Southern 500

Darlington Raceway
Darlington Raceway

Darlington Raceway unveils theme for 2020 Throwback Weekend

Leave a comment

Darlington Raceway on Wednesday announced the theme for its annual throwback weekend, Sept. 4-6, 2020.

The “Track Too Tough To Tame” will be “Celebrating NASCAR’s Champions … Past, Present and Future” and will recognize NASCAR champions in both the Cup and Xfinity Series during the weekend.

The three days will culminate in the opening race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, the legendary Southern 500, on Sept. 6.

“When you look back at the history of the sport and all the champions that have won our great championship and all those drivers that have won at Darlington, there’s almost 20 drivers that were champions in the same year that they won one or more races at Darlington,” track president Kerry Tharp said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

Tharp continued, “I think this gives teams a real opportunity to honor champions, whether it’s paint schemes or something on their car that honors champions of our sport. … We really thought this was the way to go and allows us to celebrate the past, celebrate the present and oh by the way, that first race in the playoffs at Darlington will be the first step towards the 2020 champion.”

This will be the sixth consecutive year that Darlington has held its award-winning throwback weekend, and also marks the 71st running of the Southern 500. The Xfinity Series will also host the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

“There is so much history and correlation between NASCAR champions and Darlington race winners that this Throwback theme makes our 2020 event that much more special for our fans, teams, partners and stakeholders,” Tharp said.

The NASCAR Cup Series has seen 33 different drivers capture 71 total championships since the series began in 1949. Drivers with multiple championships include Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson (all with seven championships apiece); Jeff Gordon (4); Lee Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Tony Stewart (all with three championships apiece); Buck Baker, Joe Weatherly, Ned Jarrett, Terry Labonte and Kyle Busch (all with two championships apiece), and 17 other drivers have won one championship each.

In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, 29 different drivers have won the championship since the series began in 1982: Jack Ingram, Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Tyler Reddick have all won two Xfinity championships apiece. There have been 20 other drivers who have won one championship each.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

Bojangles’ ends sponsorship of Southern 500

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The fast food chain Bojangles’ will no longer sponsor the Southern 500.

Bojangles’ has sponsored the event at Darlington Raceway since 2012.

Since 2015, the Southern 500 has been the site of NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend, with Cup and Xfinity Series teams fielding retro paint schemes celebrating the sport’s history.

DarlingtonRaceway.com

“We’ve enjoyed a terrific relationship with Bojangles’ since 2012 and we look forward to their continued involvement in NASCAR for many years to come,” track president Kerry Tharp said in a statement. “Like Darlington, they are truly an authentic Southern brand.”

A logo for the race on Darlington’s website does not include a sponsor.

“Bojangles’ has enjoyed a long and successful partnership with the team at Darlington Raceway,” Bojangles’ said in a statement provided to NBC’s Myrtle Beach-affiliate WMBF. “While we will no longer be the title sponsor for the Southern 500, NASCAR remains an important part of our sports marketing strategy, and we look forward to announcing our plans for 2020 in the near future.”

The 2020 Southern 500 is scheduled for Sept. 6 on NBCSN.

Through the viewfinder: Memorable photos of 2019 season

Photo by Dustin Long
Leave a comment

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

Joe Gibbs Racing signs Erik Jones to a contract extension

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Joe Gibbs Racing announced Friday that it has signed Southern 500 winner Erik Jones to a contract extension to drive the No. 20 Toyota beyond this season.

“Erik has accomplished so much in our sport already and yet, he really is just at the start of a long career,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, in a statement. “He’s been a part of Joe Gibbs Racing for almost his entire professional career and we’re excited to see what the future holds for him.”

The signing completes the 2020 roster for Joe Gibbs Racing. The roster will remain the same as this year: Denny Hamlin in the No. 11, Kyle Busch in the No. 18, Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 19 and Jones in the No. 20.

There had been questions earlier this year about Jones’ status with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota looking to move Christopher Bell to Cup. This announcement confirms what Jones had been hinting at for weeks – that he is remaining with JGR. Bell will drive for Leavine Family Racing next year although the team has yet to announce that.

The 23-year-old Jones has two Cup wins and will be making his second consecutive playoff appearance. He has one win, nine top fives and 13 top 10s this season.

“I’m so happy to finally have my plans for 2020 confirmed and to talk about it,” said Jones. in a statement “I’m excited to be staying with Joe Gibbs Racing and the 20 team and to continue the success that we have built over the last two years in the Cup Series. I put my heart and soul into this and this race team. This is my living and how I want to make a career and what I want to do. I’ve been racing with JGR since 2014 and it’s really cool to be able to continue with the foundation we’ve built over the years and hopefully win more races and contend for championships together.”

William Byron looking to sweep poles for ‘Crown Jewel’ races

Getty Images
Leave a comment

On Sunday morning, William Byron will have the opportunity to make a little bit of NASCAR history.

Byron will attempt to put his No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole for the Brickyard 400 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC).

While it would be his fifth pole of the year, Byron would be able to say he’s the only driver to sit on the pole of all four “Crown Jewel” races in the same year.

Byron has been really fast this season.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has started on the front row of a Cup Series race nine times, including his four poles.

Three of those poles have been when the spotlight was the brightest.

When Byron claimed the pole for last weekend’s Southern 500 at Darlington, he became just the third driver in Cup history to sit on the pole for the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 in the same year.

He joined Fireball Roberts (1962) and Bill Elliott (1985) in the accomplishment.

Unlike Roberts and Elliott, Byron didn’t go on to win the Daytona 500, or even the Southern 500, which Bill Elliott did.

Byron is still looking for his first career Cup Series win entering Sunday’s race, which will be his 62nd start.

Byron is one of four drivers – including Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto – who have finished second this season but have yet to win.

With 180 laps led through 25 races, Byron has the third most laps led among winless drivers.

Luckily, Byron has some winning experience already at Indianapolis.

In 2017, the then 19-year-old won the Xfinity Series race at IMS to become the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR race at the track.