Richard Childress

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Neil Bonnett’s grandson can’t wait to race again, month after fiery wreck

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Less than a month after being seriously injured in a crash, Justin Bonnett can’t wait to get back in a race car.

The grandson of late NASCAR star Neil Bonnett, Justin suffered a broken left leg, three fractures of his left foot and burns on his neck, arm and leg after being caught in a fiery wreck on Dec. 7 during the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

“I’m pretty good now that I’ve been able to get home and get everything situated,” the 26-year-old Bonnett told NBC Sports in an exclusive interview Thursday. “It’s a long road to recovery but things are looking up.”

Driving the No. 12 car, the same number his grandfather drove for much of his NASCAR career, the younger Bonnett was running 26th on Lap 54 in the prelude to the next day’s Snowball Derby when he was unable to avoid the spinning car of Jarrett Parker.

The impact tore the fuel cell from Parker’s car, igniting a fireball that engulfed Bonnett’s car.

“I remember pretty much everything (about the wreck),” Bonnett told NBC Sports. “It didn’t knock me out. I remember trying to get the fire off me. I know I was on fire heavily and was trying to get it off me, but I couldn’t get it off me.

“I really was in an unsure state, trying to figure out what was going on, because everything happened so quick. Normally, when a car spins out, they don’t come shooting back up the racetrack. I was still wide-open, naturally, when that happened, I hadn’t lifted yet.”

Russell Brooks, brother of Five Flags Speedway technical director Ricky Brooks, hopped off a rescue truck, was the first to reach the burning inferno and helped Bonnett to safety.

“I couldn’t get my belts undone,” Bonnett said. “Russell Brooks reached in there and pulled my belts loose. I fought my steering wheel, trying to get it off, finally got it off, pulled out (of the car) and about halfway up my back when I realized something was wrong, I couldn’t get out. Russell Brooks reached in and pulled me out and then I saw my foot was broke.

“It’s really a blessing Russell (who was uninjured by the fire) was there because it would have taken longer for someone to get me out. He was the first to get to me and get me out and get me away from the fire.”

But he added, “Hey, it happens, it’s part of racing and you move on.”

Bonnett has undergone three surgeries on his left leg and left foot, as well as several treatments for mild-to-harsh second-degree burns on his neck, entire left arm and left knee and thigh.

It’s an ongoing process, but the racing community has also reached out in a big way to show its support. He points to help from Kelley Earnhardt Miller and NASCAR team owner Richard Childress as being key factors, particularly Childress, who put Bonnett in touch with a noted North Carolina burns specialist for treatment.

Bonnett’s friends also started a GoFundMe page that has already raised over $12,000 to help with Bonnett’s medical expenses.

“The racing community has came together and it has truly blown me away,” Bonnett said. “Yes, it’s hard, because Taylor, my girlfriend and we have an 11-month-old, it kind of makes it tough on her because she has to do everything.

“I’m like a baby now because I can’t walk, I’m on a walker, yes, it’s impacted the around the house part and made it more difficult, but it’s something we can get through. It tests at times, but it helps you in the long run.”

One of the biggest keys to Bonnett’s recovery is the attitude he has.

“You have to try and stay positive on the outlook and the way things go,” Bonnett said. “That’s the way I am, that’s me.

“When something like this happens, it’s very easy to get down. But I’m trying to stay as positive as I can and have a positive outlook on everything as much as I can to keep things going and hopefully, sooner than later, get back in the seat and keep going.”

He then adds with a laugh, “It’s getting lonely sitting in this house, though.”

Doctors have told Bonnett it will take at least six months to make a full recovery. He says with another laugh that he has a faster and more optimistic recovery timeline than his doctors: he’s targeting March 7 and the 56th annual Alabama 200 — one of the largest late model races of the year — at Montgomery (Alabama) Speedway as his first race back.

“I don’t know if I’ll make it,” Bonnett said of his ambitious timeline. “It’s before three months (since his crash, but I’m doing everything on my end and if I get cleared I’ll go back, but it’s all going to depend on the doctors.

“I have thought about getting back. I don’t know what it’s going to be like. It’s probably going to be different at first, it’s going to be a learning curve for me because of everything that has gone on. But I feel once I get back in there and put it all behind me, I feel like we’ll be okay.”

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Decade in Review: Most Memorable NASCAR quotes of the 2010s

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NASCAR is a very quotable sport.

With microphones located seemingly everywhere – in the garage, on pit road, in a driver’s helmet and in a pit reporter’s hands – it’s hard to miss a controversial or humorous sound bite.

It’s time to look back at the 10 most memorable quotes from the 2010s, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

 

1. “We’ll put it back in the hands of the drivers and we’ll say, ‘Boys, have at it and have a good time'” – Robin Pemberton in the 2010 pre-season.

The 2010’s had barely even started when a sound bite that helped define the first half of the decade was uttered by NASCAR’s then vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton.

The quote by Pemberton was NASCAR’s way of establishing its new approach to how drivers policed themselves on the track. This was put to the test early on in the season when Carl Edwards intentionally spun Brad Keselowski in the Cup race at Atlanta with three laps to go, resulting in Keselowski going airborne, flipping and landing on his roof.

Edwards would be put on probation for three races because of his actions.

Anytime a controversial act happened on the track over the next few years, Pemberton’s quote was quick to come up.

2. “It’s probably not his fault, his wife wears the firesuit in his family and tells him what to do.” – Joey Logano, June 6, 2010

Ten races after the Keselowski-Edwards incident, tensions flared at Pocono Raceway after Joey Logano was spun from contact with Kevin Harvick in the closing laps of the Cup race on the “Tricky Triangle.”

Speaking to the media afterwards, Logano spoke this line that invoked Harvick’s wife, DeLana. The quote led to the Harvicks selling a shirt inspired by it with proceeds going to their charitable foundation.

Nine years later, it came full circle when Logano raced an old Harvick paint scheme in the Southern 500. As part of the announcement, Logano and his wife, Brittany, appeared in a video where Brittany claimed she wore the firesuit in their family.

3. “Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it’s hot in there. Itch it.” – Crew chief Brian Pattie to Clint Bowyer, Sept. 7, 2013

At 14 words, this is a very loaded quote.

It would come to define “Spingate,” the race manipulation scandal in the 2013 Cup regular season finale at Richmond that cost Michael Waltrip Racing a lot:

A $300,000 fine, 50 point penalties for all of its teams, sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts and ultimately, helped pave the way for the team to close down after the 2015 season.

4. “He’s just a dipshit! The way he races, I don’t know how he’s ever won a championship. I’m just sick and tired of him.” – Jeff Gordon, Nov. 2, 2014

Jeff Gordon of all people said this.

It came after the 2014 playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway, when contact between Gordon and Brad Keselowski in the closing laps resulted in a cut tire for Gordon, who spun.

Afterward on pit road, following a helpful push of Keselowski by Kevin Harvick, Gordon and Keselowski’s teams engaged in a large scuffle.

Gordon displaying his temper wasn’t new by this point, following his heated confrontation with Jeff Burton at Texas four years earlier.

But imagine the shock to the system had Gordon made a similar statement about a fellow driver during the height of his squeaky-clean “Wonder Boy” days in the late ’90s.

5. “Kyle Busch is an ass.” – Brad Keselowski, Aug. 21, 2010

 2010 was a really quotable year, wasn’t it?

It’s not often you can pinpoint the exact origin point for a decade-defining rivalry, but this notorious quote from Keselowski – which all Bristol night race driver introductions are now compared to – is pretty much it.

Keselowski’s comment was a result of him being upset at Busch over contact between the two drivers in the previous night’s Xfinity Series race.

To say the rivals have been at odds with each other for the ensuing 10 years would be an understatement.

 6. “That’s quintessential NASCAR.” – Brian France, Oct. 19, 2015 on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

NASCAR’s then CEO and Chairman provided his assessment on a late-race incident in the Cup playoff race at Kansas Speedway, which saw Joey Logano make contact with and spin race leader Matt Kenseth with five laps to go.

That’s the contact that led Kenseth to retaliate against Logano a few weeks later at Martinsville, intentionally wrecking Logano while he led and Kenseth was multiple laps down after a wreck.

NASCAR deemed that not “quintessential” and suspended Kenseth for two races.

7. “Hold my watch” – Richard Childress, June 4, 2011

There’s no audio of this quote, which has become legendary in the garage since Childress reportedly uttered it before putting Kyle Busch in a headlock after a Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway.

The incident in question was the culmination of events that included Kevin Harvick and dated back to the 2010 Cup finale in Miami.

But Childress doesn’t dispute that he said it. During a visit to the Dale Jr. Download in April of this year, he even provided the 1970s origin story of why he always takes off his watch before wading into a fight.

“We used to go out to the bars and have a good time and everything,” Childress recalled. “We were up at an old bar at Daytona one night and a big fight broke out. I happened to be in it. I had a Rolex. First Rolex I ever had in my life. I lost it in that fight. Ever since that you always take your watch off.”

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

8. “I don’t know what y’all are whining about. If you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.” – Kyle Busch, July 1, 2018

After a wild and thrilling conclusion to the 2018 Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson, not everyone was pleased.

Busch, the race winner, ribbed the fans in the stands who booed his victory while also pretending to cry into NBC Sports’ TV cameras.

9. “They’re really good, but they’re really, really lucky, too. Jimmie (Johnson) is a good friend of mine, but there’s no denying how lucky they are. They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass.”– Kevin Harvick, Feb. 21, 2010

Yet another quote from the opening year of the decade. Something was in the water that season.

Kevin Harvick was clearly tired of losing, especially to Jimmie Johnson.

This shot from Harvick came after the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway, which saw him fail to track Johnson down for the lead in the final laps.

Johnson was fresh off his fourth championship in a row and on his way to a fifth. Meanwhile, Harvick was mired in a winless streak dating back to 2007. He’d finally break through seven races later at Talladega and win three times that year.

10. “I’m gonna bust his ass” – Tony Stewart, March 24, 2013

There’s only one quote from the driver nicknamed “Smoke” on this list and it’s a doozy.

Following the dramatic conclusion of the Cup race at Auto Club SpeedwayStewart confronted Joey Logano on pit road and launched a scuffle between their teams because Stewart was furious with the Team Penske driver for blocking Stewart on a restart.

This one line about Logano is the cleanest adult language fit to print from Stewart’s brief exchange with a pit reporter in the garage.

Come back tomorrow for the best drivers of the 2010s.

Now you get the chance to vote. Which of these is your favorite quote of the 2010s?

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Silly Season Scorecard: Post-Miami edition

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NASCAR’s championship weekend in Miami has come and gone and with it came a flurry of driver announcements from teams about the 2020 racing season.

Among them was the news that Cole Custer is being promoted by Stewart-Haas Racing to the Cup Series, where he will take over the No. 41 Ford driven by Daniel Suarez this year.

Here’s a look at all the official driver announcements made so far for next season.

OPEN RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

No. 36: Front Row Motorsports announced Nov. 13 it was parting ways with Matt Tifft so he could focus on his health following his seizure at Martinsville in March. Tifft said he could not commit to racing in 2020.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

JTG Daugherty Racing: It was announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. The team said that an announcement on car number and sponsor would come later.

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley will drive one of the team’s three full-time rides.

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Daniel Suarez — The driver revealed Nov. 14  he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 after one season driving the No. 41.

Corey LaJoie – The driver hasn’t announced his plans for 2020, but he said in October he and Go Fas Racing were “working toward” him returning to the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year and that “2020 driver negotiations are still ongoing.”

Xfinity Series 

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Has not announced its driver plans for 2020, but Richard Childress said after Tyler Reddick claimed the Xfinity title that it would field a full-time entry.

Stewart-Haas Racing – The team has not announced plans for the No. 00 Ford with Cole Custer moving to Cup or whether Chase Briscoe will return to the No. 98.

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team.

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

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Ty Dillon to race Richard Childress’ first Cup scheme at Talladega

Germain Racing
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Fifty years after it graced Talladega Superspeedway in its first Cup Series race, Richard Childress’ very first NASCAR paint scheme will return to the track this weekend for the track’s 101st Cup race.

Ty Dillon, the grandson of Childress, will drive a tribute to Childress’ first Cup car in Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Germain Racing’s No. 13 Chevrolet will be made to look like the No. 13 1968 Camaro that Childress drove in the inaugural Talladega race on Sept. 14, 1969.

More: Richard Childress to pace Talladega field in Dale Earnhardt’s final win car

The reason for Childress’ presence in the 1969 race is unique.

At the time Childress was competing in the Grand American series, which held a race at Talladega on Saturday. In the Cup Series, drivers led by Richard Petty boycotted the Sunday race over safety concerns.

NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. decided to fill the field with Childress and other Grand American drivers.

Childress only made it to Lap 80 of 188 and retired due to an axle problem. The money Childress earned from the race led to him being able to found Richard Childress Racing.

Richard Childress ran this 1968 Chevrolet Camaro in the first NASCAR race ever held at Talladega Superspeedway in 1969 and finished 23rd. (ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

“I think it’s really cool that we are running a throwback scheme of my grandfather’s original No. 13,” Dillon said in a press release. “Looking back over history, as a kid, I didn’t even know that he ran the No. 13, but when I got my opportunity with Bob Germain and Germain Racing, we dug up some old photos and found the car.

“I’m happy to be honoring him and Talladega, the place where it all got started for him and so many big things were started for our family. It’s going to be a huge weekend and I’m proud to honor his great career and everything that he has made since that time. It’s a unique looking No. 13, different from what you see every weekend with our GEICO Camaro, but I’m really looking forward to running this paint scheme.”

Among the details that Dillon’s car will share with Childress’ from 50 years ago:

  • On the tail, the letters, W-S, N.C. signify Winston-Salem, N.C., the town that Childress called home.
  • The Chevrolet Camaro logo can be found on the lower rear quarter panel
  • Above the driver’s door, Childress’ name is shown, while Dillon’s name will ride on the right side.

 

Friday 5: Friction grows between non-playoff drivers, playoff drivers

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It’s easy to miss one of the key themes to the Cup playoffs with so much talk about Martin Truex Jr.’s dominance, Kyle Busch’s inconsistency and Hendrick Motorsports advancing three cars to the second round.

What has been overlooked is the friction between playoff drivers and non-playoff drivers. 

NASCAR’s postseason is littered with cases where non-playoff drivers had an impact on playoff drivers, whether it was Scott Riggs’ crash on Lap 3 of the opening Chase race at New Hampshire in 2005 that collected title contender Kurt Busch or David Reutimann paying back title contender Kyle Busch at Kansas in 2010, among others.

But this year’s playoff races have seen the divide between the haves and have-nots reach a breaking point.

It was something Jimmie Johnson experienced at Las Vegas in his first postseason race as a non-playoff driver.

“I saw quite a few situations where drivers in the playoffs made desperate moves out there,” Johnson said a few days after the Vegas race. “Saw it happen to other drivers. I had a few make that move on me as well. It’s a tricky situation to be in, and I know they’re going after every point they need to, but so am I. We certainly plan to not allow myself to be used up as I was in Vegas a couple of times.”

Austin Dillon has been on both sides. He made the playoffs the previous three years but failed to do so this year.

“It happens a lot,” Dillon said of playoff drivers taking advantage of non-playoff drivers. “There’s a line between taking that, as a guy that’s out of the playoffs, and there’s a line that you cross.”

Dillon admits “my button ended up pushed” at Richmond by Alex Bowman after Bowman dived underneath Dillon on a restart and came up the track, hitting Dillon’s car, sending it up the track into William Byron’s car. After being told by car owner Richard Childress and crew chief Danny Stockman to pay Bowman back, Dillon retaliated and spun Bowman.

“Yes, I’ve taken advantage of guys because I was in the playoffs,” Dillon said. “I know that feeling. I feel like at some point if you take too much, it will come back on you.”

Bowman didn’t have problems just with Dillon at Richmond. Bowman said he and Bubba Wallace had an issue in that race that led to Wallace flipping him the bird. Then on the first lap of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Bowman lost control of his car entering the backstretch chicane and hit Wallace’s car, forcing Wallace to miss the chicane. Wallace later responded with a series of one finger salutes as they raced together. Tiring the signal, Bowman dumped Wallace.

It’s not just Bowman who has had problems. Kyle Busch was running in the top five, rallying from two laps down, when he ran into the back of Garrett Smithley’s car. Combined with an incident with Joey Gase, a frustrated Busch told NBCSN after the race: “We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”

Smithley later responded on social media and Gase followed a day later.

To say that playoff drivers should have the right of the way on the track is shortsighted. The other drivers have something at stake. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., whose contact spun Martin Truex Jr. while Truex led at Richmond, is racing for a job. So is Daniel Hemric. No announcement has been made on Daniel Suarez’s status for next year at Stewart-Haas Racing, so he also could be racing for a job.

Those eliminated in the first round — Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola and Erik Jones — are racing to finish as high as fifth in the points.

And others are going after more modest goals. Chris Buescher, 20th in points, seeks to give JTG Daugherty Racing its best finish since 2015 (AJ Allmendinger placed 19th in points in 2016). Johnson seeks to refine the No. 48 team in these final weeks with new crew chief Cliff Daniels to become more of a factor and end his 88-race winless streak.

To have a playoff driver think they own the road is misguided. There’s much taking place on the track.

Whether playoff drivers want to play nice with non-playoff drivers is up to them and how they’ve been raced in the past. Of course, a playoff driver has more to lose than a non-playoff driver. So drivers will need to pick their battles wisely.

2. Hendrick’s round?

It’s easy to note Alex Bowman’s runner-up finishes earlier this year at Dover, Talladega and Kansas — all tracks in the second round of the playoffs — and forecast him advancing to the next round.

It’s just as easy to think Chase Elliott will have a smooth ride into the next round since he won at Talladega this year and scored wins at Dover and Kansas last year (with a different race package).

And if things go well, William Byron could find his way into next round.

Hendrick is building momentum. But what happened in the spring or last year doesn’t guarantee what will happen in the coming weeks, beginning with Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

It would be something if all three of Hendrick’s cars moved into the third round after the team’s slow start to the season: Bowman did not have a top 10 in the first nine races of the season, Byron had one top 10 in the first nine races and Elliott had two top 10s in the same period. And Jimmie Johnson, who is not in the playoffs? He had four top 10s in the first nine races.

Bowman and Byron enter the round outside a cutoff spot. Bowman trails Kyle Larson by one point for the final transfer spot. Byron is five points behind Larson.

3. Under the radar?

It’s hard to imagine someone scoring three consecutive top-five finishes — and five top fives in the last six races — being overshadowed but that seems to be the case with Brad Keselowski.

He has quietly collected consistent finishes at the front. The key will be to continue with mistake-free races or at least races with minimal mistakes. His 29 stage points scored in the opening round trailed only Martin Truex Jr., and Kevin Harvick, who each scored 36 stage points.

For what it’s worth, Keselowski won at Kansas earlier this season. That’s the cutoff race in this round.

4. Drivers to watch at Dover

Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott have led the most laps in nine of the last 10 Dover races. Harvick has led the most laps five times. Truex and Elliott have each done so twice. Kyle Larson led the most laps the other time.

Domination doesn’t necessarily equal wins. Only three of those times has the driver leading the most laps won the race. Harvick has done it twice. Truex the other time.

5. Milestone starts 

Sunday’s race marks the 500th career Cup start for Denny Hamlin.

Only two drivers have won in their 500th career Cup start. Richard Petty won at Trenton in July 1970 and Matt Kenseth won at New Hampshire in September 2013.

Kevin Harvick is making his 676th career Cup start. That equals Dale Earnhardt’s career total. Harvick made his Cup debut with Earnhardt’s team the week after Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.