Phoenix Raceway

GMS Racing, Brett Moffitt to honor Jimmie Johnson with special scheme

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GMS Racing and sponsor Plan B Sales have created a special paint scheme to honor seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on championship weekend in November at Phoenix Raceway.

Brett Moffitt, the 2018 Truck Series champion, will pilot the the specially adorned truck at Phoenix.

“Brett has been a part of the Plan B family and a great ambassador for our company over the years,” said Brent Powell, owner of Plan B Sales in a statement. “Last year we partnered with Brett and GMS for the Phoenix race, but this year is different with it being the season finale and Jimmie’s final (full-time Cup) weekend. It truly is an honor for us to showcase this throwback for Jimmie and hopefully see Brett clinch his second championship in our truck.”

Said Moffitt of Johnson in a statement: “I have looked up to him, leaned on him and had the utmost respect for everything he has done for our sport. This is the coolest paint scheme I’ve had in my career because of how much respect and admiration I have for Jimmie. I’m rooting for him to go out on top, and maybe we’ll both get the chance to celebrate a championship in Phoenix later this year.”

Johnson has announced this will be his final full-time Cup season. He drove a Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar in a July 28 test on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Johnson has expressed a desire to race different vehicles after this season.

 

Where Are They Now? Catching up with Casey Mears

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There are certain days most people never forget: their anniversaries, their children’s birthdays and for race car drivers, their first win.

These days Casey Mears may live 2,100 miles away from Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he was there in spirit for last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

Mears won NASCAR’s longest race in 2007. He was in the right place at the right time, taking the lead from Denny Hamlin late in the race and hanging on for the final six laps – the only laps he led all day – for the win.

Casey Mears celebrates after winning the 2007 Coca-Cola 600. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“It was definitely the high point of my career, for sure,” Mears told NBC Sports. “I remember everything about that night.

“The one thing – and it’s not a regret – but it’s unfortunate that it ended up being a fuel-mileage race because we had a very fast car that night and ran inside the top 10 and top five the majority of the night.

“We probably weren’t going to win it, but we had a good shot at a top five and were going to be in the hunt. (Crew chief Darian Grubb) made a great call and we won the race, which was amazing for several different reasons.

“I mean, obviously winning in Charlotte, the 600 is the longest race, winning on Memorial Day weekend, which is a huge week for my family and then also being sponsored by the National Guard at that time. It was just a big night.”

While the 600 was his only Cup win, Mears also recalls several other key moments of his career, including runner-up finishes in 2006 at the Daytona 500 and later that year at Kansas.

“That night at Charlotte was a huge part of my career but some of the stuff that I feel like we earned on speed which was really cool were, we sat on the pole at Indy, did well at places like Chicago, Pocono and Michigan, being competitive and leading laps at places like Atlanta and Homestead, going back and forth with Tony Stewart at Atlanta one year.

“Some of those big moments in my career weren’t necessarily the only parts that stand out. The moments I remember the most were when we had competitive race cars and when we were on the verge of getting those wins and getting real close.”

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Mears lives in the Phoenix area with his family. It’s also where he met his wife, Trisha.

“We always said that when the NASCAR things slowed down, we’d like to be back out this way,” Mears told NBC Sports. “So we picked up and moved the kids and came out to Phoenix. We’re loving it, and I’m really enjoying spending a lot of time with them. I’ve also been fortunate to reconnect with some of my off-road racing buddies since I’ve been out here.”

This is the off-road truck Casey Mears co-drove in last year’s NORRA Mexican Baja 1000. (Photo courtesy Casey Mears)

Mears may be gone from NASCAR, but he’s still taking part in other forms of racing part-time, including off-road competition like the NORRA Mexican Baja 1000 last year with Lynn Chenoweth. Casey’s father Roger drove for Chenoweth back in the 1960s and 1970s, and also is part of Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks Series.

“I also hang out with (NBC IndyCar analyst and former racer Paul Tracy) and drive his Lamborghini sports car, just taking it on the track and sliding around, just having fun,” Mears said. “If opportunities come around, I’d love to race some more.

“I really, really enjoyed racing out in the desert, doing off road stuff. I’d also love to get involved in some sports car stuff as well if there’s an opportunity.

“I love what I’m being able to do right now, just dabble. Playing in Robby’s series, that’s been a blast and picking up random off road, desert opportunities. But racing’s racing, it always boils down to the dollars and cents and sponsors or finding some guy that just wants to go racing and spend some money and have fun. It’s few and far between these days.”

Even though Mears has moved on from NASCAR, he admits he misses it.

“I was fortunate to get to do it for about 15 years,” Mears said. “I lived that life and it really becomes almost the opposite. Your family and friends end up being all the people on the road and people at home become extended friends and family, you’re on the road so much.

“For sure I miss a lot of the people that you saw week in and week out. I definitely miss the competition. I don’t think I’ll ever not miss being in a race car because, like so many others in the sport, I didn’t really get to go out on my own terms.

“For so many people, the sport decides it for you before you’re ready to decide not to do it. I think I’ll always have that desire to want to get in a car again.

“But the one thing that helped me make this decision to move to Phoenix is that I didn’t want to be one of those guys that lingered in the sport either. I didn’t want to be with a back marker program and not be able to be competitive and that’s kind of probably what would have happened. I would have stuck around and would have gotten into something I probably really didn’t need to be in.”

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Mears made 489 career Cup starts, his last full-time season being in 2016. He came back for a start last year for Germain Racing in the season-opening Daytona 500. He started 40th and finished 40th, involved in a crash just past the halfway point.

Mears also made 107 Xfinity Series starts, earning his lone series win in 2016 at Chicagoland Speedway.

He still keeps his hand in NASCAR somewhat, just not on a steering wheel. He does promotional work for Phoenix Raceway and visits his former chums each time NASCAR comes to town.

Casey Mears, right, remains good friends with a number of his former teammates, including seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

He also keeps in regular contact with close friends and former teammates and bosses including Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Chip Ganassi, Rick Hendrick, Bob Germain and Doug Barnette.

But moving on from being a race car driver, pretty much the only thing he had known for more than 30 years since being a kid growing up in Bakersfield, California, gave Mears pause.

“This move really forced me to figure out what’s next in life,” he said. “I’m 42 years old and although I’ve done well and been very fortunate, but I need to do something.”

He’s looking at a variety of business opportunities in the Phoenix area, primarily in the automotive industry.

“I feel very fortunate to have the career that I’ve had in the sport,” Mears said. “I drove for a lot of real good teams and programs and learned a lot from a lot of people.

“The people I got to race with and learn from just from the business standpoint is going to help me later in my career with whatever’s next. I had some great opportunities and will always miss it, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to the future and what’s next.”

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Storylines: What’s changed in the NASCAR Cup Series?

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Ryan Newman is back. So is Matt Kenseth. And the NASCAR schedule? It’s evolving.

Much has changed since Cup last raced March 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

When the season resumes Sunday at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX), Newman will compete for the first time since he suffered a bruised brain in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500.

Newman was injured when his car was hit from behind while racing for the win and veered into the wall. His No. 6 Ford went airborne and turned upside down before Corey LaJoie’s car slammed into it. Newman’s car skidded upside down along the frontstretch, coming to rest past the exit of pit road.

MORE: Storylines – Where Cup Series left off

MORE: NASCAR reveals competition rule changes 

Newman said in a March 11 interview with NBC’s “Today” show that the car’s cage “was compromised.”

NASCAR revealed technical changes May 1 in response to Newman’s crashWith the COVID-19 pandemic suspending the season, Newman will miss only three races. NASCAR has granted Newman a waiver should he need it to qualify for the playoffs. He enters this weekend 29th in the driver standings, 54 points out of a potential playoff position.

“We certainly recognize that the easiest path to make the playoffs is win a race,” Kevin Kidd, competition director for Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports. “We’re going to do everything in our power to accomplish that.”

Newman, though, is ahead of Kenseth in the standings. Chip Ganassi Racing hired Kenseth after the team fired Kyle Larson on April 14 for saying a racial slur during an iRacing event.

Kenseth’s last start came in the 2018 Cup finale in Miami.

Even so, former teammate Denny Hamlin is confident Kenseth will succeed.

“From my standpoint, I’m like, I don’t want him back,” Hamlin joked. “I know he gives great information. He can give an organization information. It’s another voice that that organization will hear that’s different than what they’ve had over the last few years. Not better or worse but just different. So, I think he’s probably going to lift that program up, similar to what he did to Roush toward the end (of the 2018 season).

“He’s my buddy, but I prefer him just to stay home at this point. I mean that jokingly.”

Kenseth also didn’t expect to be racing in Cup again before Ganassi officials reached out to him.

“You just never know what life is going to throw at you,” Kenseth told NBC Sports.

NASCAR also has granted Kenseth a waiver should he need it to make the playoffs.

One thing that keeps changing is the schedule.

This much is known: the Cup Series will race May 17 and 20 at Darlington Raceway and May 24 and 27 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

No other races have been announced at this point, although Cup teams are preparing cars for Bristol Motor Speedway, signaling that the high-banked, half-mile track could be the site of the next Cup race after Darlington and Charlotte.

Atlanta Motor Speedway also appears likely to happen soon. And even with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to ease restrictions, it doesn’t appear likely that NASCAR will race at Martinsville until late June at the earliest.

NASCAR announced May 8 that the Richmond spring race, the Chicagoland race and Sonoma race were realigned to the two Darlington and one extra Charlotte race this month. This year will mark the first time since 1958 that Richmond has hosted only one Cup race in a season. Cup had raced once a year at Sonoma since 1989 and at Chicagoland since 2001.

NASCAR stated that further schedule adjustments will be released in the near future.

Another change for teams is that they will have fewer crew members at the track in upcoming races. Cup teams could have as many as 10 crew members, including the crew chief and spotter, along with five pit crew members, three organizational team members and a couple of hauler drivers. That didn’t include additional senior level executives and the team owner, among others. For some teams, that was more than 20 people per team per race.

Now, teams are limited to no more than 16 individuals, with no more than six road crew members (including the crew chief and spotter). The reduced list also includes one driver, one competition director, one IT support person, two hauler drivers and five pit crew members.

Some teams are not taking either of their two engineers to the track. Instead of sitting atop the pit box next to the crew chief, they’ll be working from home or the shop. Crew chief Chris Gayle, who guided Erik Jones to the Southern 500 win last year in the most recent race at Darlington, will leave his engineers behind.

“I can have them connected to me wherever they are,” Gayle told NBC Sports. “I think the (crew number) is so limited, like if you look at what you really need behind the wall for pit stops and then from the standpoint of running the race. The race is going to be the same protocol as a normal race, meaning the (Damaged Vehicle Policy, which limits what type and how long teams can spend on repairs) and all the rest.

“I wanted to make sure that I had enough people that if we had damage we had the correct people that could work on things. I didn’t want to sacrifice that.”

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Texas, Daytona among tracks hosting high school graduation ceremonies

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The school lives of many American students were put on hold over the last two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic as learning went from the classroom to the living room.

On top of that, many senior classes had their graduating classes canceled or modified in creative ways. Among those are students who attend high schools near Texas Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Phoenix Raceway.

The tracks have announced they will host graduation ceremonies for area high schools throughout this month and in June.

Texas Motor Speedway will host ceremonies for all school districts in Denton County: including Aubrey ISD; Argyle ISD; Denton ISD; Krum ISD; Lake Dallas ISD; Lewisville ISD; Little Elm ISD; Northwest ISD; Pilot Point ISD; Ponder ISD; Sanger ISD and Westlake Academy.

All graduates will accept their diploma in-person while wearing academic regalia in addition to masks. After walking across a staging area, they’ll receive their diplomas in Victory Lane. Families of graduates will socially distance as they watch from their cars in the infield. The ceremonies will be broadcast on the track’s “Big Hoss” video board on the backstretch as well as via live stream.

“A great deal of thanks and appreciation for this program must go to (Denton County) Judge Andy Eads and his staff for their significant efforts in making this idea come to fruition in what was really a very short amount of time,” Eddie Gossage, President and General Manager of Texas Motor Speedway, said in a press release. “A high school graduation ceremony is such an important achievement and lifelong memory for students as well as their families and friends. We are honored by the opportunity to support each and every Denton County high school graduate as best we can in these difficult times.”

TMS is no stranger to hosting high school graduations. Gossage has turned driver introduction ceremonies into make shift graduation ceremonies for NASCAR drivers, including Erik Jones and Cole Custer.

On May 31, Daytona will host graduation ceremonies for students of Flagler-Palm Coast and Matanzas High School in Flagler County, Florida.

While details on the logistics of the ceremony are still being discussed, graduates will walk across the stage of the Ocean Center to receive their diploma before getting in a car to ride across the historic track’s start-finish line.

Each ceremony will be simulcast via radio inside the facility and live-streamed on the FlaglerSchools.com website. Only one vehicle is permitted for each graduate and their family. Additionally, all in attendance must remain in their vehicles.

“The France family has been committed to supporting our local schools in any way they can,” Chip Wile, President of Daytona International Speedway, said in a press release. “We are unique in that we can comfortably accommodate these schools and provide an unforgettable experience for these graduates. We are honored to host these graduates and their families for this special occasion.”

Pocono will host North Pocono School District’s graduation ceremony on Friday, June 12.

Family and loved ones attending the event will watch from inside their personal vehicles on the racetrack. The ceremony will be broadcast via Pocono Raceway’s internal FM radio station and on the track’s double-sided video boards. As names will be read by Principal Ron Collins, graduates’ photos will be displayed on the video boards and students will be called to drive across the Pocono Raceway start/finish line. Graduating seniors and their loved ones will be encouraged to decorate their cars in celebration of all their high school accomplishments. Guests will be permitted to attend in their vehicles or to watch the streamed graduation live on North Pocono School District’s Facebook page.

Phoenix Raceway will host Buckeye Union High School District graduates May 16. More than 1,000 graduates, inside vehicles with family members, will take to the 1-mile oval. Led by Toyota Camry pace cars, graduates will hear their names aloud on the track’s public address system as they cross the start/finish line.

“During these unprecedented times with large gatherings such as traditional high school graduations in doubt, our facility has the unique ability to provide a fun twist while safely holding an event like this,” said Phoenix Raceway President Julie Giese. “I’m proud that we can utilize Phoenix Raceway to celebrate the accomplishments of the young men and women in our community and be part of such a memorable day.”

April 21 in NASCAR: Jeff Gordon ties Dale Earnhardt at 76 Cup wins

Jeff Gordon
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April 21, 2007 was a big day for Jeff Gordon.

The four-time Cup Series champion came out on top in a duel with Tony Stewart in the final 19 laps to win the Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway.

He did so from the pole, which had never been done in the Cup Series at the 1-mile track. It was Gordon’s first win in 22 Phoenix starts, leaving only Miami and Texas as tracks Gordon had yet to conquer.

The victory also ended a 25-race winless streak dating back to the previous July when he won at Chicagoland. Since then Gordon and the No. 24 team had been planning to celebrate a special occasion: tying Dale Earnhardt on the all-time wins list.

The victory gave Gordon 76 wins on the Cup circuit, matching him with his former on-track rival and off-track business partner.

After taking the checkered flag, Gordon’s crew donned white hats in tribute to Earnhardt before one crew member gave Gordon a large No. 3 flag. After doing a burnout, Gordon drove around the track as he hoisted the flag out the window.

“It means the world,” Gordon told Fox in Victory Lane. “Just to get a win at a track that we’d never won at before. I drove my guts out, I’ve never had to drive so hard for a win. … Holding that ‘3’ flag … to honor (Earnhardt) in that way it really means a lot to me. I learned so much from him. To even come close to anything he’d ever done in this sport is amazing to me. We wanted to honor him, we’ve been holding onto that flag for a long time. To get 76 is incredible.”

The race also marked the third event with the new Car of Tomorrow. In those three races, Gordon finished third, second and first.

Also on this date:

1963: After Fred Lorenzen broke an axle on Lap 460, Richard Petty took the lead and went on to win at Martinsville Speedway for his third win on the short track.

1968: David Pearson led the final 10 laps and won at North Wilkesboro after LeeRoy Yarbrough blew an engine while leading. Yarbrough was among 17 drivers who had their engines expire in the race, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Big Bucks and Boycotts.”

1991: Darrell Waltrip led the final 52 laps and beat Dale Earnhardt to win at North Wilkesboro. It had been 19 months and 34 starts since Waltrip’s last win.

1996: Jack Sprague led 151 laps and beat Mike Skinner to win a Truck Series race at Phoenix. It was Sprague’s first of 28 career wins he’d earn through 2007.

2001: Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, Mike McLaughlin led the final 10 laps and won the Xfinity Series race at Talladega. It was his first win since 1998 and would be his sixth and final career win.