Mike Bliss

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Northwest racer Brittney Zamora progressing in K&N West competition

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Stock-car racing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about the Pacific Northwest, but make no mistake, despite being the only region in the continental United States without a NASCAR national series race, the Northwest has produced plenty of talented drivers who achieved success in NASCAR’s highest levels.

Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Mike Bliss and Derrike Cope are all drivers who once called the Northwest home, and Kennewick, Washington’s Brittney Zamora hopes to become the next Northwest racer to become a NASCAR star.

At age 20, Zamora may be a NASCAR K&N West Series rookie, but she enters the series with an impressive racing resume.

Born into a racing family, Zamora began racing karts at age four. She went on to race in the Northwest Super Late Model Series, where she would win Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, and won championships in 2017 and 2018.

Zamora’s success in late models led to the opportunity to drive the No. 99 ENOS/NAPA Filters Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing this season in the West Series, as well as on part-time basis in the East Series. Through seven K&N West Series events, Zamora has four top fives, five top 10s, 26 laps led and one pole.

“It’s been a pretty good start,” Zamora told NBC Sports. “A lot of people have expectations for me to go out there, but my expectations for myself are a little higher. I’m disappointed that we haven’t gotten that win yet.”

Regardless, Zamora believes she’s on the right track. When asked what grade she would give her performance this year, Zamora gave herself “a B+ or an A-.

“For our first year in the series, and with the competition out here, we’ve done really well progressing and achieving our goals,” Zamora said. “We’ve already met a lot of our goals and we’re only halfway through the season. As long as we can keep improving and keep setting those goals and reaching for them, (we’ll be fine).”

Zamora insists she would have never made it into the sport without the help of her racing hero.

“A lot of drivers get asked ‘who’s your biggest idol in racing?’ and they’ll say A.J. Foyt, Dale Earnhardt, one of the guys in the Cup Series or someone like that. Mine would have to be my dad,” Zamora said.

“He is who got me into racing. I went to the racetrack when I was four days old to go watch him with my family. It’s been my whole life. Growing up and seeing him win championships racing super late models, I wanted to follow in his footsteps, and not only have I done that but I went beyond that with his help and support. I wouldn’t be here today without him.”

Brittney’s father, Mike Zamora, raced across the Northwest for more than 20 years. Once it was time for Brittney to move up to those cars, Mike gave up his seat and began serving as her crew chief.

In the K&N West competition, however, Mike finds himself watching his daughter race from a distance. He and Brittney still find plenty of time to talk to each other during race weekends, and Mike offers his daughter advice when she asks for it, but he doesn’t get to be as hands-on with her K&N car as he is in late models.

“I don’t mind it at all, but it was kind of hard to take a step back because with our racing, I’m so involved,” Mike said.

“I’m the crew chief. We’re building the cars ourselves in our garage. With Bill McAnally Racing, they have guys that this is what they’re doing for a living and they’re better at this than I am. It’s hard to just sit back and watch, but I know that she’s in good hands.”

Though it is too early to predict how her racing career will turn out, she is on the right track to hone her racing skills.

“I’ve thought about this my whole life because I want racing to be my career,” Zamora said. “I don’t want a normal job. I want to be in a race car. Holding a steering wheel is my profession.”

“The Cup Series would be great. It’s the highest level of stock car racing there is, but honestly if I could make a career out of racing ARCA, Trucks, or Xfinity, I would be happy. As long as I’m in a race car competing every weekend, that would be nice.”

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Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change

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Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?

It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.

While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.

It became a game of who would blink first and take off.

When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.

“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.

“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.

“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”

Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.

What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.

Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.

These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.

But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.

What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.

Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.

That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?

The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.

This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.

“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”

There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.

2. Second to Kyle Busch

For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.

The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.

Kyle Busch celebrating a NASCAR win has been a familiar sight through the years. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.

Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.

Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).

They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.

The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.

Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:

18 — Kevin Harvick

15 — Carl Edwards

13 — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

8 — Kyle Larson

7 — Todd Bodine, Matt Crafton

6 — Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter

5 — Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

4 — Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon

3 — Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr.

2 — Mike Bliss, Terry Cook, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler

1 — Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kurt Busch, Colin Braun, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Hemric, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman, Jason Leffler, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Brett Moffitt, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Nelson Piquet Jr., Ryan Preece, Brian Scott, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Bubba Wallace, Cole Whitt

3. Multiple surgeries

Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.

The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.

According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.

The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.

4. First time in new garages at Phoenix

ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.

One person missing that weekend was Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. NASCAR suspended Childers the final two races of last year as part of penalties imposed to the No. 4 team for failing inspection after its win at Texas. So Childers missed the new look at Phoenix – until this weekend.

Childers shared his excitement of being in Phoenix on Thursday night.

5. Remarkable record

Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.

Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

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Crew chief Barry Dodson, led Rusty Wallace to 1989 Cup championship, dies at 64

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Veteran NASCAR crew chief Barry Dodson passed away Wednesday at the age of 64.

Barry Dodson’s brother, John Dodson, issued a family statement: “Barry’s passing leaves us all with heavy hearts. He left his mark in the NASCAR history books and he served the sport with a passion that few will ever match. We love him and we miss him.”

Dodson was crew chief for several drivers in NASCAR’s premier series, including the late Tim Richmond, NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip and Kyle Petty.

But it was with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace that Dodson enjoyed his greatest success.

Dodson and Wallace combined for 18 of Wallace’s 55 career Cup wins and earned nine poles during a five-season tenure from 1986 through 1990.

The highlight of their time together was 1989, when with Dodson aboard the pit box, Wallace won his lone Winston Cup championship.

Wallace and Dodson also recorded a second-place finish in 1988, a fifth-place showing in 1987 and sixth-place finishes in their first and final seasons together, 1986 and 1990.

Dodson was unique in that not only was he Wallace’s crew chief, he also spent much of his time serving as part of the over-the-wall pit crew that serviced the Raymond Beadle-owned No. 27 Pontiac that Wallace piloted.

Dodson’s other Cup win was with Kyle Petty. He also earned six wins with driver Mike Bliss in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (1995-98).

Sadly, two of Dodson’s children, 17-year-old son Trey and 16-year-old daughter Tia, were killed in a one-car accident in 1994 in Darlington, South Carolina.

Fellow NASCAR crew chief and stepson Trent Owens took to Twitter to memorialize Dodson.

Dodson also served as general manager when Wallace began a NASCAR Xfinity Series team in 2004.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is a tough place to win for Xfinity regulars

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If you’re hoping to see a Xfinity Series regular driver win this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway,  you may want to temper your expectations.

In the last 25 Xfinity races at the 1.5-mile track, only one Xfinity regular has visited victory lane.

That honor belongs to Mike Bliss.

Bliss only won twice in 359 Xfinity starts, both coming at Charlotte in 2004 and 2009.

Other than that, NASCAR’s home track has been a haven for Cup drivers in the Xfinity Series in recent memory.

In the last 11 Xfinity races there, Austin Dillon (two), Joey Logano (two), Brad Keselowski (two) and Kyle Busch (two) combined to win eight times. Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson won the other three.

Of those, only Dillon and Blaney are entered in this weekend’s race. They join Cup regulars Ty DillonDaniel Suarez and Erik Jones.

Three times a Cup driver has completed the weekend sweep at the track, but none have done it since Mark Martin in 1995.

One stat going in favor of Xfinity drivers is in the recent past at 1.5-mile tracks. In the last six races at that type of track, there have been six different winners. The last two were won by non-Cup drivers, Justin Allgaier (Chicago) and Tyler Reddick (Kentucky).

Here’s some more interesting stats ahead of the Drive for the Cure 300.

  • Only three of the last 33 races at Charlotte were won from the pole. Two of the three came in 2015 when Austin Dillon won both races from the pole.
  • There were 12 cautions at Charlotte in May, the most in a race this season and the most in the last 17 races at Charlotte.
  • The driver leading the most laps failed to win the last four October races.
  • The final green flag stretch at Kentucky, the last race on a 1.5 mile track, was 104 laps, the longest green flag stretch to end a race on a 1.5 mile track in the last 70 races
  • Justin Allgaier won from 14th at Chicagoland in September, the only race on a 1.5 mile track won from a starting position outside the top 10 in the last 25 races.

Retro Rundown: Paint schemes for the Southern 500

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Whether you’re visiting Darlington Raceway for the Sept. 6 Southern 500 or watching from home on NBC, you might experience confusion or a sense of Déjà vu spanning more than 40 years of NASCAR history.

With the Southern 500’s return to its traditional spot on Labor Day weekend for the first time since 2003, many Sprint Cup teams are using the opportunity to commemorate the history of their team or sponsors with retro paint schemes.

Here’s a look at the paint jobs that will populate the field next Sunday at the track “Too Tough to Tame,” which held its first race in 1950:

Brad Keselowski – The 2012 Sprint Cup champion’s No. 2 Ford will look like a Miller High Life car Bobby Allison once drove. Allison won at Darlington five times, including a sweep of the 1975 races with Team Penske.

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Austin Dillon  The No. 3 belonging to the Richard Childress Racing driver pays tribute to the early days of RCR when Childress, Dillon’s grandfather, was behind the wheel.

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Kevin Harvick – The defending Darlington race winner. The paint scheme for Harvick’s No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet was announced back in May. Harvick’s car “mimics the first can Budweiser produced.”

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Kasey Kahne – The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet will channel Rick Hendrick’s first race car, the All-Star Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, driven by Geoff Bodine in the 1984 Southern 500 at Darlington. Hendrick was ready to close up shop after Darlington, but crew chief Harry Hyde convinced him to continue on. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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Trevor Bayne – Party like it’s 1998! Bayne will be driving the paint scheme used by Mark Martin in the Sprint Cup in 1998, when he won seven races and finished second in the points to Jeff Gordon.

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Alex Bowman
– Alex will be driving a very sharp black and yellow Chevrolet SS for Tommy Baldwin Racing. The scheme will honor Baldwin’s father, “Tiger” Tom Baldwin, who spent 40 years racing in a Modified. He earned six Modified wins and victories in other circuits, as well.

 

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Sam Hornish Jr.
– The paint job for the No. 9 Ford at Richard Petty Motorsports is a tribute not to the Sprint Cup Series but to the 1990s when the Xfinity Series was known as the Busch Grand National Series. The scheme looks like the one driven by Mark Martin for many of his 49 series wins.

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Danica Patrick – The No. 10 Go Daddy Chevrolet is meant as a tribute to Darlington, affectionately known as “The Lady in Black.”

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Denny Hamlin – The No. 11 Toyota pays tribute to when Cale Yarborough drove the No. 11 in the 1970s. Yarborough won five times at Darlington.

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Tony Stewart – The three-time Sprint Cup champion has never won at Darlington, but if he does this year, it will be with the original Bass Pro Shop logo from the late 70s adorning the hood of his No. 14 Chevrolet.

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Clint Bowyer – The No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota was hand-painted to honor the late Buddy Baker, who drove a No. 15 car sponsored by RC Cola in 1974 for Bud Moore.

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Greg Biffle – Biffle’s No. 16 Ford will be sponsored by Ortho. The red in the scheme is based off the color of Ortho’s original delivery cars.

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The No. 17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing pays tribute to when David Pearson wheeled the 17 for the Wood Brothers, winning six of his 10 Darlington races for the team. The Cargill sponsored car was unveiled at Darlington Raceway.

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Ryan Blaney – The Wood Brothers decided to turn their No. 21 Ford into a mosaic depicting the team’s 65-year history. The scheme includes about 2,000 pictures dating back to 1950.

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Joey Logano – His Team Penske Ford will honor the Shell-sponsored Porsche Mario Andretti drove in the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1988. Andretti drove with son Michael Andretti and nephew John Andretti. They started third and finished sixth.

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Jeb Burton – The son of Ward Burton will race the paint scheme his father used when he won the 2001 Southern 500.

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Chase Elliott – Racing his last Sprint Cup event of 2015 before going full time in 2016, Elliott’s No. 25 Chevrolet is a more subtle throwback. The angled red stripe toward the rear-end is a tribute to the paint scheme used by his father, Bill Elliott, when he won the Southern 500 and the “Winston Million” in 1985.

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JJ Yeley – Will drive a unique scheme designed by famed NASCAR and motorsport artist Sam Bass. The car will benefit Beds for Kids, a Charlotte-based charity that empowers families with children by delivering beds and other furniture for those in need.

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Paul Menard
– The 2011 Brickyard 400 winner personally helped out in the design of his No. 27 Chevrolet, which is based on the marketing for the Menard’s home improvement stores in the early 1970s.

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Ryan Newman – The RCR driver’s No. 31 Chevrolet will be an homage to what Caterpillar’s heavy equipment looked liked in the 1970s. Newman has never won at Darlington.

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Josh Wise
– Twelve years after Ricky Craven came out on top in the closest finish in modern NASCAR history at Darlington in the No. 32, Wise and Go Green Racing our bringing back the paint scheme Craven used in the 2003 race. The sponsors are different, but the bright “Tide” orange is easy on the eyes.

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Mike Bliss – What would a retro throwback to Darlington be without an homage to Harry Gant’s old green and white paint scheme from back in the day. Bliss will be driving the No. 33 for Hillman Racing.

 

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Landon Cassill – The paint scheme for Cassill’s No. 40 Snap Fitness Chevrolet is a tribute to the “God Bless American” scheme used by Sterling Marlin in the Sept. 31, 2001 Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway. That was the second race following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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Kurt Busch – Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t always exist in its current form. Before Tony Stewart joined the team, it was known as Haas CNC Racing, which first competed in the Sprint Cup season in three races in 2002. Busch’s paint scheme is the original one driven by Jack Sprague.

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Kyle Larson – The No. 42 Chevrolet gets two tributes in one with this Mello Yello paint scheme. It’s the look used by fictional driver Cole Trickle in the 1990 film “Days of Thunder” and it would then be used by Kyle Petty from 1991 to 1994 when he drove the No. 42 for SABCO Racing, which was owned by Ganassi co-owner Felix Sabates.

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Aric Almirola
 – In 1972, STP premiered as the main sponsor of Richard Petty. He would go on to win eight times that year leading to a championship. With STP, Petty would earn 60 of his 200-career wins. Almirola sports the paint scheme from that 1972 campaign.

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Michael Annett
– The No. 46 will carry the color scheme and logo of Annett’s sponsor from the 1970s.

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Jimmie Johnson – The three-time Darlington winner will sport the Lowe’s Home Improvement logo used in the 1940s and 50s. Lowe’s was founded in 1946, four years before Darlington hosted its first race.

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Justin Allgaier – Making his second career Sprint Cup start at Darlington, Allgaier’s No. 51 Chevrolet will honor the career of legendary race car driver and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, who raced the No. 51 in several of his 128 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts.

 

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David Ragan
– The two-time Sprint Cup winner is using the retro weekend to honor the Cup career of his father, Ken Ragan. The elder Ragan raced in 50 Sprint Cup races from 1983-90 driving mostly for his brother Marvin. His career included five starts at Darlington Raceway. This paint job was raced by Ken Ragan in 1987.

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Martin Truex Jr. – The New Jersey native’s No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet will have a special teal paint scheme for this weekend’s race to raise awareness for National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Truex has nine career starts at Darlington, with his best performances being fifth in 2012 and sixth in 2009.

 

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.
– The 12-time most popular driver will have a new, one-time sponsor for the Southern 500. Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet will bear the name and colors of Valvoline motor oil. Valvoline sponsored drivers like Cale Yarborough, Neil Bonnett and Buddy Baker in the early 1980s, but is probably more well known among fans for its time with Mark Martin at Roush Racing throughout the 1990s.

 

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Also participating in the retro fun is Goodyear. The tire company has branded the tires for the Southern 500 race weekend with an older white logo, which can be seen on Twitter at @GoodyearRacing.