Hall of Famer Bill Elliott to drive at Road America for GMS Racing

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – GMS Racing announced Saturday that 62-year-old Bill Elliott will drive the team’s No. 23 Xfinity car Aug. 25 at Road America.

It will be the NASCAR Hall of Famer’s first race in NASCAR since July 2012 at Daytona International Speedway. His last Xfinity race was October 2005 at Memphis.

“When this opportunity came up … I had to jump on it,” said Bill Elliott in a statement from the team. “Chase (Elliott) has ran a handful of races for the team so I figured I would give it a shot at Road America. (GMS President Mike) Beam and I have worked together in the past, so it will be exciting to get back behind the wheel and bring back some old memories.”

Elliott, the 1988 Cup champion, is a part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015, joining Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White. Elliott had 44 Cup wins and 55 poles in his career. His lone Xfinity win came in 1993 at Watkins Glen International.

Beam was Elliott’s crew chief in 1990 and 1993-94 and for numerous races in 1995, ’96 and ’97.

“We are thrilled to welcome Bill (Elliott) to the GMS Racing family,” said president of GMS Racing, Mike Beam in a statement from the team. “Bill has many years in NASCAR and it’s going to be great to watch him come back, especially in GMS equipment. Bill and I worked together back in the day and had a lot of success so hopefully we can pick up where we left off and create some more great memories.”

Because Elliott has never raced in NASCAR at Road America, the Hall of Famer will need to attend the rookie meeting that weekend.

Asked if he had any advice for his dad, Chase Elliott said with a smile: “No.”

Chase Elliott said he’d like to attend that weekend. It is an off-weekend for Cup, so will Chase try to find a ride to race his dad?

“I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest with you,” Chase Elliott said. “The tough thing is you want to go and put a real solid effort together and you just hate to throw a car and a team together up there to go do it. I’m not sure, you never know. There’s still a few weeks out. No plans right now.”

Chase Elliott said he and his dad have raced against each other in late models but not recently. Chase said that his dad has done some vintage racing. He ran at Road Atlanta in March. He participated in a test day at Road America but mechanical issues prevented him from competing.

Fellow Georgia racer David Ragan is excited to see Elliott back in a car in NASCAR.

“Bill Elliott is timeless,” Ragan said. “That’s awesome … Bill’s obviously a hero for a lot of Georgia racers, including myself. It’s crazy to think that he has had a NASCAR license longer than I’ve been alive. That’s cool. I’ll definitely tune in and be watching.”

The Road America Xfinity race will air on NBCSN. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET with Countdown to Green on Aug. 25. Race coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET.

 

 

NASCAR community reacts to passing of journalist Tom Higgins at 80

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Tom Higgins, a long-time NASCAR reporter for The Charlotte Observer, died Tuesday morning at the age of 80.

Higgins, who worked for the newspaper full-time from 1964-97, suffered a stroke last August.

A native of Burnsville, North Carolina, Higgins was the first newspaper reporter to cover every race in a NASCAR Cup season in 1980. He was awarded the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence in 2015.

He was also the author of multiple books, including 2013’s “Racing into the Past” and a 1999 book on Junior Johnson. 

The NASCAR community was quick to react to Higgins’ passing.

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France released the following statement on Higgins’ passing:

“For more than five decades, Tom Higgins was an ever-present figure in the NASCAR garage. Within the industry, he built a reputation as a trusted and fair voice who delivered our sport to the fans. To those fans, he was a must-read journalist whose reporting was rightly taken as gospel. Simply put, he defined what it meant to be a NASCAR beat reporter. As such, his outstanding career earned him NASCAR’s top honor for journalists, the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, in 2015. On behalf of the France Family and all of NASCAR, I extend my deepest condolences to the friends and family of Tom Higgins, a true NASCAR media giant.”

The NASCAR Hall of Fame issued a statement from Executive Director Winston Kelley.

“On behalf of everyone at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, I would like to extend our most sincere condolences to the family of Tom Higgins. Tom was the fourth recipient of the prestigious Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence in 2015. Tom also received the NASCAR Bill France Award of Excellence in 1996 among the many awards and accolades bestowed upon him for his over 40 years of contributions to the NASCAR industry. Affectionately known as ‘Pappy,’ Tom was among the most trusted journalists in the industry and I count myself among the many young journalists he mentored and considered him a dear friend. Words cannot adequately describe the impact Tom had on motorsports. We were fortunate to have his wisdom in serving as a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel since its inception in 2009. Tom will be dearly missed, but his remarkable legacy of professionalism and willingness to help others will live on forever.”

Martin Truex Jr: ‘I still pinch myself’ three years into dominance with Furniture Row

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As Martin Truex Jr. stood in the back of a truck riding around Kentucky Speedway before last Saturday’s Cup race, a fan called out to the 2017 champion.

“Let somebody else win!” he yelled.

After a beat, Truex responded with a chuckle, “No!”

Truex stayed true to his word. A few hours later, the Furniture Row Racing driver took the checkered flag to claim his fourth win of the season.

His triumph over Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski took his career win total to 19 – tying him on the all-time wins list with Joey Logano, 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Davey Allison, Greg Biffle, Hall of Famer Buddy Baker and Fonty Flock.

The victory is the 17th for the No. 78 team since 2015. Truex leads all drivers in wins since 2016 with 16.

For a driver who only won twice in his first nine full-time seasons, Truex said “I still pinch myself” over his dominance of the sport.

He doesn’t lead the series in wins after 19 races. That goes to Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, who are tied at five wins each.

This marks the first time since 1974 that three drivers have won four or more races at this point in a season.

“I think all three of us have great teams,” Truex said after his win. “Those two guys are great drivers. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for them. It’s pretty amazing to be a part of this group, honestly. I think when I was a kid and you (saw) Dale (Earnhardt) and Rusty (Wallace) and guys like that, Terry Labonte and you had guys that just dominated and won everything, and watching them, it was like, ‘Man, that’s so cool, they’re heroes and they’re such a big deal,’ and to think that I’m one of those guys this year and I guess last year, too, is just ‑‑ it’s amazing to me.”

Even after he won his first Cup title last November, it didn’t occur to him until almost a month later that he will one day be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame alongside Earnhardt, Wallace and Labonte.

Truex joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014 after losing his ride at Michael Waltrip Racing, a casualty of the race manipulation scandal involving MWR in the 2013 regular season finale at Richmond Raceway.

That year, Truex went winless, led one lap and finished 24th in the standings.

The following season Truex was paired with rookie crew chief Cole Pearn. The duo won one race, earned eight top fives and made the Championship 4.

In their 126 races together, the duo has put together a record comparable to other great driver-crew chief parings in Cup history.

“Really the last three years have been just having the time of my life and just lucky to have great people around us, a great car owner (Barney Visser),” Truex said. “Just feel really lucky.  I’ve been on the other side of it before where teams were struggling and struggled to get in position to win races, and having a lot of things kind of going against you and kind of fighting that uphill battle.

“So it’s amazing to be on this side of it. I can’t tell you how proud I am of all the guys on our team and what they’ve done, and I honestly just enjoy every single one of these wins like it’s my first because you never know when they’re going to come to an end.  You never know when you’re going to have your last one. You never know what’s going to happen next. Just trying to ride the wave of momentum and enjoy it all, and my team is just so badass, I can’t even explain it.”

Truex, 38, “always felt” he “could get the job done” during the early years of his Cup career, spent with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and then MWR.

“I had enough glimpses of really good days or glimpses of greatness that I think it just kept me alive, kept me hungry enough to keep fighting for it,” said Truex, who won two Xfinity championships before moving to Cup. “I think through the years there was just ‑‑ for me personally, and I don’t know what everybody else thought, I know I had some people that probably didn’t think I was that good.

“That’s part of this deal.  You’re only as good as your last race. And if you’re not getting results now, people question your ability.  … For me personally, I always (felt) like I could be a good driver, be a great driver.  I never knew I’d get to where I was last year, and I never really knew I could go on a championship run and win (16) races in three years … That’s been amazing.”

 

Friday 5: Toyota looking for more with Fords dominating first third of season

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Although Toyota is ahead of pace for wins compared to last year when the manufacturer scored 16 Cup victories, the president of Toyota Racing Development isn’t satisfied.

Toyota has four wins this year — three by Kyle Busch and one by Martin Truex Jr. — but Ford has scored a series-high seven victories.

“I always use laps led as an indicator of performance because if you’re not leading laps than something is not right,” Toyota’s David Wilson told NBC Sports. “I think Dover, for the first time since Atlanta of 2017, a Toyota did not lead a lap. That was an alarm bell. That’s not acceptable. We recognize that we need to be better and we’re on it.”

Only one Toyota driver (Busch) ranks in the top five in laps led this season. Kevin Harvick has led 21 percent of all laps run this year. Busch is next at 12.7 percent.

Toyota won 14 of the final 19 races last year and scored the championship with Martin Truex Jr. So, why isn’t Toyota as dominant this year?

“We make no bones about it, Fords, the Ford camp … the No. 4 camp in particular is out front right now and kudos to those guys,’’ Wilson said, noting Harvick’s success. “I think what happened in the offseason with the flat splitter and the (Optical Scanning Station) clearly brought the field closer together, but our MO isn’t one to whine about it or complain about it.’’

Wilson admits Toyota had found advantages with the splitter and now that is gone with the rule change for this season.

“We were doing some really clever things with the front of our cars and year over year, we just lost some front downforce,’’ he said. “That’s why you hear a lot of our guys complaining about having tight race cars.’’

Wilson also spoke to NBC Sports about a couple of other topics.

On the need for a fourth manufacturer in Cup, Wilson said:

“When we came into this sport, we had four manufacturers with Dodge being the fourth. As soon as Dodge left, one of our first agenda points with NASCAR (was) to start beating the drum to get another manufacturer on board.

“With the size of the field, given the investment that each of us make, the sport will be healthy with another manufacturer, so again I know and trust that NASCAR is out there looking.’’

On the aero package run with restrictor plates run at the All-Star Race and what adjustments need to be made, Wilson said:

“I don’t think we want the drivers to be flat-footed all the time. We have the best drivers in the world and we’re putting them in a situation where some of them equated it to a video game. Most of them had fun. It was fun, but it was also the All-Star race and it wasn’t a points race. Again, these are the best drivers in the world. These cars should be hard to drive.”

2. Falling behind

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 marks the halfway point in the 26-race regular season.

Kevin Harvick already has 24 playoff points — and that’s after he was penalized at Las Vegas and lost all seven playoff points for his victory ands stage wins. Kyle Busch is next with 17 playoff points.

No one else has more than seven playoff points.

Those points could mean the difference in advancing in the playoffs or going all the way to the championship round in Miami.

Denny Hamlin, who has one playoff point, understands the deficit he could be facing. Should Harvick and Busch continue to collect playoff points, they could give themselves a big enough advantage to make it to Miami provided they don’t have major issues in any of the rounds.

Martin Truex Jr. had such a large playoff point advantage last year that he qualified for Miami with one race left in the third round, leaving only one spot left in the championship field when the series headed to Phoenix for the final race of that round.

“That’s a continued concern for us,” Hamlin said. “That’s really what made us press so much in the second-to-last playoff stage last year. We knew there was essentially one spot available after those three had locked themselves in.

“We’re trying everything we can. We really have struggled with stage points. We’re finishing well. I’ve made a few mistakes on pit road this year and that has set us back on stage points. I think we’ve got to focus on stage points first then we worry about playoff points.”

3. Betting on NASCAR

Kevin Harvick is an interested observer in what will happen after a Supreme Court decision earlier this month struck down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting.

Delaware is on pace to be among the first states to have sports betting outside of Nevada. Dover International Speedway has a casino next to the track. NASCAR fans attending the Oct. 7 Dover playoff race could have their first chance to legally bet on a NASCAR event while attending that event.

Harvick has had segments on sports betting each of the past two weeks on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. So what has he learned?

I have more questions than answers just because of the fact that we have a couple of race tracks that have casinos on the property already,” Harvick said, alluding to Dover and Kansas Speedway.

“It seems like there’s a very good opportunity to get creative with a place like Dover that has that casino sitting there to have some creative betting during the race to really intrigue the fans – things that you could do from your phone or in the casino or just random stuff,” Harvick said. “Could you turn that track and race into an atmosphere like a horse race? I think there’s just a lot of questions and a lot of answers that need to be individually solved. That’s the interesting part is it’s going to come state by state, so who is going to lead that charge? Is it race tracks or is it NASCAR?”

Harvick stressed finding a way that some of the money bet filters back to the sports. The NBA seeks what it calls an “integrity fee” for all bets related to its events. Whether that is possible, remains to be seen.

Harvick also noted that a change that needs to be made is how TV money is distributed in NASCAR. Tracks keep 65 percent of the money from broadcasters, teams get 25 percent and NASCAR collects 10 percent. According to International Speedway Corp.’s 2017 annual report, broadcast and ancillary media rights accounted for 50.2 percent of total revenues for that year. 

4. Special Day

Wednesday’s Hall of Fame selection proved poignant with Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison, who were killed within months of each other 25 years ago, joining the Class of 2019.

There are many special connections between those. One was a special observer. Tom Roberts is a long-time family friend of the Allisons. He served as Bobby Allison’s p.r. person for several years. He also worked with Kulwicki as his p.r. person. Roberts also has helped spearhead the Kulwicki Driver Development Program to help young drivers climb the ranks of racing.

Roberts had never attended the Hall of Fame announcement but came up from his Alabama home to witness Wednesday’s proceedings.

“It just felt right,” he said of seeing both make the Hall. “It will take a while to soak in (that both made it together).”

5. New winner?

An interesting stat for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is that the top 11 qualifiers have never won this race.

Austin Dillon scored his first Coca-Cola 600 — and first Cup win — last year.

Kyle Busch starts on the pole and will be joined on the front row by Joey Logano.

The other drivers in the top 11 who have never won the 600 are: Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson.

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What might have been: Jeff Gordon driving for Jack Roush?

Craig Jones /Allsport
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Had things gone differently, Jeff Gordon might have driven for Jack Roush instead of Rick Hendrick.

Gordon told the story after he was selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019 Wednesday with Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Roush.

Recall that Gordon’s first full-time ride in what was called the Busch Grand National Series, he drove a Ford for car owner Bill Davis.  

Here’s how Gordon tells the story:

“I had a contract that was like a year‑to‑year contract with Ford where they gave me a car, a little bit of money, drove for Bill Davis.

“The Roush thing, I think, came when they got wind that I was starting to get some offers. The first one came from Cale Yarborough in ’91. (I told him) I’m not even halfway through my rookie season. I can’t do that.

“But Bill was gracious enough to let me go test that car. Many people don’t realize I tested for Cale out here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I spun out, I just didn’t hit anything.

“Went through ’91. Then in ’92, that’s when things got real. We started winning. We won the race in Atlanta. Everybody knows about the story about Rick Hendrick seeing me there. I don’t know what happened, but the buzz started getting around.

“Of course, Bill wanted to go Cup racing. Didn’t look like a reality to me at the time. It seemed like we were a long way from being a Cup team. It was a great Busch Grand National team.

“So Ford came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to talk to you about a potential opportunity with Jack Roush.’ I never spoke to Jack until after all that. But that’s what Ford had mentioned to me. I think it was kind of out of desperation of, we don’t want to lose you in our camp. I think by that point I was already set with what I was going to do with Rick.

“By the way, if I had the opportunity prior to Rick calling me, I’d have jumped on top of that. To drive for Jack Roush, how amazing would that have been? So I’m happy the way things worked out, but you can believe had I not already been signed with Rick. …  It all worked out for the right reasons, but I would have done that.’’

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