Morgan Shepherd

Friday 5: The tale of two comments and one fine

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What’s the difference between these comments?

Denny Hamlin after the March 3, 2013, Phoenix race: “I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning. The teams hadn’t figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th-place with 30 (laps) to go, I would have stayed there — I wouldn’t have moved up. It’s just one of those things where track position is everything.”

Kyle Busch after Monday’s race at Dover on the package for the cars: “It’s terrible. All I can do is bitch about it and fall on deaf ears and we’ll come back with the same thing in the fall.”

NASCAR fined Hamlin $25,000 for his comments.

NASCAR explained the reason for the fine by stating: “Denny Hamlin made some disparaging remarks about the on-track racing that had taken place that afternoon. While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product.”

Six years later, NASCAR said this week that it would not fine Busch for his comments after the Dover race. Busch said this week that he was not surprised NASCAR decided against fining him for his comments because “I’m not sure I said anything wrong.”

But don’t try to dissect the comments. That’s not the place to look in examining why one driver was fined and another was not.

NASCAR’s reaction to Busch’s comments shows a calmer approach. That’s a difference between Jim France, who is now the sport’s CEO, and Brian France, who was the CEO when Hamlin was fined.

Brian France often used a simple example to explain his reasoning for fining drivers for comments, saying in November 2011: “If I own a restaurant and I say you know what, the food in my restaurant is not very good, we’re not going to accept it. It’s as simple as that.”

With that as a key component, NASCAR issued secret fines to Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski for comments and actions.

When public pressure grew for NASCAR to do away with secret fines, Brian France said in January 2012 that the sanctioning body would still react to driver comments.

“If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we’re going to deal with that,” Brian France said then. “You know, we have to deal with that. And I think what’s really interesting is I can’t tell you how many owners or drivers come up to me and say thanks for doing that because some of these comments were irresponsible and unhelpful to growing the sport.”

If drivers can’t pass, they’re going to be frustrated. Some drivers noted how winner Martin Truex Jr. had the best car at Dover but it took him 240 laps to get to the front.

Truex took the lead for good with 53 laps to go. The same car that struggled in traffic — “It was definitely really hard to pass,” he said — then drove away from the field, winning by 9.5 seconds.

While the package has improved the racing at some tracks, it’s not perfect every place. The key is making changes for tracks where the package isn’t as effective.

With car owners facing additional costs with the Gen 7 car’s projected debut in 2021, they likely will be hesitant to be in favor of any expensive midseason changes. It’s 21 months until February 2021. With many details to be worked out with the new car, the question is what can NASCAR do to allow drivers to show more of their skill? If NASCAR can’t find a solution, how much longer will they allow drivers to speak up about the package?

2. Is time running out for NASCAR to go to Nashville in 2021?

In December, Formosa Productions, which promotes races at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, and Bristol Motor Speedway reached an agreement to “explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track.

Nearly six months later, work remains.

An issue is getting an agreement done with the city by next spring when NASCAR is expected to announce the 2021 schedules. NASCAR announced the 2020 Xfinity and Gander Truck Series schedules April 4, 2019. If NASCAR aims for a similar target date, that would leave 11 months to get a deal complete.

If more time was needed, NASCAR might be able to delay the 2021 Xfinity and Truck schedules. The 2019 schedules for both series were not released until June 13, 2018. Either way, time is ticking.

“Days, weeks and months go by quickly when you’re not really paying attention to it,” Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, said. “However, it’s very possible things can get put on the right track and move along very swiftly and that’s certainly our interest.”

He says conversations are ongoing.

I think the most important part is we’ve got a strong interest and it seems like in general there is a big interest in the people we’re talking with,” Smith said.

A few issues facing an effort to get on the 2021 schedule:

Nashville elections, including for mayor, are Aug. 12. There are multiple candidates for mayor and should a runoff election be needed, it would be held Sept. 12.

Smith notes that Fairgrounds Speedway “needs some TLC.” So far a financing plan has not been finalized.

Also, the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners raised issues in its April meeting about SMI’s involvement.

While the Tennessean had reported that SMI/Bristol Motor Speedway officials have met with Mayor David Briley and his administration, the Fair Board — which oversees the track — has not had any contact.

“I think there has sort of been a transparency problem here,” said fair board member Jason Bergeron at the April meeting. “It’s been eight months and we haven’t heard any details. … It’s a little frustrating. We have no concrete proposal and there’s been no real engagement with the community.”

He later said: “I think SMI needs to bring a real proposal to the table.”

The agenda for the May 14 Fair Commission Board meeting includes a “presentation by Speedway Motorsports Inc.”

3. A new test

Cup teams return to a 1.5-mile speedway this weekend for the first time in more than a month.

Denny Hamlin won at Texas on March 31 in the most recent race at a 1.5-mile speedway. That race also saw Hendrick Motorsports lead 110 of 334 laps between Jimmie Johnson (60 laps led), Chase Elliott (35) and William Byron (15). Johnson finished fifth, Byron sixth and Elliott 13th.

Stewart-Haas Racing, which is winless this year after winning a series-high 12 races last year, placed all four of its cars in the top 10 at Texas: Clint Bowyer was second, Daniel Suarez placed third, Aric Almirola was seventh and Kevin Harvick finished eighth.

Almirola is excited to see where his team stands this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

“We’ve built new race cars going to Kansas,” Almirola said. “We built new race cars going to Texas, which I thought were in the game. We were competitive, we led some laps and challenged to lead the race at the end.

“We were in the right direction with our race cars and then we’ve taken another step in going to Kansas. Just continuing to evolve our mile-and-a-half program. Having a month off has really allowed us to kind of take as step back, go through lot of data, look at a lot of different things and build these race cars.”

4. Record streak

No, we’re not talking about Kyle Busch tying Morgan Shepherd for the most consecutive top-10 finishes in a row at 11, but what Ross Chastain has done this year.

Ross Chastain has competed in every Cup, Xfinity and Truck race this season. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chastain has started every Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. That’s 27 consecutive races and it will grow this weekend with Chastain entered in both the Truck and Cup races at Kansas Speedway.

Chastain is one of three drivers to have started more than 16 consecutive races in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks to start the season. Chastain ranks No. 1 on the list.

Kyle Busch is next. Busch started the first 22 races in the 2008 season and started the first 20 races in the 2009 season. Rick Mast started the first 16 races in the 1989 season.

5. Looks familiar

In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. had two wins, three top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, led 536 laps and had an average finish of 10.5 after 11 races.

This year, Truex has scored two wins, four top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, led 343 laps and has an average finish of 10.3 after 11 races.

Truex went on to win the title in 2017. While it’s too early to forecast anything like that this year, his start in his first season at Joe Gibbs Racing should not go unnoticed, especially heading to Kansas. He has four consecutive top-five finishes there. He won both races there in 2017, finished runner-up in the May 2018 race and placed fifth in last year’s playoff race.

Long: A roar unlike any other fuels Chase Elliott

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Facing the fans near the start/finish line after winning Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, a cascade of cheers bathed Chase Elliott in a way that the sport’s most popular driver had not experienced in his previous victories.

“I was in la‑la land down there when I was looking for the checkered flag,” Elliott said after his victory. “Every time I stood up, the crowd stood up. Every time I got fired up, they got fired up. That’s something you can’t ever take for granted.

“Those moments … you’ll cherish and never forget. Certainly I won’t. These races are too hard to win to not enjoy those moments.”

While the crowd’s roar might not have measured against the cheers for Dale Earnhardt or Dale Earnhardt Jr. when they won at Talladega, no other driver has had louder cheers in recent years there.

It’s another sign that Elliott’s popularity continues to grow.

But that doesn’t mean it’s Elliott’s job to single-handedly lead the sport to higher levels. Such pressure shouldn’t be put on the 23-year-old in his fourth full Cup season. His focus is on better performances and helping Hendrick Motorsports emerge from the funk that has limited its visits to victory lane.

There’s no doubt Elliott will be among those who lead NASCAR’s evolution. His voice grows stronger as he becomes more comfortable in a role where his words carry weight. He also understands there are others who will play key roles now.

Asked if he’s carrying the banner at Hendrick because he’s the team’s only driver to win since last year, Elliott succinctly responded: “I think as long as a seven-time champion is in the building, he will always carry the banner.”

Elliott’s nod to teammate Jimmie Johnson also shows the youngster’s humility and understanding where his place is with Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, among others, competing.

Just as important for the sport’s future will be what NASCAR’s leaders do with schedule changes, the Gen-7 car in 2021 and other changes intended to enhance the racing.

If done well, Elliott and others will benefit. Those cheers Elliott heard Sunday at Talladega could be more dramatic in the future.


Chase Elliott’s first four wins have come on four different type of tracks.

He scored his first career victory on the road course at Watkins Glen. He followed that last year by winning at Dover (high-banked 1-mile track) and Kansas (1.5-mile speedway). Sunday, he won at Talladega, a superspeedway.

The only active Cup driver who scored a road course win among his first four series victories is Martin Truex. Jr.

His first win came at Dover, then he won at Sonoma. Next was a win at Pocono (2.5-mile track) and then Charlotte (1.5-mile speedway).


Kyle Larson defended crew chief Chad Johnston in light of comments Kevin Harvick made last week about Johnston.

Harvick discussed Larson’s slump last week on his “Happy Hours” show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. In the discussion, Harvick raised questions about Johnston being the one who could help keep Larson from being mentally down during such a stretch.

Larson said of Johnston: “I think Chad is an amazing crew chief. He’s proven since he and a few other guys came to our team after the first couple of my seasons in Cup, that’s when we turned around as a team and started winning races and contending, so I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. … I’ve got all the belief in the world in Chad Johnston.”


The Wood Brothers are back in the Race Team Alliance.

As first reported by Adam Stern at Sports Business Journal, Wood Brothers Racing rejoined the RTA earlier this year.

The Race Team Alliance includes most Cup teams with a charter and provides a way for them to work together on matters such as rule changes, cost issues or sponsorship searches. Thirteen organizations, representing 28 of the 36 cars that have charters, are members.

The Wood Brothers left the RTA after not receiving one of the 36 charters in 2016.

Jon Wood, director of business development for the Wood Brothers, said it made sense to rejoin the RTA.

“Harboring ill feelings over something that happened three years ago would only be to our detriment,” Wood told NBC Sports. “We left the RTA when we did, not because we were mad at any of them, but more because we didn’t fit in at the time. We weren’t eligible to be voting members, they had their own set of objectives and we had ours. Now, those objectives overlap and what benefits them, benefits us.”


Kyle Busch’s 10th-place finish Sunday at Talladega continued his streak of top-10 finishes to open the season. The last time a driver placed in the top 10 in each of the first 10 races of a year was Morgan Shepherd in 1990, driving for Hall of Fame car owner Bud Moore.

Shepherd extended his streak that year to 11 races with a sixth-place finish at Dover. The streak ended in the following race when he finished 29th at Sonoma after a blown engine.


As states and the Food and Drug Administration seek to end the confusion on the use of CBD, a cannabis compound, it leads to the question of what NASCAR would approve as a team or track sponsor.

CBD is short for cannabidiol and is the non-intoxicating molecule found in hemp and marijuana. Both are cannabis plants but only marijuana has enough of the compound THC to get users high.

CBD has been added to a variety of products including lotions, cosmetics, diet pills, candy and drinks. The FDA is scheduled to have a public hearing May 31 on the issue.

As for NASCAR, its guideline in regards to sponsorship states that any CBD product cannot contain THC, which is banned under NASCAR’s drug policy. If a team makes a request and the company claims that there is no THC present in its products, NASCAR would allow the team to have the product tested at a NASCAR-approved lab and have the results reviewed before any sponsorship approval would be given.

Long: A championship five seasons in the making for Joey Logano’s pit crew

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — When the champagne bottles were passed out to Joey Logano’s team after he won the Cup championship Sunday night, Ray Gallahan found a place to sit at the back of the stage to watch his teammates spray each other.

“I’m not a heavy drinker, and I don’t like being too sticky,” Gallahan told NBC Sports. “I usually bow out for the champagne part.’’

Ray Gallahan (seated) watches his teammates spray each other with champagne after Joey Logano won the Cup title. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The celebration was poignant for Gallahan, who served his final race as Logano’s fueler Sunday. The 35-year-old Gallahan will move into a role as an assistant pit coach for Team Penske.

But this victory had extra meaning for Gallahan. He was Logano’s jackman in 2014 when the car fell off the jack with less than 20 laps to go in that championship race, all but ending Logano’s title hopes.

“That crumbled me up pretty hard because I was supposed to be the guy that didn’t mess up,” Gallahan said.

The team returned to the championship race in 2016. Logano’s title hopes faded when he went to pass Carl Edwards on a late restart and Edwards blocked, leading to contact that eliminated Edwards and damaged Logano’s car.

Sunday, Logano’s pit crew gained him two spots on the final pit stop, allowing him to restart third and charge to the win. It was pretty much the same unit that had been there in 2014 and ’16.

Front tire changer Thomas Hatcher, rear tire changer Zachary Price and tire carrier Dylan Dowell had been on the team since 2014. The only new member was jackman Graham Stoddard, who had been teammate Ryan Blaney’s jackman but moved to Logano’s team after Blaney was eliminated in the playoffs at Kansas.

That four of the five pit crew members remained since 2014 is a remarkable achievement in an era where changes to pit crews can be common. This unit excelled late in the playoffs, playing a key role in helping Logano win at Martinsville, and having a strong performance in the championship race.

“I think the longer you are together, the more you learn what to expect from the other guy, so it actually makes you faster,” Dowell told NBC Sports.

Having experienced the lows of the title race — and missing the playoffs last year — it allowed the team to appreciate its accomplishment.

“It definitely made it sweeter,” Hatcher told NBC Sports. “It definitely made it sweeter.”


Morgan Shepherd had Landon Cassill drive his Xfinity car for him last weekend in Miami, but Shepherd says he plans to be back.

“This is 51 years for us,” the 77-year-old Shepherd told NBC Sports at Homestead-Miami Speedway, “and I’ve started on my next. If I can get it in, I’ll only be 127 (years old). We’ll see where we land.”

Morgan Shepherd (Photo Getty Images)

Isn’t it time for retirement?

“Nah,” Shepherd said as he sat on the pit wall. “I’m just a servant. I might not be able to help myself but I can help other people with what we’re doing. Our charity is 32 years old. … We’ll go as long as the Lord wants me to go.”

Shepherd understands that change will come at some point.

“We definitely would be better with a younger driver and build it around him,” Shepherd said. “We’ll see where it goes. We haven’t quit yet.”


Crew chief Luke Lambert told NBC Sports he’s signed a new deal with Richard Childress Racing and will serve as rookie Daniel Hemric’s crew chief on the No. 31 car next season.

It will make the first time Lambert has worked with a young driver. He’s previously worked with veteran drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman. Lambert had been with Newman the past five seasons. Newman moves to Roush Fenway Racing for 2019.

“It will be different in ways,” Lambert said of working with a rookie. “I’ve been around situations with young drivers a lot so I’m very familiar with what sort of things need to be done differently. Ultimately, it’s going to be about learning each other and what he needs different to be successful and for me to help figure out ways to provide that for him.”

Xfinity practice report at Texas

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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Ryan Truex swept Friday with the fastest lap (187.780 mph) in final practice on the heels of his fastest lap in the first session.

He beat Brandon Jones (187.689) by .014 seconds.

Shane Lee (187.676), Cole Custer (187.474) and Christopher Bell (187.454) rounded out the top five.

Josh Bilicki, Joey Gase and David Starr hit the wall in separate incidents. Bilicki does not have a backup available, but reported that he was looking for a car to borrow.

Elliott Sadler had the quickest 10-lap average at 186.190 mph.

Fellow playoff contenders Justin Allgaier (185.862) and Daniel Hemric (185.622) lined up behind him.

Click here for the practice report.

First Practice

Ryan Truex posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Xfinity race at Texas with a speed of 187.162 mph.

He beat Daniel Hemric (186.832 mph) by .051 seconds.

Elliott Sadler (186.580), Cole Custer (186.387) and Matt Tifft (186.130) rounded out the top five.

Ryan Reed, Morgan Shepherd and Austin Cindric all hit the wall in separate incidents during the session. Reed and Cindric will go to backup cars. Shepherd does not have a backup available.

Brandon Brown (177.024) and Quin Houff (171.124) were the only drivers who made at least 10 consecutive laps.

Click here for the practice report.

Aric Almirola ended third longest drought between first, second Cup wins

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Despite being just over four years ago, July 6, 2014 feels like it was in another lifetime.

Now imagine how Aric Almirola felt prior to his win Sunday in the Cup race at Talladega.

It had been 149 races since Almirola first visited Victory Lane in the Cup Series. He won the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in 2014 driving Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Ford.

When Almirola passed Kurt Busch coming to the checkered flag Sunday, it snapped the third-longest streak of starts between wins No. 1 and No. 2 in the Cup Series.

Here are the top five longest streaks.

1. Martin Truex Jr.  – 218 starts between wins

Truex’s first win came on June 4, 2007 at Dover International Speedway while driving Dale Earnhardt Inc.’s No. 1 Chevrolet.

He would have to wait until June 23, 2013 at Sonoma Raceway to get win No. 2, this time coming in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 56 Toyota

2. Jamie McMurray – 165 starts between wins

McMurray famously earned his first Cup win in his second career start. Subbing for an injured Sterling Marlin in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge, McMurray won on Oct. 13, 2002 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Win No. 2 did not present itself until July 7, 2007 at Daytona. Driving the No. 26 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray beat Kyle Busch by five-thousandths of a second to return to Victory Lane.

3. Aric Almirola  – 149 starts between wins

4. Ward Burton – 131 starts between wins

Burton won his first Cup race in his sophomore season, driving the No. 22 Pontiac for Bill Davis Racing. He won on Oct. 22, 1995 at Rockingham Motor Speedway.

Five years later and still driving the No. 22 for Davis, Burton returned to Victory Lane on March 19, 2000 at Darlington Raceway.

5. Morgan Shepherd – 115 starts between wins

After making eight Cup starts from 1970 – 1978, Shepherd finally ran a majority of the schedule in 1981, running all but the first two races. His first win came relatively quickly in race No. 9 on April 26 at Martinsville Speedway.

The second victory came on March 16, 1986 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Of Shepherd’s four career wins, three came at Atlanta.

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