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Bubba Wallace feeling positive after reunion with crew chief

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On Jerry Baxter’s first day as crew chief of the famous Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 car, he called Bubba Wallace into his office.

He had some questions for the driver.

“It almost felt like a principal’s office type visit,” Wallace recalled Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “He was like, ‘Hey man, looking at these notes, some of these races, you guys really didn’t have the best races, just by looking at setup notes … Do you know why we ran this way or why you ran this?'”

The grilling from Baxter made Wallace “excited” for the 2020 Cup season, which is just over four weeks away.

“Because he’s going through, doing everything that he can already, as a crew chief would and should, but just seeing certain things that stick out to him that like ‘Ah, I don’t really know about that,'” Wallace said. “So we can go to some of these places and try new changes, new setups, something that’s totally different, something that’s kind of Jerry Baxter’s style.”

It’s a style Wallace is familiar with and which proved successful for him early in his NASCAR career.

Baxter was Wallace’s crew chief at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series from 2013-14. They won five races, including four in 2014. Baxter joins RPM after leading Brett Moffitt to four wins in the Truck Series last year at GMS Racing.

Baxter is reunited with the 26-year-old Wallace ahead of Wallace’s third full-time campaign driving the No. 43 Chevrolet.

“I don’t think there’s been a birthday or a holiday that’s gone by where we haven’t communicated with each other or just random times throughout the week,” Wallace said. “I keep my boat at his house. I see him usually about every weekend. Any day we have off throughout the summer … Or he’ll send me a picture right before I climb in the race car and say ‘Hey, thanks for letting me take your boat out.’ It’s good to have that relationship off and away from the race track, then once we get to the race track we know kind of how to work with each other. It’s just a matter of going back to old files and digging up that relationship.”

Together Wallace and Baxter will try improve on a 2019 season where Wallace only had one top-10 finish, a third-place result in the Brickyard 400. That was down from three top 10s in his rookie year. He placed 28th in the standings both years.

But with Baxter’s process at play, Wallace is allowing himself to be positive about his prospects in 2020, which is unusual for him.

“I’m not really the one to carry a lot of optimism,” Wallace said. “I like to keep it real and then be realistic about everything. Going into this year I’ve said it to many people, that I’m very optimistic about this season, I feel good about it. It’s the best I’ve felt about a race season in a long time. It’s going to be fun when we go to Daytona.”

When the Daytona 500 arrives on Feb. 16, it will be Wallace’s 77th Cup Series start and his third start in the “Great American Race.”

But for Baxter, who has been a crew chief in NASCAR off and on since 1986, including 12 Cup races, it will be his first Daytona 500 calling the shots atop a pit box.

Wallace gave Baxter some advice on how to approach the Daytona 500 experience recently over dinner with him and his wife.

“Him and I are kind of the same,” Wallace said. “We both love racing, but we never had dreams of being where we were. It just kind of worked out. We’re here together, we met and crossed paths. God put us in situations to help us work together and grow together.

“I told him, ‘No matter what, when you get down to Daytona … you’ve been on the Truck and Xfinity level for a while, but when you get to Daytona and you get to experience your first Daytona 500, it’s the coolest thing ever … don’t forget to set aside some time for yourself to be able to take in the moment, whether it’s race day, whether it’s the middle of week down there, whatever it is because there’s only one first time Daytona 500.’

“Obviously, mine was pretty remarkable, but I want Jerry to kind of sit back, relax, take it all in and enjoy the show. … If you can, separate yourself from your job for a split second and just kind of put yourself in a third-person perspective and see everything around that’s going on.”

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Jerry Baxter named crew chief for Bubba Wallace for 2020

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Jerry Baxter has been named crew chief of the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 driven by Bubba Wallace for the 2020 NASCAR Cup season, Richard Petty Motorsports announced Monday.

It will be a reunion of sorts for Baxter and Wallace, who previously worked together for two seasons during Wallace’s tenure for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

“The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season is a crucial year for Richard Petty Motorsports,” Wallace said in a team media release. “As a team, we have made a ton of progress from my debut in 2018, and we are looking to continue that progress with Jerry calling the shots.

“He has been a great mentor, and even better friend, since we were able to work together in 2013 and 2014. I am excited to see him get this opportunity in the NASCAR Cup Series, and use our past success to take this team to new levels.”

This will be Wallace’s third different crew chief in as many seasons with RPM. Drew Blickensderfer was crew chief for the No. 43 in 2018, while Derek Stamets was promoted from Wallace’s engineer to crew chief in 2019. A spokesman for the team said Monday that Stamets “has been offered a position within Richard Petty Motorsports.”

Jerry Baxter, left, and Bubba Wallace shown together in 2014 at Phoenix. They’re reunited for 2020 with Baxter serving as Wallace’s crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series.(Getty Images)

Baxter and Wallace earned five wins, 25 top-10 finishes and three poles in their time together in Trucks with KBM, including Wallace finishing third in the driver standings in 2014.

“During our time together, he trusted what I did as a crew chief, and trusted himself more and more, and we got better and better as we went,” Baxter said in the media release. “This is an incredible opportunity, and change is good.

“Having the confidence of Bubba and everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports means a lot to me. I am excited about working with Bubba again, and the foundation Richard Petty Motorsports has in place with their group of guys.”

Baxter spent the last three seasons at GMS Racing, most recently in 2019 as Brett Moffitt’s crew chief in the Truck Series. Moffitt finished third in the standings this past season with four wins, 13 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes, as well as three poles.

Baxter has worked with a number of notable drivers over his 34-year career in NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Trucks, including Ernie Irvan, Boris Said, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez, Matt Tifft, Timothy Peters, Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip, David Reutimann, Trevor Bayne and Robby Gordon.

The majority of Baxter’s career as a crew chief has been in the Xfinity and Truck Series. This will be his first crew chief role in the Cup Series since 2000 with Robby Gordon.

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Through the viewfinder: Memorable photos of 2019 season

Photo by Dustin Long
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The end of each NASCAR season provides a chance for reflection … and a time to go back and look at the many photos taken at the track. Here are some photos I took in 2019 and what made them stand out to me.

Photo: Dustin Long

If you’ve been to a race, you’ve likely seen pit crews stand in their pit box and wave to their driver as they pass by on pit road before heading to the track to begin the race (at least at races where cars are staged on pit road).

The Richard Petty Motorsports pit crew, though, waves to every vehicle that passes them on pit road. Often drivers will wave back.

“If you don’t wave at them, you actually feel bad because they’ll like make sad faces,” Martin Truex Jr. said. Above was the scene at Charlotte in May on All-Star weekend.

 

Somewhere in this photo is Kyle Larson‘s car after he won the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. Photo by Dustin Long

 

Photo by Dustin Long

After each event, one of the biggest races is for the spotter of the winning team to make it down from atop the press box to Victory Lane to celebrate with the team. Sometimes the spotter can’t make it down in time before photos begin to be taken.

Spotter Chris Lambert makes sure to get a picture with his driver, Denny Hamlin, after each win because Lambert often misses the group pictures. This photo is of them after Hamlin’s win at ISM Raceway put the No. 11 driver in the championship race.

But there is more to Lambert than being the voice that tells Hamlin “clear” or “inside” or “outside.” His first wife and infant son were killed in a car crash 20 years ago. After the tragedy, a series of seemingly unrelated events over the next few years led him to marry one of his wife’s best friends. Before each race, Lambert honors the family he has and the one had.

 

Photo: Dustin Long

The intensity on Cole Custer‘s face is striking in the moments after he finished second for the Xfinity Series championship for the second year in a row in Miami.

Custer moves up to the Cup Series in 2020, joining a talented rookie class that includes two-time Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell. This could be one of the best rookie of the year races in recent years.

 

 

The throwback schemes for the Southern 500 have made the event at Darlington Raceway even more special for many race fans. The Wood Brothers crew uniforms help the past come alive. Photo: Dustin Long

 

Photo: Dustin Long

This photo is of artwork in the Talladega Superspeedway media center celebrating 50 years of NASCAR racing at the track.

After I tweeted the photo, I was a bit surprised by the reaction from fans and their comments about the artwork. That’s one of the things I’ll remember most about this picture.

Of course, seeing some of the sport’s most famous cars on track together also was memorable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Dustin Long

Another special story on pit road in 2019 was the return of Daniel Smith, rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s team.

Smith’s last event of the 2018 season was the Bristol night race before he was treated for testicular cancer. His treatment included four rounds of chemotherapy, which consisted of one week in a hospital and two weeks of recovery each time. Still, he continued to work out in the hospital.

Smith returned at Daytona in February. He remained on pit road through the Bristol night race this past season until surgery to remove lymph nodes in his lower abdomen. He returned to his job on pit road at Talladega Superspeedway in October.

 

 

Nothing else needs to be said as Mike Wheeler, crew chief for Matt DiBenedetto, stares at the damaged left front corner of the car after DiBenedetto finished second in the Bristol night race. Photo: Dustin Long

NASCAR fines Bubba Wallace $50,000 for intentionally spinning at Texas

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – NASCAR fined Bubba Wallace $50,000 and docked him 50 points Saturday, a day after he told NBC Sports of his intentional spin last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway: “I’m not the only one to do it.”

NASCAR cited Wallace for violating Section 12.1.a General Procedures, Section 12.8 NASCAR Member Conduct, Section 12.8.1 Member Conduct Guidelines and Section 10.8 In-Race Violations.

MORE: NASCAR penalized Bubba Wallace for admission of spin

MORE: NBC analyst Dale Jarrett says drivers should not admit to spinning on purpose

The NASCAR Rule Book states in Section 10.8 that officials can impose a penalty for “intentionally causing or attempt to cause a caution period.”

Section 12.1.a of the Rule Book states: “NASCAR membership is a privilege. With that privilege comes certain benefits, responsibilities and obligations. Correct and proper conduct, both on and off the race track, is part of a Member’s responsibilities. A Member’s actions can reflect upon the sport as a whole and on other NASCAR Members. Ideally, NASCAR Members are role models for the many fans who follow this sport, regardless of the type of license a Member may hold, or the specific Series in which a Member may participate. Therefore, NASCAR views a Member’s conduct, both on and off the race track, which might constitute a behavioral Rules violation under this Rule Book with great importance.”

Richard Petty Motorsports issued a statement Saturday morning.

“Our team met with NASCAR officials this morning to discuss Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.’s post-practice comments on Friday, November 8, concerning an on-track incident which occurred at the Texas Motor Speedway,” Philippe Lopez, Richard Petty Motorsports director of competition, said. “We fully understand NASCAR’s position and expectations of its competitors. NASCAR has a difficult job officiating race events and we do not need to make the task more challenging. Wallace will not appeal the penalty, and will direct his immediate focus to this weekend’s event at the ISM Raceway.”

Kyle Larson was upset after the Texas race because Wallace’s spin came in the middle of green-flag pit stops and put Larson, who had already pitted, down a lap. Larson had been running in the top five before and finished 12th.

Larson said Friday at ISM Raceway that data available to all teams showed Wallace intentionally spun after having a flat tire.

Informed of Larson’s comments, Wallace told NBC Sports:

“I learned from Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano).”

Asked if he was worried about any repercussions, Wallace told NBC Sports: “Until they do anything, no. I’m not the only one to do it. I’m racing for myself. Not for Larson. Not for Chevrolet at that moment. For myself and going multiple laps down.”

NASCAR’s Scott Miller is scheduled to meet with the media later today to discuss the penalty.

Kyle Larson says data shows Bubba Wallace spun intentionally at Texas

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kyle Larson said his team examined data from Bubba Wallace’s car and had no doubt Wallace spun intentionally to cause a caution after suffering a flat tire last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Wallace’s flat and spin came in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle and impacted Larson’s race. Larson was running in the top five before he pitted shortly. Wallace spun a couple of laps later and trapped Larson a lap down. Larson finished 12th and enters Sunday’s event at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 23 points out of the final transfer spot for next weekend’s championship race.

Teams have the ability to examine each other’s throttle traces and steering and other aspects with shared data.

“We looked at Bubba’s data the next day,” Larson said Friday at ISM Raceway. “You could definitely see, because we have SMT where you have the digital car, you could see him like swerving, he turns right and at the same time he turns left and stabs the throttle and spins out. It’s whatever at this point.”

Asked about his spin, Wallace told NBC Sports: “I learned from Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano).”

Asked if he was worried about any repercussions, Wallace told NBC Sports: “Until they do anything, no. I’m not the only one to do it. I’m racing for myself. Not for Larson. Not for Chevrolet at that moment. For myself and going multiple laps down.”

Larson was upset after the Texas race and called for NASCAR to take action. Asked if he still believes NASCAR should take action, Larson said Friday:

“I’m just a driver, so I don’t really know exactly what the proper thing is, whether it is a penalty or a fine or what. (NASCAR is) good at coming up with that stuff.

“(Intentionally causing a caution) affects the race. It saves them, but it could hurt guys. Sometimes you end up on the right side of it and whatnot, but last week we didn’t, so that’s obviously why I was upset. We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. I got penalized a lap and still was able to recover and win (2016 Eldora Truck race). We’ve all done it. It can affect the race.”

Questions have been raised the past two weeks about drivers intentionally causing a caution by either staying out while having a flat tire or spinning in either the Cup or Xfinity playoff races. More scrutiny has been paid to what some drivers have said is a common occurrence because of the impact in the playoff race.

In the driver/crew chief meeting before Friday night’s Gander Outdoors Truck race, series director Brad Moran told competitors: ”Let’s keep in mind, playoff, cutoff race. Make good decisions. Let’s put on a great show for our fans.”

The concern among competitors is if NASCAR begins to make judgment calls on what is a legitimate spin or caution and what isn’t.

“I would say the more NASCAR is in a position to make tough calls like that, the worse it is,” Chase Elliott said Friday. “That’s such a tough thing and it’s such a tough call. I don’t know how you would ever get that right.”

Said Kyle Busch on Friday: “When people have flat tires and are spinning out and drawing cautions, you can’t penalize one and then not everybody else. So they better be careful.”

If NASCAR won’t make the call, then what?

“I don’t know who else is going to take care of it,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “It’s been getting pretty popular to have a flat tire and spin out on purpose. I don’t know, it’s definitely not good. It could affect the championship race. If last week were Homestead, a lot of people would be pretty upset. I’m not sure how to handle it. I don’t run the sport, NASCAR is pretty good at doing that. It’s definitely frustrating when you’re out there leading or doing something good and it could potentially ruin your day by the caution coming out at the wrong time.”

Denny Hamlin says NASCAR can rule on such matters.

“I think they can use judgment on that for sure,” he said Friday. “A lot of us have gotten penalties by intentionally causing cautions in the past, so I’d say it should be no different now.”

Hamlin was penalized two laps for stopping on course with a flat tire to cause a caution in the 2008 spring Richmond race. Once the caution waved, Hamlin took off.

As for Wallace, Larson said he had not talked with the Richard Petty Motorsports driver this week but didn’t indicate a need to do so. 

“It’s really not an issue with him personally,” Larson said Friday of Wallace. “It is what it is. Afterwards you can be mad, but I’m still 23 points down. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to go out here and have a good weekend and try to score a lot of points and try to get a win also.”

Earlier this week, Hamlin said: “Bubba’s (spin) this weekend was pretty obvious and obviously it hurt some people and helped others. He’s just following in everyone else’s footsteps. It’s been going on for a long time.”

Some also have questioned Joey Logano’s spin at Martinsville after he had a flat tire. Logano has denied he intentionally spun.

“At Martinsville, I had a flat tire,” Logano said Friday, repeating what he said last weekend at Texas. “Trying not to crash. Trying not to hit anything. Trying not to have your quarters torn up. Trying to live to race another day basically.”

Larson defended Logano.

“I know people have said that Joey spun out on purpose at Martinsville,” Larson said. “I don’t think he did. The tires are different there. You don’t have an inner liner like you do at Texas. It’s much easier to run on a flat at Texas than Martinsville. I don’t know if he spun out on purpose there.”