at Martinsville. That five-race stretch ends at Indianapolis, where he’s won four times.

Jerry Bonkowski: He’s come close several times already since NASCAR’s return to racing following the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is Johnson due, at 105 races to date without a win, the seven-time champ is long overdue. I believe that when he finally breaks through, it will be at a place where he has excelled in the past. He’s won nine times at Martinsville, his second-most successful track. Can he make it 10 Wednesday night and finally get that winless streak off his back?

Friday 5: Drivers take fans behind the scenes online

Photo: Landon Cassill/Twitch
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As Landon Cassill streamed his practice laps Tuesday night on a virtual Bristol Motor Speedway, he explained how he entered the corners. After he finished, he showed video of William Byron entering the corners the same way by letting the car turn naturally on the banking before he moved the wheel.

It was a discussion Cassill might have had with his crew chief or another driver at a race track, but with sports paused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this was a discussion he shared with anyone watching his Twitch page.

As NASCAR transitions to iRacing, some drivers are streaming their practices, practice races and eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series events on Twitch, Instagram or elsewhere. Twitch, the world’s leading live streaming platform for games, allows fans to watch and chat with the person competing. On a driver’s Twitch stream, the viewer will see the driver’s in-car camera view with an insert box in the lower portion showing the driver.

Although he’s viewed others on Twitch, it wasn’t until last weekend that Cassill created a page for fans to watch him compete. He said he had about 5,000 unique viewers during his fourth-place run in last weekend’s iRacing event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway. Garrett Smithley, who finished third in that race, has been streaming races on Twitch since 2017 and said he had about 2,800 viewers at any one time on his Twitch page during last weekend’s race.

Watching a driver’s livestream on Twitch, Instagram or anywhere else, allows fans to see a competitor in action and eavesdrop on conversations they have with their spotter, crew chief or other drivers. It’s like listening to a team’s radio channel during a race but this includes everything a driver says, not just what they say after they push the talk button in their car. And you can see the driver without their helmet.

It was during last weekend’s race when those watching Smithley’s Twitch heard him tell his spotter to text Timmy Hill’s spotter to suggest they work together. Smithley didn’t want to broadcast it over the audio channel all drivers are connected to in iRacing. So this was a way to do it without his competitors knowing.

Smithley knows the impact being on Twitch can have. He’s seen the crossover at tracks with younger fans.

“Even when I was doing it very, very casually and whenever I had some time in 2017 and 2018 … I found going to the real race track when I was racing full-time in the Xfinity Series, people would come to me, kids, very young, say middle school age and younger, they’d be like ‘Hey we love watching your stream,’ “ Smithley told NBC Sports. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is actually getting into a new (fan) reach.’

Garrett Smithley on his iRacing simulator. (Photo by Phillip Smalley)

“Now, doing the iRacing stuff, it’s opened up doors and I can start that back up and grow that. It’s just a way for me to connect to the fans.”

Smithley has a screen set up where he can see questions or comments from those watching his stream. That’s mainly for when he’s running practice or competing in races other than the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race.

“It’s a really, really good opportunity for fans to come and engage and get a lot more insight on what we’re doing,” he said.

For those who watched Cassill’s Twitch on Monday, they would have seen him testing with seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson at the digital Bristol track and hearing their conversations.

“We practiced for a couple of hours at Bristol,” Cassill told NBC Sports. “Everything he said and everything I said was recorded and it was live-streamed and we had viewers. It was a great content. It was a lot of fun. I think we looked at data and talked about our driving styles at Bristol.”

After last weekend’s race, Cassill still had his livestream going when Dale Earnhardt Jr. started talking to him about the event. Fans watching got to hear two drivers discussing the race. For those who missed it, Cassill had the video segment clipped and posted on social media.

Cassill’s way of examining his driving style compared to Byron’s earlier this week was a benefit for those watching on Cassill’s stream.

“Breaking down the corner and what William was doing, what I saw him doing, what I wanted to replicate, his line, his steering wheel angle, all those things, if I weren’t streaming I still would have been doing those things and maybe have even been saying those things out loud to myself,” Cassill said.

“It kind of goes back to the summary of why I’m Twitch streaming, hey, this is content. I think that those types of clips can be repurposed to evergreen content that live on Youtube and can give people professional lessons on how to drive race cars on iRacing from a driver who does it in the physical world.”

2. iRacing sponsorships

Garrett Smithley and virtual Texas winner Timmy Hill are the only two drivers to score top-five finishes in each of the first two eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series events heading into Sunday’s race at a virtual Bristol Motor Speedway.

With last weekend’s racing drawing 1.3 million viewers on Fox and FS1 — that’s more than the viewership for the Xfinity races this season at Auto Club Speedway (993,000 viewers) and Phoenix (1.192 million) — some drivers and teams are looking to add sponsors for these races.

Smithley said he and Rick Ware Racing have been looking to leverage his success and added attention on TV for sponsorship.

“Rick is working on some different things, and I’m working on some different things to try to grow it and add more value to the real racing,” Smithley said. “We’re absolutely trying to leverage it. It’s so new, so we’re trying to figure out the space. I’ve reached out to several different people in the eSports world to try to figure out the scope of things and how to add better value in this situation. That’s been going well. Just learning a whole lot about the industry.

“The biggest thing is to try to get back real racing, but I hope we can continue doing some some type of eSports thing with NASCAR and all the drivers in some capacity because I think it brings out a different demographic, and I think it brings out a little different excitement.”

Michael McDowell announced Thursday that energy drink Celsius would sponsor his Front Row Motorsports car for Sunday’s race.

3. Staying busy

Each morning the 35-plus Team Penske pit crew members receive an email from Jonathan Rowan, the organization’s director of sports performance.

The email details the day’s home workout plan as they wait for the chance to return to the race shop and for the sport to resume.

Trent Cherry asked Rowan to develop a program to keep the pit crew members active during this break.

Joey Logano‘s pit crew during the Cup race Logano won at Phoenix Raceway on March 8. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It will be at least two months between races. The last Cup race was March 8 and every Cup race up to May 9 at Martinsville has been postponed at this time.

Cherry isn’t worried about any skills slipping for the pit crew members during the break. Instead, he’s focused on another key area.

“Michael Jordan when he comes back from the offseason, he doesn’t forget how to shoot a jump shot,” Cherry told NBC Sports. “He also might not be completely game ready. I think there’s two separate things.

“I don’t think our guys will forget what they do or have done. It’s my job … to get them back in the groove. We left the first four weeks, we won two races (with Joey Logano). I felt like our pit crews were some of the best ones on pit road. My job is to try to maintain that when we come back. Part of that is just knocking the rust off once we get the OK to go back to work but it also means everybody focused on staying in shape.”

With NASCAR stating it intends to reschedule every postponed race before the playoffs begin Sept. 6 at Darlington, it likely means back-to-back races on some weekends and midweek races. It could lead to a few weeks with few days between races.

Cherry, a former tire changer, says his crews would look forward to such a schedule.

“I’m a big believer in if the guys go to the track fresh, they’re going to perform at the their best,” he said. “Our job as a coaching staff is to figure out what is enough to get them ready and what’s also enough to keep them fresh. Our guys have done a great job of responding to that.

“I would love to be able to pit Sunday, pit Wednesday, pit Sunday. Our guys like competing. Competing is winning races and being able to help the company out. I think our guys will really look forward to that.”

4. Potential help for teams

Today marks the first day businesses, which have 500 or fewer employees, can apply for the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program.

The $350 billion relief program is part of the government’s $2 trillion economic support package. With most race teams under the 500-employee cap, this program, should they chose to apply, could provide some financial aid while teams wait to return to racing next month at the earliest.

The relief program provides small business with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs, including benefits. The funds are provided in the form of loans that will be fully forgiven when used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. Loan forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels.

NBC News reported that it wasn’t until Thursday that banks received 31 pages of guidance from the U.S. Treasury on how to lend the money and some banks had not decided if they could participate on Friday.

5. Additional NASCAR programming on NBCSN

Next week will feature the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge and Racing Week in America on NBCSN.

The NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge features six different drivers competing in two races each Monday-Wednesday with the winners advancing to Thursday’s championship race at a virtual Martinsville Speedway. Full details are here.

The Monday race will be held at a virtual Rockingham Speedway and include Kyle Busch and William Byron.

The Tuesday race will be held at a virtual Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis and includes Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

The Wednesday race will be held at a virtual Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Speedway and includes Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Timmy Hill.

Those races will be from 7-8 p.m. ET each night. The races are a part of Racing Week in America, which will feature memorable NASCAR, IndyCar and IMSA races, among other series, from the past two decades aired by NBC Sports.

Here are details on next week’s schedule of races.

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No. 23 in NBA, NASCAR: Michael Jordan designs Hamlin’s iRacing car

Denny Hamlin Racing
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CHARLOTTE – After having the in-person support of Michael Jordan for his last two NASCAR championship round appearances, Denny Hamlin will return the favor virtually to the NBA legend this year.

As a new owner in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, Hamlin has two cars and some prime real estate to display in the national online racing series.

“If you’ve got cars with no sponsors and you can put anything on them you want,” he said during the most recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast episode.

So he approached Jordan, who attended last season’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the second time in five years, about helping design the scheme for – naturally – his No. 23 car.

“I always thought it’d be really cool to have a Jumpman car,” Hamlin said, referring to the Nike logo that has been synonymous with the Air Jordan shoe line for three decades. “And so I contacted (Jordan) and said, ‘Hey, is this something you’d be interested in?’ He says, ‘I’ll have a design within three days.’ ”

“This is right during Christmastime. And literally a day later he’s sending me all kinds of these renderings that he had his people go out and do.”

Casey Kirwan, who finished 10th in the 2019 eNASCAR points standings with one victory, will drive the No. 23 Jumpman car for Denny Hamlin Racing when the 2020 season begins Feb. 11 with Daytona International Speedway. Zach Novak won the 2019 eNASCAR championship last October in a finale that was broadcast live on NASCAR America (six iRacing playoff races will be broadcast this year on NBCSN).

This year will feature 40 drivers among 20 teams, many of which are owned by established teams and personalities in the NASCAR industry, as iRacing enters its second season with professional racing teams.

Hamlin, William Byron and Kyle Larson are new iRacing team owners in 2020, along with Stewart-Haas Racing. They join a roster that already included teams owned by Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Wood Brothers Racing and NASCAR on NBC analysts Jeff Burton, Parker Kligerman and Steve Letarte.

Though Byron’s progression from iRacing to the Cup Series has been hailed as one of the greatest success stories in virtual racing, Hamlin also has a strong background in online racing dating to its infancy. While winning in Late Models on short tracks around the Southeast in the early 2000s, Hamlin also was an iRacing stalwart who caught the eye of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who invited Hamlin to Daytona after competing against him online).

During his 2006 rookie season in Cup, Hamlin said it was a “huge benefit” to use iRacing as an introduction to tracks he hadn’t raced in real life.

“I was very good at iRacing back in the day; I sat on the pole and won some really big, prestigious races,” Hamlin said. “Now back then, there were like 5,000 people that raced online, and now there’s over a hundred thousand that do iRacing.”

NASCAR has put more marketing muscle behind iRacing as a result, hosting drivers for a full day of media promotions in Charlotte last month. During the visit, Hamlin invited more than a dozen iRacing drivers to his house for basketball and bowling before taking them to lunch.

It sparked a debate on NASCAR Twitter about whether iRacing drivers are deserving of attention commensurate with real-life stars.

Hamlin’s answer to critics of virtual racing’s legitimacy? “You’ve got to conform or die,” he said, noting he built friendships with iRacing contenders Ray Alfalla and Logan Clampitt by answering their questions about his races via direct messages on Twitter.

“They are honestly really good at what they do,” Hamlin said. “And hearing their stories (that) they actually never watched NASCAR until iRacing and now (they) watch NASCAR races every weekend. So it’s growing our sport. There is no question about it. Because where our sport has always had a challenge unlike other sports where you can go out in your backyard and simulate a game-winning shot that Michael Jordan made or a flop shot onto the green.

“That’s why it’s so hard for people to relate to our sport because they can’t simulate it. They’re not able to experience it in real life, and iRacing now gives them that platform to do it.”

During the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Hamlin also discussed:

–How he came close to organizing a drivers union five years ago;

–The input that drivers had in NASCAR’s new short track rules for this season;

Being a #GirlDad;

–How he outdueled Kyle Busch for the Daytona 500 victory last year;

–His outlook for the 2020 season.

To hear the podcast, click on the embed above or listen via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get podcasts.

NASCAR fan Michael Jordan attends race: ‘I hope Denny can pull it out’

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Longtime NASCAR fan Michael Jordan is back at Homestead-Miami Speedway, supporting friend Denny Hamlin in the championship round.

Jordan is a frequent golfing partner of Hamlin, whom he befriended several years ago.

The NBA legend also attended the 2014 season finale and was among the first to greet Hamlin postrace when he exited his No. 11 Toyota after coming up short of winning his first title.

Here’s what Jordan told NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a prerace interview Sunday:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: I’m down there with the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. Michael, what brings you to the race today?

Michael Jordan: “I’m a big racing fan. Started off when I was a kid. Grew up watching your dad, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, which was the original 11 that I remember. Now I’m good friends with Denny Hamlin. We go way back. He’s a season ticket holder at the Hornets. I spend a lot of time playing golf with him, and obviously I’m a big NASCAR fan, so I came out to support him.”

DEJ: How long has that friendship been with Denny?

MJ: “About seven years ago. I’ve known Denny for seven years. He’s just gotten better. And obviously, my interest in the sport has been there for a long period of time. I love watching. I set my clock every Sunday to watch NASCAR, and I pay attention, and actually I enjoy spending time with him.”

DEJ: You’re the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Have you ever thought about becoming a NASCAR owner?

MJ (chuckling): “No, I’ve got a lot on my plate. I love being a fan. I still understand the sport, but in terms of ownership, nah, I think I’m just going to sit back and watch it and support from afar.”

DEJ: We love that you’re here. We appreciate it. I hope Denny can pull it off for you today. You guys get to celebrate in victory lane. You’re going to victory lane, right?

MJ: “Oh, I’ll be there. If he wins. At the end of the day, you’ve got some real good race drivers today. I watched you guys earlier, and you said anyone of the four can win. It’s going to be a good championship. I watched Xfinity yesterday, and it was a good championship with those guys. I expect it to be the same today. And I hope Denny can pull it out.”

Drivers have their say: Entourage, advice, and what to expect in Cup finale

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NBA great Michael Jordan will be a part of Denny Hamlin’s entourage for Sunday’s Cup championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A UFC title contender asked Kyle Busch for advice Saturday heading into his championship bout.

Kevin Harvick just can’t wait to race.

All four Cup title contenders met the media for the last time before Sunday’s season-ending race (3 p.m. ET on NBC). They spoke minutes after completing Saturday’s final practice session that saw Busch post the fastest lap, Hamlin have the best average over 10 consecutive laps and Martin Truex Jr. record the best average over 15 consecutive laps.

Saturday marked the first time Cup cars have been on track after Friday’s practices were rained out. 

Now, the focus turns to the race.

“As soon as that starts, you’re like,’ Thank God,’” Harvick said. “’I can do what I normally do.’”

Entering the weekend, drivers wondered if this package might race differently at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They got their answer Saturday.

“I think the line is probably not that much different,” Harvick said. “It’s just following behind cars is way worse than what it has been before. You’re going to have to be versatile in where you can run on the racetrack, be able to run bottom, middle and top because you can’t run behind another car.”

No matter where one needs to run, Truex was encouraged by his car in practice.

“Good we were able to make three long runs,” he said. “Typically for me personally, if the car is pretty close, I’ll run a bunch of laps right away. That’s definitely a good sign. The guys did a good job being prepared, making a lot of good assumptions.

I feel pretty good. I definitely feel like we can get better. Just like every other weekend, how do you get better, can you do the right things, make the right changes tonight for tomorrow, then you go race and see how it plays out. Feeling pretty good about things.”

A key issue will be restarts and if competitors can challenge from the inside lane since the top lane is the preferred line.

“I think it depends on where the leader restarts,” Busch said. “If the leader chooses the bottom, takes the bottom, I think the bottom will roll. If the leader chooses the outside, takes the outside, I think the top will roll a spot. Too hard to predict right now.

If you’re third, the guy goes off in the corner in front of you, hugs the line, doesn’t give you any air, you’re screwed. If the guy on the outside kind of hugs the guy on the inside, if you’re in fourth, you’re screwed. There’s no air. You got to have a middle ground.  There’s got to be separation for air to be able to get to the front of your car.”

None of the championship 4 drivers had any serious issues in the session. Hamlin missed the entrance of pit road at the end of one run and had to make an extra lap.

“This is the first year (I’ve) really kind of just gone by marks on the racetrack for pit entry,” Hamlin said. “I hadn’t had a mark here. Obviously a different package slows down differently and whatnot. Just went too far.”

Why didn’t Hamlin have a particular mark picked out to use for his entry to pit road?

“I’m just a feel and visual” type of driver, he said. “I don’t have a specific spot where I stop. I just kind of do it off of feel. But just had a different process.”

No one seemed to mind that qualifying was canceled to run this practice session. By doing so, Hamlin will lead the field to green and have the No. 1 pit stall.

“It’s that good karma for giving up that pit box last year,” Hamlin said. “It all comes back around.”

Hamlin won the pole for last year’s race but didn’t pick that advantageous stall, allowing Busch, who was racing for the title, to have that stall.

Oh, that UFC fighter? Colby Covington will fight for the welterweight title Dec. 14 in Las Vegas. He sought Busch’s advice for the proper mindset entering a championship event.

“Don’t give a shit about who you’re fighting, go kick their ass,” Busch said.