Coffee with Kyle: Mike Helton opens up about the loss of Dale Earnhardt

Leave a comment

There are “a lot of conversations” from Feb. 18, 2001 that Mike Helton will “probably take to my grave.”

Those conversations resulted in Helton, now NASCAR’s Vice Chairman, revealing to the world that day that Dale Earnhardt had been killed in a wreck on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

“By then I think of most of the industry had figured it out. But we had to authenticate it and make it official,” Helton said in the latest episode of “Coffee with Kyle.”

Mike Helton moments before he announced Dale Earnhardt’s death on Feb. 18, 2001.

“I got picked to do it,” Helton told Kyle Petty. “I said, I used some adult words, ‘But we just lost the biggest thing in our sport. What am I going to say?’

“Brian France or maybe Paul Brooks or somebody said, ‘Well, that’s what you say, we just lost the biggest thing in our sport today.'”

Eighteen years later, Helton thinks he knows “more about what I said later on looking at it than I did at the moment of saying it. Because it was tough.”

In the wake of Earnhardt’s death, Helton said NASCAR leadership recognized how much it relied on The Intimidator’s voice in the garage.

“We couldn’t tap the next Dale Sr. on the shoulder and say, ‘You’re it,'” Helton said. “It needed to be organic out of the garage area. We were kind of settling in to see who that would be. (Jeff) Gordon wasn’t ready to accept it, although people said, ‘You should and you need to.’ But Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte, those individuals banded together to do it as a group instead of an individual until Gordon was ready to be that voice.”

But in the nearly two decades since, Helton said there hasn’t been a driver voice that’s emerged that has been as “strategic and as pragmatic” as that of Earnhardt.

Watch the above video for more of Kyle Petty’s interview with Helton.

Richard Petty Motorsports promotes Derek Stamets to Bubba Wallace’s crew chief

Photo: Dustin Long
1 Comment

Richard Petty Motorsports announced Thursday it has promoted lead engineer Derek Stamets to crew chief for Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 Chevrolet.

Stamets has been RPM’s lead engineer since 2012, being part of race wins with Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola. Prior to joining RPM, he recorded multiple Cup wins with a number of drivers including NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan.

“Derek was a logical decision for us to move up,” RPM director of competition Philippe Lopez said in a media release. “He spent the full season with Bubba and our Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 program last year and has been with our organization for seven seasons. We want to keep the chemistry that Derek and Bubba built together while continuing the experience we built with Chevrolet and Richard Childress Racing. We are confident in Derek’s leadership of the No. 43 team.”

Stamets will begin his new duties immediately and take part in the NASCAR test with Wallace today and Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He replaces Drew Blickensderfer, who moved to crew chief of Front Row Racing’s No. 34 Ford, driven by Michael McDowell.

“Derek has a lot of knowledge of our program,” Wallace said. “He’s not having to learn a new program and I’m not having to learn a new personality. I’m comfortable working with Derek and this makes the most sense for improvement. I think he’s eager to make more of the decisions and put his footprint on our race team.”

Wallace is entering his second full-time season on the Cup circuit. As a rookie in 2018, Wallace had one top five – a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 – and three top-10 finishes, with an average start of 24.8 and an average finish of 24.5. He also had six DNFs.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Mike Wallace ready to make another run at NASCAR Cup racing

Mike Wallace before his last Cup start, the 2015 Daytona 500. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Mike Wallace developed a heart issue that resulted in triple bypass surgery in April 2015, it left the veteran NASCAR driver with unfinished business in his racing career.

Now, nearly four years later and fully healthy, the 59-year-old brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and Kenny Wallace hopes to finish some of that business in the 2019 season with Rick Ware Racing.

“I still have that passion,” Mike Wallace told NBC Sports on Wednesday. “I didn’t quit. I didn’t stop racing in 2015 on my own terms. And I’m very comfortable with life. It’s not like I have to do this to complete it, but I just like racing, I like it a lot, I like to be behind the wheel.”

Rick Ware Racing has two NASCAR Cup charters for 2019, which means both the No. 51 and No. 52 must run every race. Ware has offered one of those rides to Wallace, but the latter has to attract more sponsorship.

“Rick reached out, asked me to drive for him, but we have to find some money,” Wallace said. “Rick’s not in a position to hire a driver straight out. So we have a little bit of associate sponsorship put together. But we need sponsorship dollars to complete the package.

“It could be a great deal for him and his team, a great deal for me and it’s an incredibly reasonable, great opportunity for a marketing partner or partners to get involved, because you probably couldn’t get yourself into this sport and the NASCAR business any more reasonable than you can right now.”

Wallace posted on both LinkedIn and Facebook in the last couple of days seeking sponsors for the No. 52 car that he hopes to drive all season, with the exception of the Daytona 500 (although if a primary sponsor steps forward in the next week, Wallace could potentially still compete in that race).

“I know because of my age, Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs, people like that aren’t going to be calling for me to drive their cars, so why not do it if you can do it,” said Wallace, who turns 60 in March. “I still think I’m alert, healthy, have done every test you can do, have great endurance, eyesight, everybody says I’m good to go.

“Passion drives my desire. I’ve always had a passion for being a race car driver and motorsports and the NASCAR world. NASCAR racing is the coolest thing in the country.”

For now, Wallace said he and Ware have enough sponsor dollars to field the No. 52 for Atlanta, California and Las Vegas for starters.

“We worked together years ago, Rick actually fielded my daughter Chrissy in 2007-2008 era, I’ve raced against him or cars he’s owned forever,” Wallace said. “As he told me, he’d like to have a nice season with a driver like myself who can win races and run competitively and take care of equipment. We just have to make it work (financially).”

Wallace and son Matt competed in Super Late Model competition last year and it whetted the elder Wallace’s appetite to give NASCAR another go.

Wallace has made 197 Cup starts, the last race coming in 2015 (Daytona 500) just before his heart issue. He also has a combined 609 starts across both the Xfinity and Truck series, with a combined nine wins and 55 top-5 finishes.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR America: Dream matchups through the ages

Leave a comment

Last week Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. had a memorable side-by-side battle in the closing laps at Martinsville. It ended with one driver (Logano) in victory lane and the other (Truex) standing on pit road with thumbs pointed down in disapproval.

the finish begged the question of which two drivers throughout history would be dream matchups for Wednesday’s NASCAR America panelists.

Nate Ryan’s dream matchup would be Jimmie Johnson versus Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Martinsville in 2007. That year, Jeff Gordon beat the back bumper off Johnson’s car, but could not pass the No. 48. Ryan wonders if it would have been different with the Intimidator doing the bumping.

Dale Jarrett would like to see a playoff matchup between two of NASCAR’s most notable rivals.

“Two guys that I raced with – and I saw them battle a lot – but I’d like to put them in the playoffs in a situation just like Sunday, trying to make their way to the championship and that’s Rusty Wallace and … Dale Earnhardt,” Jarrett said. “To watch them battle once again nose-to-tail and see – either one of them behind the other – would be a great finish.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s dream matchup was much more personal. He would like the opportunity to race his father one more time on a restrictor-plate superspeedway.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR’s best cage rattling short track finishes

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The history of exciting short track finishes in NASCAR is long, colorful and angry.

The latest entry occurred Sunday night at Martinsville Speedway.

Here’s a look at iconic short track finishes that have sent fans into a frenzy and competitors a rage.

“WHERE’S KYLE PETTY?!” – Richmond (Fairgrounds) Raceway – Feb. 23, 1986

Before its multi-million dollar renovations, Richmond Raceway was basically a slab of concrete with a guard rail around it.

The old Richmond track was the site of Kyle Petty’s first Cup win. That wouldn’t have been possible if not for an intense battle between Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip that ended with three laps to go with contact in Turn 3 and a vicious multi-car wreck.

This is also the race where Earnhardt famously cleaned his own windshield while on the track.

GORDON vs WALLACE X 2 – Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol Motor Speedway is synonymous with the names Earnhardt and Labonte.

But Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace have multiple Bristol entanglements in their history.

April 13, 1997

Their first run-in came on the final lap of the spring race, with Gordon giving Wallace the bump-and-run in Turn 3 and sneaking by for the win.

Aug. 24, 2002

This time it was under the lights.

With flames on his hood instead of a rainbow, Gordon gave Wallace the boot with three laps to go and went on to snap a 31-race winless streak.

THE INTIMIDATOR STRIKES BACK – Bristol Motor Speedway, Aug. 28, 1999

Earnhardt was up to it again.

Four years earlier, Bristol hosted the first round of The Intimidator vs the Ice Man, as Earnhardt wrecked Terry Labonte coming to the checkered flag. Labonte won and pulled an obliterated No. 5 Chevrolet into Victory Lane.

Earnhardt wasn’t having any of that this time.

The seven-time champion spun Labonte as they entered Turn 1 on final lap and slipped by to earn his 73rd Cup win.

If not for a mechanical problem, Labonte said recently he would have retaliated. 

 

MARTINSVILLE MARVEL – Martinsville Speedway, April 1, 2007

After Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, the winningest drivers at Martinsville are Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are tied with nine.

In 2007, Johnson entered the April Martinsville race with just two wins on the short track. He got No. 3 after coming out on top of an 18-lap battle with Gordon.

The last lap looked almost like its 2018 counterpart, except Gordon never led.

TEAMMATE TAP Richmond Raceway, April 24, 2016

Richmond returns to the list courtesy of Carl Edwards’ bump-and-run of teammate Kyle Busch in the final turn two years ago.

PLAYOFF PUNT – Martinsville Speedway, Oct. 28, 2018

It’s still fresh on everyone’s mind.

Sunday’s move by Joey Logano that Martin Truex Jr. called a “cheap shot.”

An intense five-lap battle turned into an almost three-wide finish at the checkered flag, with Logano clinching a spot in the championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.