Joe Gibbs on Christopher Bell: ‘We have to keep him’

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Christopher Bell’s three consecutive Xfinity wins have raised questions of if he’ll move to Cup next year, but car owner Joe Gibbs said Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” that the youngster is “scheduled” to be in Xfinity next year.

Bell’s status has gained attention because there’s seemingly no place for him in a Toyota Cup ride next year.

Joe Gibbs Racing already has Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones in its four-car lineup. The only other high-profile Toyota team, Furniture Row Racing, has reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr., and seeks sponsorship for that team. That leaves the possibility of a second ride there less likely. Truex is a free agent after this season but indicated last month at Kentucky that “I don’t plan on doing anything different” for next season.

If Toyota added another organization, it could provide Bell with a path to Cup as early as next year.

“We have to keep him,” Gibbs said to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio of ensuring Bell remains in the Toyota and JGR fold. “Just put it that way. We have to. I think Toyota has a lot invested. We do. I really think he’s a future star. You never know when you step up to the next level, that’s a huge step. We think he’s well on his way. I think he’s showing everyone what his abilities are and his talents.”

Bell won the Camping World Truck Series title last year for Toyota-backed Kyle Busch Motorsports. He ran eight Xfinity races last year for Joe Gibbs Racing, winning in his fifth series start, before moving to that series full-time with JGR this year. Bell has four victories and 12 top-five finishes in 19 Xfinity races this season. He goes for his fourth consecutive Xfinity win — an accomplishment achieved only by Sam Ard in 1983 — Saturday at Watkins Glen (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Bell’s rise and the limited number of Toyota seats in Cup create a conundrum the manufacturer has faced before. Toyota’s driver development program goes from midget racing all the way to Cup, providing a ladder system for drivers to climb as they progress. But with limited seats in Xfinity and Cup, Toyota has lost some young drivers to other manufacturers and organizations.

Kyle Larson, who had been racing on dirt for a Toyota-backed team, signed with Turner Motorsports, a Chevrolet team, to drive in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2013. He later moved to Chevrolet’s Chip Ganassi Racing in Cup. After that, Toyota began to examine its development program to find more avenues for its young drivers.

Even with that in place, the manufacturer lost William Byron, who won a series-high seven Camping World Truck races in 2016 for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Byron moved to JR Motorsports, a Chevrolet team in the Xfinity Series, in 2017. He won the title before moving up to Cup with Hendrick Motorsports this season.

If there’s no room immediately at Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup for Bell, could the organization move him elsewhere as it did when Jones ran as a rookie last year at Furniture Row Racing before returning to JGR?

“Well, it’s so far in the future,” Gibbs said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think that’s what we’re all right now planning and looking at. I think it’s kind of up in the air right now. We’re kind of set next year. We want to keep him in Xfinity next year.

“I think he may have a chance to race a few other things. I think that’s kind of our plan. A year away, a lot can happen in a year. We’re just glad that we’ve got him under our banner.”

NASCAR America: Christopher Bell’s three-peat quite a feat

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Christopher Bell overcame contact with another car in the closing laps at Iowa Speedway and two late-race restarts to win his third consecutive Xfinity race. In doing so, he became the first Xfinity regular to perform the feat since Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 1999.

The three-peat put Bell in rarified air along with Earnhardt, Larry Pearson and Sam Ard as the only regulars in the series who have won three consecutive races.

It has the question being asked once again about Bell’s future in the Cup series.

“I see no reason in holding this young man back,” Dale Jarrett said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “And that has not been Toyota’s forte that they say, ‘Ok, we’ll let these guys hang around a couple of years.’ They want to move them on to the Cup series. They know that’s what they have in mind for Christopher Bell.”

MORE: Christopher Bell taking a step in goal to ‘conquer’ Xfinity Series
MORE: Third consecutive victory in Xfinity for Christopher Bell
MORE: Can Toyota make room for Christopher Bell in Cup?

The decision comes down to sponsorship, but there is already a path that has been blazed by Joe Gibbs Racing to develop drivers when its Cup organization is full.

“If there’s money available, I don’t know why they wouldn’t go back to Furniture Row where Joe Gibbs Racing took Erik Jones last year and have him perform there,” Jarrett continued. “Supposedly, all of the employees were kept.”

Putting Bell in the Cup series might solve two problems.

Furniture Row continues to look for full-time sponsorship of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78, but instead of that uncertainty lessening the appeal of running a second car, Jarrett believes it could improve the financial considerations.

“I think the money would also help that Furniture Row organization in that they are looking for a major sponsor right now for the 78 car,” Jarrett said. “If you know you have these dollars it would help in that situation – maybe you could take a little bit less than what you were thinking about for the 78.”

For more, watch the video above.

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Cole Custer honors two-time Xfinity champion Sam Ard with Darlington paint scheme

Stewart-Haas Racing
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Rookie Cole Custer will honor the memory and career of Sam Ard with a special paint scheme in the Sept. 2 Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

Custer and Stewart-Haas Racing revealed the paint scheme Wednesday at Darlington.

Sam Ard with the No. 00 car he drove in the early 1980s. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

A two-time Xfinity Series champion in 1983 and 1984, Ard passed away on April 2 at the age of 84. Custer, 19, drives the No. 00 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. Ard drove the No. 00 in all 92 of his Xfinity Series starts.

In those 92 starts in what was then the NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series, Ard won 22 races and earned 67 top-fives, 79 top 10s and 24 poles.

Custer’s car will have the colors and lettering of Ard’s No. 00 Oldsmobile Omega that now sits on “Glory Road” in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Ard’s name will also be on the roof of the car.

“The 00 number has been a part of my entire NASCAR career, and over the years I’ve gotten to know its history and met some of the people who worked with Sam and saw him race,” Custer said in a press release. “The more I learn about Sam and all that he accomplished, the more impressive it becomes. I feel like I’m driving his car, and I want to make him and his family proud. Guys like Sam Ard helped shape the sport into what it is today. Without him, I don’t know if the opportunity to drive racecars for a living would exist. I’m grateful for it and I’d like him and his family to know it.”

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Ard was was born in Pamplico, South Carolina, roughly 45 minutes southeast of Darlington. Ard worked on aircraft at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina, during the Vietnam War.

Ard made four starts at Darlington and never finished worse than sixth.

MORE: Brad Keselowski driving Rusty Wallace paint scheme in Southern 500

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Former NASCAR champion Sam Ard dies

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Sam Ard, a two-time champion in what was called the Busch Series, died Sunday, a friend of the family confirmed to NBC Sports. 

He was 78.

A moment of silence was held before Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.

Ard won the 1983 and ’84 titles in what is now the Xfinity Series. He won 10 races in 1983 and eight races in 1984.

Ard competed in what was the Busch Series from 1982-84, winning 22 of 92 races. He had 79 top-10 finishes. Ard ranks 12th on the all-time series wins list, tied with Tommy Ellis. Ard’s career was cut short when he suffered head trauma in a racing crash in 1984.

A 1982 Oldsmobile Omega that Ard drove was added in January to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Glory Road that shows the sport’s iconic cars. 

Ard was selected to the National Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999

Ard had been in failing health, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. In 2008, Kevin Harvick donated a van to Ard’s family. The NASCAR Foundation and Motor Racing Outreach teamed for an online auction to benefit a fund for Ard. Kyle Busch committed $100,000 to Ard after winning what was then a Nationwide race at Texas Motor Speedway. That was Busch’s 10th win, tying him at the time with Ard for most wins in a season. Busch went on to break that mark and finish with 13 victories that year.

“Sam Ard is one of the pioneers of this (series) and to be tied with him at 10 wins is something that’s pretty spectacular and really, really special to me,’’ Busch said after that Texas win.

NASCAR released the following statement about Ard.

“For many years, Sam Ard’s persona was that of a tough-as-nails racer. No matter the track or the competition, he battled to the end. That fighter’s mentality lasted throughout his life, and far beyond the confines of a race car. Sam battled on and off the track with the same ferocity that earned him two championships in what is today the NASCAR XFINITY Series as well as countless victories in the Late Model Sportsman Series. NASCAR extends its deepest condolences to Sam’s family and friends. He will be dearly missed, and his memory cherished.”

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PHOTOS: The 18 new cars on Glory Road at the NASCAR Hall of Fame

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When visitors walk into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the first time in 2017, there will be a noticeable difference greeting them.

Glory Road, situated in the Great Hall, has undergone a makeover. The exhibit serves two purposes in highlighting memorable cars from NASCAR’s history as well as the different degrees of banking they raced.

The unveiling of a new Glory Road marks its third generation since the Hall of Fame opened in 2010. Featuring 18 cars under the theme of ICONS, they were chosen based on the consideration of being an iconic car, an iconic driver, or an iconic race. It starts with Marshall Teague and ends with 2015 Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.

Here’s a tour of Glory Road: ICONS

1952 Hudson Hornet driven by Marshall Teague

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An owner/driver, Teague won three consecutive manufacturers championships for Hudson Motor Company after they began supplying him with cars in addition to developing performance parts for him.

“I feel the Hudson is the best car for my purpose, and, if any other car was better, I would drive that car,” Teague said. “It’s as simple as that!”

1957 Ford Fairlane driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts

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Roberts drove this car to eight premier series victories, including three in a row at North Wilkesboro, Langhorne Speedway and Southern States Fairgrounds.

“Fireball wouldn’t mess with you at all,” Marvin Panch, a Ford teammate, said. “You could trust him on the racetrack. You always knew right where he’d go. It was a pleasure to race him.”

1964 Plymouth Belvedere driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty

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Considered his breakout year, Petty earned his first of seven wins in the 1964 Daytona 500 and first of seven championships in a HEMI-powered Plymouth tuned by brother Maurice Petty. The Daytona 500 was the first of nine victories for Petty that season.

“In all my career, I had never had a car that was faster than anybody else … until then,” Petty said.

1966 Ford Galaxie driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott

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The 1966 season was the best of Scott’s career as he earned 17 top-10 finishes and finished sixth in points.

“I never set out to blaze any trails or be a pioneer,” Scott said. “I’ve always said the only race I care about is the race on the track.”

1966 Dodge Charger driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson

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Paired with mechanic Cotton Owens, Pearson went to victory lane 15 times in 1966 including four straight at Hickory, Columbia, Greenville-Pickens, and Bowman Gray Stadium. Pearson also won the championship with the car, which ushered in a new era of race cars because of the aerodynamic advantage it had with a sloped-back roofline.

“The aerodynamics were the key to that body design … the air went over the car,” Donnie Owens, crew member and son of Cotton Owens, said. “And with that sloped roof and short rear deck lid, you couldn’t draft behind it. NASCAR put the first spoiler ever on it to keep the back end on the ground.”

1939 Chevrolet Coupe driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans

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It was with this car, which he ran on short tracks throughout the Northeast in the early 1970s, that Evans’ career took off. While he changed cars throughout the years, Evans kept his iconic orange paint scheme and No. 61 while winning a record-setting nine (including eight straight from 1978-1985) NASCAR championships.

“Richie was a racer’s racer,” said Ray Evernham. “He could build his own cars and really understood them. He was certainly way ahead of his time on a lot of things, especially tires. He’d mount dozens of tires for the big races, and then he’d settle on exactly what he wanted.”

1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip

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Nicknamed “Bertha,” this car became synonymous with Waltrip from 1976-1980. During that time, Waltrip won 25 times and earned two Coca-Cola 600 wins (1978, 1979).

“That thing had a wheelbase of 116 inches and was 64 inches wide,” crew chief Buddy Parrott said. “It really shouldn’t have worked. But we busted our butt working on the weight distribution, and you couldn’t knock it off the track on the short tracks. It worked good on the big tracks, too. It handled really good.”

1978 Ford Thunderbird driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison

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The 1978 season saw Allison paired with owner Bud Moore, and they won their second race together, the Daytona 500. This particular chassis was used in four races at Richmond, where Allison earned two wins and two runner-up finishes.

“The car handled really good … the crew responded well to my requests on what I thought would make the car better,” Allison said. “Bud (Moore) was really good to work with, and he respected my requests. His engines were reliable, and we won 14 races in three seasons.”

1982 Oldsmobile Omega driven by Sam Ard

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In what is now the Xfinity Series, Ard was one of its most successful drivers. He won 22 races between 1982 and 1983 was crowned champion in ’83 and ’84.

“Sam Ard was one of the greatest competitors I ever raced against,” Jack Ingram said. “When I saw that white No. 00 come into the track, I knew I was in for a tough race. And everybody else knew it, too.”

1987 Ford Thunderbird driven by Davey Allison

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In his first full season at Harry Rainier Racing, Allison earned five poles and two wins on his way to winning rookie of the year. When Robert Yates took over the team in 1989, Allison remained the driver and went on to win the 1992 Daytona 500.

“From the time I was a little boy, it wasn’t, ‘I’m Bobby Allison’s son, and I’m going to be a race car driver,’ it was, ‘I’m Davey Allison, and I’m going to be a race car driver,'” Allison said.

1989 Ford Thunderbird driven by Neil Bonnett

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After driving for Wood Brothers Racing early in his career, Bonnett reunited with the team for the 1989 and 1990 seasons. He earned nine wins and five poles driving for Hall of Famers Leonard and Glen Wood.

“Glen Wood calling (in 1979) with two of the biggest shocks in one sentence that I’ve experienced,” Bonnett recalled. “He said, ‘David Pearson has quit the team, and will you drive for the Wood Brothers?'”

1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass driven by Harry Gant

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The green No. 33 went to victory lane a total of 18 times with Gant behind the wheel. That includes five times during the 1991 season. That same season, Gant earned the nickname “Mr. September” when he won four consecutive races at Darlington, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville.

“(Martinsville) was the hardest one of the four to win,” Gant said. “I had to pass more cars today than I have in the others.”

1992 Ford Thunderbird driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott

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The 1992 season was memorable for many reasons, including its season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Elliott won the race, his fifth of the season but came up 10 points short of Alan Kulwicki in the championship fight.

“I did all I could do,” Elliott said. “I went out there and won the race (Atlanta).”

1995 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Mike Skinner

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The 1995 season was the inaugural season for the Camping World Truck Series and saw Skinner win eight times on his way to claiming the championship. Skinner also won the inaugural race at Phoenix and put on his most dominating performance at Portland International Raceway when he won the pole and the race after leading every lap.

“I was a driver who wasn’t getting any younger when the opportunity to drive this truck for Richard Childress Racing came along,” Skinner said. “I became more focused than at any other time in my life … When we started looking outside the box, we were unstoppable.”

1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt

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After becoming the first owner to roll out a limited-edition paint scheme in 1995, Richard Childress and his team brought out this car, featuring a throwback Wrangler scheme, for The Winston in ’99.

“It was awesome to be able to represent Wrangler again,” crew member Chocolate Myers said. “When Earnhardt came on board in 1984, he brought Wrangler and that ‘One Tough Customer’ thing with him. Everybody was excited to be running that paint scheme.”

2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Jeff Gordon

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It was February 2005 when Gordon won his third Daytona 500 in what turned out to be his final win at Daytona International Speedway. He went on to win a total of four races in 2005.

“It felt very rewarding on many levels because of it being a spectacular finish, having to really maneuver around … going from first to third or fourth, back up to first,” Gordon said. “Definitely getting beside that No. 8 car (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and pulling ahead of him was amazing.”

2013 Chevrolet SS driven by Jimmie Johnson

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Johnson started the 2013 season by winning his second Daytona 500, the first of six wins that season. He also earned three poles and scored 24 top-10 finishes on his way to winning his sixth Cup Series championship.

“The Daytona 500 is a career-winning race,” Johnson said. “It defines careers for drivers, crew members, crew chiefs and race teams. It has that power.”

2015 Toyota Camry driven by Kyle Busch

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After missing the first 11 races of the season following a broken right leg and fractured left foot in a crash during the Xfinity Series race at Daytona, Busch rebounded to win his first championship. Overall, Busch earned five wins on the season.

“This is just a dream come true and my family, my wife, my son – to have him this year and to have everything we’ve gone through this year, to be in this moment (in victory lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway) – I don’t know know what else to say, but this is so special,” Busch said.