Richard Petty Motorsports

Long: Indy success provides emotional lift for Bubba Wallace, Jeb Burton

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INDIANAPOLIS — Amid the weekend’s celebrations at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most emotional moments came not in Victory Lane but on pit road.

One driver cried. Another beamed.

Jeb Burton and Bubba Wallace have faced various challenges in their careers. The 27-year-old Burton, son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, has fought to remain relevant in NASCAR. The 25-year-old Wallace, whose dynamic personality is engaging, has been open about his struggles on the track and off.

In a sport where the focus often shifts to the next young driver, it’s easy to forget how much racing Burton and Wallace both could have left and the impact they could make.

Of course, racing, as in life, isn’t always fair. Short tracks across the country feature drivers who had the talent to race in NASCAR’s premier series but never got the chance whether because they didn’t have the proper funding, right look or were too old when discovered.

So in that sense, Burton and Wallace can be considered among the fortunate to have climbed NASCAR’s ladder. That isn’t satisfying for either, though. They want more.

Burton has not had a full-time ride in any of NASCAR’s top three national series since a 2015 Cup effort with BK Racing, a team that no longer exists after going through bankruptcy court a year ago. Burton has pieced together rides with whatever sponsorship he can find. He’s run three Cup, 14 Xfinity and four Truck races since 2017.

He will drive two more Xfinity races this season (Texas and Miami) for JR Motorsports, giving him seven starts in the team’s No. 8 car this season.

Burton finished fourth in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis, tying his career-best result. He could not contain the tears after exiting his car.

Asked where the emotion was coming from, Burton said in a quivering voice: “Two years ago I didn’t know if I was going to drive again. That’s where it comes from.”

Burton later said: “Every time I get into a race car I feel like I’ve got something to prove. You don’t know, this could be the last time out there. You don’t know. I cried like a baby in my TV interview because it means so much. You don’t know when this could be your last day. You’ve just got to cherish every moment.”

That’s not been easy for Wallace at times this season. He tweeted in early May that he had not “been (in) a good place for some time now.” A few days later at Kansas Speedway, Wallace said how “you try to be the best you can and sometimes it ain’t good enough.”

The session with reporters ended with Wallace later burying his head in his hands.

He won a segment in the Monster Energy Open in May, received a heartfelt embrace from Ryan Blaney and was emotional in his interview with FS1, saying “Damn, I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time.”

His struggles on the track haven’t helped. Richard Petty Motorsports struggled to find proper funding for nearly the first six months of the year. The results showed.

Until Sunday’s Brickyard 400, Wallace had not finished better than 14th this season and had only four top-20 results.

After he finished third Sunday, Wallace screamed on his radio: “Yeah! That ain’t supposed to happen! That is not supposed to happen! We did it! Nice job!”

Wallace could not stop smiling after climbing from his car. Richard Petty hugged him.

“We needed this,” Wallace said. “We needed this weekend. We unloaded with speed and I was bragging to everybody.”

Wallace called Sunday “an unforgettable day at Indy.”

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There are many places one can find points gained or lost over a 26-race regular season that can determine who makes the playoffs. Such is the case for Daniel Suarez, who finished four points behind Ryan Newman for the final playoff spot Sunday.

Here are a couple of key moments this season that had they gone differently could have given Suarez the chance to race for a championship instead of Newman:

# Suarez won the pole at Kentucky in July but did not score any stage points.

Suarez led the opening 49 laps at Kentucky but when a caution came out, the team decided to change four tires. Two cars took no tires and 10 cars took two tires during that caution. Suarez restarted 13th, the first car on four tires. He finished the opening stage in 14th and scored no stage points.

In the second stage, Suarez had a flat tire and had to pit under green and then was called for speeding. He fell three laps down at one point and never had a chance to score any stage points.

That was one of three times this season that the driver who started on the pole failed to score any stage points. Austin Dillon did not tally any stage points after starting on the pole at Auto Club Speedway in March, and Denny Hamlin failed to do so after starting on the pole at Bristol in August.

Drivers who started on the pole scored an average of 10.2 stage points per race in the regular season this year. Suarez could have used those 10 points Sunday.

# Newman’s extra pit stop at Michigan in August.

Twenty-seven cars, including Newman, pitted for fuel on Lap 150 at Michigan, putting them all on the edge of making it the rest of the race on fuel. Newman and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came back to pit road the next lap to top off on fuel.

With no caution the rest of the way, fuel mileage was critical. Newman went from 18th to 12th in the final three laps as cars ahead of him had to pit for fuel or ran out on the track.

Newman ran out of fuel on Turn 4 of the last lap but easily made it across the finish line. Had he not stopped on Lap 151 to top off, he wouldn’t have made it to the end and would have lost several positions.

Instead, those six points gained by others running out fuel helped Newman secure the last playoff spot.

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Ryan Newman helped snap the playoff drought for Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 car.

The car once piloted by Hall of Famer Mark Martin last made the playoffs in 2006 — the year Jimmie Johnson won the first of his record-tying seven Cup titles.

Newman’s team has gone through key changes since last season’s finale in Miami. Scott Graves became the team’s crew chief for this season. The team also has a different engineer and car chief from last year’s Miami race.

“Our team is so new,” Newman said. “It is newer than I have ever experienced. That is huge. With all the changes we had in our sport in the offseason, I think it was underestimated by me and a huge change to tackle.

“I feel like we have done a good job but to answer your question, we just need to continue to progress to make our cars go faster. I think we have had some good strategy and pit stops and good moves on the race track. All those types of things. Good things need to turn into great things and keep progressing as a team.”

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Leaders crashing late in a race can can create ill will and lead to spicy exchange between competitors. Not for Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis.

Instead, fans saw sportsmanship after the two drivers wrecked with seven laps left.

Reddick approached Bell on the track and gave him a tap on the back.

Reddick told NBCSN after leaving the infield care center: “No one in this garage or in NASCAR racing in general should ever question Christopher’s driving ability. That wasn’t the issue there.

“His car just simply got loose, and we just got together and we didn’t really have a lot of race track. It’s (the) end of the race, we’re going for it type deal. Nothing against Christopher. He did nothing wrong. His car just got loose. Just part of racing at the end at this place.”

Refreshing to see how this situation was handled.

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Shortly after celebrating Kevin Harvick‘s victory at Indianapolis, crew chief Rodney Childers was focused on the challenge of the playoffs, which begin Sunday (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I think this season is just tough,”  he said. “I think it’s going to be tougher the next 10 races than it’s ever been. You’ve got 550 (horsepower) races that you have to be good at. You’ve got 750 races you’ve got to be good at. You’ve got road course cars you’ve got to be good at. You’ve got to have a good Martinsville car. There’s so many different things in the playoffs this year that it’s going to be so important to have great race cars every week.”

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The quote of the weekend belonged to Kevin Harvick’s son Keelan.

Asked what it was like to kiss the bricks after his father’s win, Keelan said: “They don’t taste great, but it was fun kissing the bricks.”

Bubba Wallace celebrates ‘unforgettable day at Indy’

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INDIANAPOLIS — In a season where Bubba Wallace has been tearful, despondent and frustrated, Sunday saw the engaging 25-year-old beaming, joking and excited after a season-best third-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“What a helluva day, helluva day for my team,” Wallace said after finishing behind winner Kevin Harvick and runner-up Joey Logano. “We needed this. We needed this weekend. We unloaded with speed and I was bragging to everybody.

“An unforgettable day at Indy.”

Wallace’s run was his second career top-five finish. He placed second in last year’s Daytona 500.

It didn’t seem as if Wallace — whose best finish this season was 14th at Bristol last month — would have a chance for a strong finish for Richard Petty Motorsports early in the race.

Wallace was involved in a pit road accident that included Chase Elliott and impacted Jimmie Johnson’s stop.

“I had no idea,” Wallace said of what happened. “I knew I was supposed to come around (Chris Buescher) and go long. I saw (Buescher) pull in, and I lifted and went to turn in and next thing you know I’m heading for Jimmie Johnson’s guys and I couldn’t stop. What I should have done, going back on it, is get off the brakes and turn and get away from them.

“Thank God we missed their pit crew and didn’t crush them because I couldn’t stop.”

Wallace said he asked his crew what happened and was told that Elliott “just ran you over.” Wallace admitted he was upset with Elliott for a while “and then I see (Elliott’s) car had damage and I’m like, ‘Nah, that had to be an accordion effect. I thought our day was over with. I thought that was how our luck was summed up all year, having really fast cars and some dumb luck takes us out. And it didn’t.”

Wallace had said earlier this weekend how excited he was and how fast his car was.

He showed how good it was Sunday working his way toward the front. He never was worse than 11th in the final 50 laps.

“It’s incredible to think about where the season started and where we were at the first 10 races in,” Wallace said on pit road after the race. “Ever since Charlotte, we’ve still been bringing some heat. It’s just the passion and the drive my team has and it’s a frickin’ blast coming to the race track and being away from the race track with my guys.”

Wallace knows the challenge a single-car team faces in Cup but left Indy encouraged.

“If we can just have moments like this and weekends like that, we can start to put together runs and generate more funding and resources and get our cars better,” he said. 

When Wallace was third on the final restart, he admits he flashed back to a race nearly a decade ago.

“Nine years ago we won at Lee (New Hampshire) Speedway when I restarted third and Ryan Truex and Eddie MacDonald were on the front row. I said on the pace laps these guys are going to overdrive Turn 1 and I’m going to take the lead and that happened.

“I started game-planning (Sunday when he was third). Now this is different plan because it was Joey and Kevin, but I started game-planning. They lined up perfectly and they went into (Turn) 3 and I’m like ‘Yes,’ and they all made it and I’m like, ‘Damn.’ ‘’

Even though he didn’t get the chance to win, it was still a good day for Wallace.

“All we do is just continue to climb up that Mt. Everest hill and we just keep kind of knocking another block off, knocking another step off,” he said.

But had he won, Wallace knew what he would have said in victory lane.

“My mom told me (Saturday), she’s like ‘When you win, tell them haters to kiss those bricks.’ ”

RPM announces strategic partnership

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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World Wide Technology, in collaboration with Victory Junction, announced a collaboration Friday at Pocono Raceway with Richard Petty Motorsports.

Through a leadership donation by World Wide Technology founder and chairman David Steward and his family, Victory Junction will partner with Bubba Wallace‘s team this season.

Wallace will have Victory Junction on his No. 43 car for a select number of Cup races, beginning with this weekend’s event at Pocono Raceway. Wallace said in a Friday press conference at Pocono that the deal is for 16 races.

Victory Junction is an 84-acre camp for children with serious illnesses. The camp opened in 2004 and has delivered more than 50,000 camp experiences to children and their families. World Wide Technology will leverage its strategic partnership with Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports to donate to Victory Junction the creation and development of an advertising, fundraising and call-to-action campaign: “Feel Your Heart Race.”

MORE: RPM pit crew’s tradition of waving to drivers before races

“I remember when I was a kid, having a lot of fun going out and doing things with my friends, and Victory Junction provides that and gives each child the opportunity to simply be a kid,” Wallace said in a media release. “The camp makes these kids feel as special as they truly are. This is a great opportunity for NASCAR fans to support Victory Junction and make every kid feel special – to feel empowered. Fifteen years is a great accomplishment and I want to do my part to help Victory Junction reach another 15 years.”

Said Steward in a media release: “Investments in diversity are critical for the long-term viability and future competitiveness of WWT. The same applies to the sport of racing. As the only African American NASCAR driver in over 40 years, we have been honored to support Bubba Wallace. With the Victory Junction alliance, we will celebrate and enable kids with diverse challenges and perspectives to reach their fullest abilities.

“Given our family’s long history with Variety the Children’s Charity, BJC Health System and St. Jude’s, it was an easy decision to get involved with Victory Junction. Diversity matters. That is why we support Bubba. That is why we support Victory Junction.”

 

Pit road’s friendliest team has drivers smiling, laughing

Photo: Dustin Long
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In the final moments before they begin their 400- or 500-mile journey, Cup drivers ease their cars down pit road, passing their pit box and crew, sharing a wave, thumbs up or fist bump as they drive by.

Their team, though, isn’t the only one to wish them well.

The Richard Petty Motorsports pit crew for Bubba Wallace waves at every vehicle — including pace cars and safety trucks — that passes their pit stall before the race begins. They’re the only crew to do so, sharing a bond with drivers before the green flag waves.

“I appreciate it,” said Ty Dillon, who waves back. “I think it’s cool. I look forward to seeing those guys on pit road. Just makes you smile.”

Landon Cassill is another who waves back to the No. 43 pit crew.

“It’s nice to have a smiling face and a wave,” he said.

Former champion Martin Truex Jr. also makes sure to wave at the Petty pit crew members.

“If you don’t wave at them you actually feel bad because they’ll like make sad faces,” Truex said.

Tire carrier James Houk started waving to all the cars a few years ago when he noticed that not every pit crew stood in its stall and saluted its driver as they passed before the start of the race.

If I’m a driver and I’m driving past and I see all these crew members waving at their drivers and I’m just like I didn’t get a wave, I’m going to be sad about it going out on the race track,” Houk said. “That’s why I started waving at them.

“I was just like, ‘Man, they need somebody to at least tell them good luck.’ ”

The rest of the pit crew soon followed. While pit crew members have changed through the years, the tradition remains.

The first few times that you do it, you’re a little bit embarrassed,” said jackman Will Goodnow, who joined the crew after last year’s Coca-Cola 600. “At least I was. Now it’s fun.”

There’s nothing to be embarrassed about for any new members. They’re continuing a tradition that dates back to the team’s namesake. While Richard Petty didn’t wave to his competitors, he’s known as much for signing autographs and spending time with fans as he is for his 200 Cup wins and seven championships. It’s only fitting that this pit crew treats competitors as Petty treats fans.

“I absolutely notice it because I’m probably the only driver that drives down pit lane and has since I’ve started, give everybody a thumbs up,” seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. “For the longest time the only people that waved back was the 43 (crew).”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said that when he sees the Petty pit crew waving: “I always laugh. It’s kind of cool.”

He also waves back.

But understand this isn’t a hi, how you doing gesture. Houk, the ringleader, sparks the enthusiasm with his exaggerated waves and gyrations. His teammates follow.

“We have fun,” fueler Ian Anderson said. “We love what we do.

Up and down pit road, we are part of a traveling circuit. We see the same faces, the same people every single week. So when it comes down to it, we’re all friends and family until that green flag drops. From flag to flag that’s when we compete.”

The same five pit crew members also service the No. 11 car for Kaulig Racing and Justin Haley in the Xfinity Series and wave to the cars before those races.

That’s where Cup rookie Matt Tifft first encountered the pit crew’s waving.

“I thought it was kind of weird,” Tifft said. “I thought it was a joke or something but they obviously always did it. I met some of those guys on the plane because sometimes we share their flight back and they’re all super cool guys.”

Bubba Wallace’s pit crew waves not only to him but to all the cars before a race. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

For as much fun as they have, there is some order to what they do. The five pit crew members line up the same each week. Houk is always first.

“James is the ringleader,” said Rear tire changer Justin Fiedler, who is next after Houk.

Front tire changer Brody Essick is third — he always has his helmet on because that’s part of his pre-race routine. Goodnow is fourth and Anderson is always fifth.

It’s Anderson’s job to count how many drivers wave back at the crew. The record is 28 set earlier this year.

Essick comes up with a number of drivers he thinks will wave and the rest of the crew decides if it will be higher or lower than that total.

For the Monster Energy Open, Essick projected 14 drivers would wave back. The field had 24 cars, two pace cars and two safety trucks. Fourteen drivers waved back to the team.

So, not every driver waves. Sometimes a driver might not do so because he’s fiddling with his radio or focused on his pit stall. For others, they’re just focused.

“I always think they’re being silly,” David Ragan said. “I always think they need to act more mature and get ready to make a pit stop.”

Ragan also recognizes how he prepares for a race is different from others.

“Everybody gets ready for a big event in different ways,” he said. “Some people listen to music. Some people act funny. Some people clam up, don’t say anything. Some drivers stand there and sign autographs, and some drivers stand near the back of the car and don’t say anything.

“For me, I try not to be too goofy before I get ready to go. That way, in case I make a mistake, it doesn’t seem like I didn’t have my focus.”

Reigning champion Joey Logano also isn’t big on waving back.

“Call me a jerk, but I’m not really wishing anyone luck at that point,” he said. “It’s all about going to win.”

One driver who has never waved back to the No. 43 pit crew is Denny Hamlin.

So what’s up with that?

“I’ve seen it, but I don’t wave back or anything,” Hamlin said.

Told that he’s the one driver the No. 43 pit crew hopes will wave back to them some day, Hamlin said: “Maybe I’ll give them a wave.”

The next chance should be this weekend at Pocono Raceway. The cars are lined on pit road before the start. The key for the No. 43 pit crew is to have a pit stall close to pit exit so they can wave to most, if not all of the field.

It was something I always looked forward to that brought down the tension and nerves before a race – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Pit stalls are chosen based on qualifying. Slower cars pick late and have fewer choices. That can mean the team has a pit stall that is behind all the cars that are parked on pit road and the crew doesn’t get to wave. Or, as happened in last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, the field is parked on the front stretch and doesn’t come down pit road.

Essick said that “it’s kind of a bummer” when they don’t get to wave to the field.

At ISM Raceway this year, the team’s pit stall was behind where all the cars were parked, meaning the crew members would not get to wave to the cars as they went by.

No problem. They waved as the drivers walked by to their cars.

The pit crew understands what they do is not for everyone. Still, many wave. They appreciate Johnson’s thumbs up. They note Chase Elliott waves a couple of fingers at them — “Somebody’s waving at you, so wave back,” Elliott said. Houk said Dale Earnhardt Jr. would wave as enthusiastically at them as the crew waved to him.

“It’s in my personality to want to make friends or get along with everyone,” Earnhardt said. “I thought it was our thing. I don’t know those guys personally, but it was something I always looked forward to that brought down the tension and nerves before a race.

“I’m all for everyone getting along. I also appreciate boundaries and going to battle and knowing your enemy. But there is a place in the sport for brotherhood and fellowship. I felt like that’s what was happening in those moments.”

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Bump and Run: Which IndyCar, NASCAR drivers should try other series?

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Who is an IndyCar driver you’d like to see try NASCAR and a NASCAR driver you’d like to see try IndyCar?

Nate Ryan: Alexander Rossi in NASCAR (watch his restarts in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 and imagine what he could bring to NASCAR’s double-file lineups on a regular basis). Larson or Kyle Busch in IndyCar because of their raw talent and desire to race the event.

Dustin Long: Colton Herta in NASCAR. The 19-year-old was on the team that won the GT Le Mans class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January and set the race’s fastest lap in his class. He followed that by becoming the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race when he took the checkered flag first in March at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. As for a NASCAR driver in IndyCar. It would be fun to see what Kyle Busch could do in those cars.

Daniel McFadin: James Hinchcliffe is my easy pick to go from IndyCar to NASCAR. His personality in the NASCAR garage would be welcome and a ton of fun. On the flip side, throwing the often abrasive Kyle Busch into the IndyCar swimming pool would be a treat, both to see his driving ability showcased and to see his personality clash with others.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d like to see either Josef Newgarden or Will Power try NASCAR. Newgarden because he’s from NASCAR country (Tennessee native) and Power because he said recently he’d be open for the challenge. I’d like to see Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch try IndyCar.

 

Who needed the result more in the All-Star Race: Winner Kyle Larson or fifth-placer finisher Bubba Wallace?

Nate Ryan: Bubba Wallace. This was one of the best days of his NASCAR career, ranking just behind the first truck win at Martinsville and last year’s runner-up showing at the Daytona 500. It was a morale booster for Larson and the No. 42 team, but they still need a points win for full validation.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson needed it more. No doubt the result was big for Bubba Wallace, who has had his struggles recently. For Larson and his team it shows they can win. It’s one thing to think you can and another to do it in a season that has been dominated by Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. Could this help build momentum for Larson and his team to carry through the upcoming races?

Daniel McFadin: Bubba Wallace for sure. Kyle Larson’s racing future is secure. Wallace’s is much more uncertain and with Richard Petty Motorsports’ struggles to find sponsorship, that brief moment in the spotlight could prove to be valuable. But on a personal level, Wallace needed it more as a reminder he’s kind of good at this whole racing deal.

Jerry Bonkowski: While Larson certainly needed a win, it came in a non-points paying race, so it has no impact upon him going forward in the regular Cup standings and/or playoff contention. I believe the finish for Bubba was needed more because of the difficult season he’s had to date both performance-wise and personally. Both drivers have struggled, but Bubba needed this showing more.

 

NASCAR does not plan to penalize either Clint Bowyer or Ryan Newman for what happened during and after the All-Star Race between those two. Good call?

Nate Ryan: Yes. Legislating behavior must be avoided except for extreme circumstances because NASCAR needs more emotion like this, not less.

Dustin Long: Yes. NASCAR is being consistent. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were not penalized for their fight on pit road after the Las Vegas race in March 2017. No need to penalize Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman after talking with both on Saturday night.

Daniel McFadin: I was in the grandstands on Saturday night and the crowd roared when the shot of Bowyer going after Newman was flashed on backstretch video board. No one was hurt and it added even more electricity to the race’s narrative. Why fine someone for something you’re going to use to promote the event for as long as you continue to hold it?

Jerry Bonkowski: Bad call. While I understand the heat of the moment and Bowyer’s anger at Newman, his post-race fists of fury actions warranted some kind of penalty. If this had been a points-paying race, something like that would have merited at least a one-race suspension.

 

The two non-points races this year were won by Jimmie Johnson (Clash at Daytona) and Kyle Larson (All-Star Race). Johnson is winless in 71 points races. Larson is winless in his 58 points races. Will either have a win before the playoffs start?

Nate Ryan: Yes, they both win in the regular season.

Dustin Long: Yes. Would put Kyle Larson down for the Bristol night race, if not sooner. I’ll put Jimmie Johnson down for Michigan in August.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson is more than likely to have a win between now and September. While Johnson has shown flashes of improvement over the last four months, based on what we’ve seen lately, I don’t have a lot of confidence that the No. 48 team will find what they need to be in victory lane anytime soon outside stealing a win at Daytona

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, both drivers will win before the playoffs start. If one or both fails to do so, the only way they would make the playoffs is on points. And that’s always an iffy proposition. To use a well-worn phrase, they have to win to get in. Both will do so.