Spire Motorsports

Bent fenders, first-time winners define start of NBC’s NASCAR schedule

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We’re four races into NBC Sports’ portion of the NASCAR schedule and actor Michael Rooker was right about one thing: things have gotten real.

There have been four Cup races shown on NBC networks and each has delivered a finish – or lightning strike – worth talking about.

Each race has been won by a different driver who also was making their first trip to victory lane this year. Two earned their first career Cup wins.

Here’s a look at the how the second half of the season has unfolded.

June 30, 2019 – Chicagoland Speedway

Alex Bowman finally punched his ticket to victory lane in the Cup Series.

It took 134 series starts, three consecutive runner-up finishes earlier in the year and a lengthy rain delay to begin the race day.

Racing under the lights, Bowman dueled with Kyle Larson over the last eight laps, with the two drivers making contact with six laps to go as Bowman drafted off the left side of Larson’s car.

After he took the checkered flag, Bowman’s victory lane visit was delayed even further when his No. 88 Chevrolet got stuck in the rain-soaked infield.

“I’m the dumb guy that won the race and then got stuck in the mud,” Bowman told NBCSN.

July 7 – Daytona International Speedway

Though there wasn’t a dramatic on-track finish to the final scheduled July Cup race at Daytona, there was a surprise winner.

Justin Haley had to wait a significantly shorter amount of time than Bowman to get his first Cup win, celebrating his in 131 fewer races.

Following a massive crash with 43 laps to go, leader Kurt Busch and a group of other teams elected to pit when NASCAR said they would go back to green in one lap.

Then lightning struck within eight miles of the track.

The field was brought to pit road with 33 laps to go and Haley scored as the leader in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet, a team and car in their first year of existence.

The race never resumed as NASCAR eventually called the race official.

“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega,” Haley told NBCSN. “It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

While Busch had been on the “wrong side of a lightning bolt” he wouldn’t have to wait long for his own celebration.

July 13 – Kentucky Speedway

“Hell yeah! Hell yeah!” bellowed Kurt Busch on the start-finish line after the Quaker State 400.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had plenty of reasons to be excited.

He’d just triumphed in an overtime finish over his little brother Kyle Busch.

It was the first time Kurt Busch had won in a 1-2 Cup finish against Kyle.

The elder Busch survived making contact with his brother twice on the final lap, including as they exited Turn 4 in the race to the checkered flag.

The victory was Kurt Busch’s first since joining CGR in December and also was the first career win for crew chief Matt McCall in 164 starts. The victory snapped a 64-race winless streak for Ganassi stretching back to the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond.

July 21 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick is the latest driver to end a lengthy winless streak with dramatic flair.

Sunday saw the Stewart-Haas Racing driver end a 21-race drought after he held off Denny Hamlin over the final 35 laps while racing on older tires.

After Hamlin and other drivers pitted under the final caution, Harvick and two other cars stayed out.

Hamlin wasn’t able to get within striking distance until the last lap. The two veterans slammed sheet metal twice, with Hamlin’s failed bump-and-run in Turn 1 and then Harvick cutting off Hamlin’s path as they exited Turn 4.

“I knew that (Hamlin) was gonna take a shot,” Harvick said. “I would have taken a shot. I stood on the brakes and just tried to keep it straight. I just didn’t want to get him back from the inside and let him have another shot. I wanted to at least be in control of who was gonna have contact in Turn 3 and 4. It was a heck of a finish, closer than what we wanted, but it was our only chance.”

Hamlin was left to re-think the final lap as Harvick celebrated in the background.

Second sucks,” Hamlin told NBCSN.

Up Next: Pocono

Six races remain in the regular season and the next chance for Cup drama will come at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), the 2.5-mile triangle that the series visited in June.

But the circumstances will be a little bit different. After complaints about the competition in June, the track will apply the PJ1 traction compound to areas in all three turns.

It’s the first time the track has applied the traction agent to its surface.

It will also be the third consecutive race the Cup Series has held on a track treated with it, following Kentucky and New Hampshire.

And we all know how those races ended.

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NASCAR post-Daytona penalty report

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Following the race weekend at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR has issued an indefinite suspension of a crew member for violating its substance abuse policy.

It has suspended Zachary E. Young.

Young has served as the jackman for Spire Motorsports in a handful of races this year, most recently for the Chicagoland race weekend.

There were no other penalties announced.

 

Bump and run: How to view Justin Haley’s Daytona win

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How do you view Justin Haley’s victory at Daytona?

Dustin Long: Every team running at that point had the same opportunity so congrats to Haley and his team for pulling it off. It’s understandable how some might feel a little empty because of how Haley rode at the back to protect his car. That also leads to the issue of how the team, Spire Motorsports, competes. It’s a small operation with limited resources. Not every team can start as a multi-car operation. Again, they played by the rules that were there for everyone and won. And I don’t want to hear anything about how NASCAR should have put Kurt Busch back in the lead because they gave the signal of one to go and then lightning struck within the 8-mile radius shortly after he gave up the lead to pit. Want to give Busch the lead back? Go invent a time machine and change history. Until you do so, Justin Haley won fair and square.

Daniel McFadin: It’s a nice, inexplicable oddity. It has no impact on the season-long narrative outside of taking away a chance for a Cup regular to win and get in the playoffs. It also makes sure everybody will remember the last July race at Daytona.

Jerry Bonkowski: Another feel-good story for the season. NASCAR can never have too many of those. While I’m happy for Justin, though, I’m worried that he may be labeled going forward as only winning because the race was rain-shortened, much like Aric Almirola‘s and Chris Buescher‘s first career Cup wins. Still, it was great to see how a small team beat the big boys. 

Nate Ryan: It’s a feel-good story, but we probably won’t know how good we really will feel about it until a few years from now. Will it be remembered as the start of something big for Haley and Spire Motorsports, or just a miraculous confluence of circumstances that produced an unbelievable blip during a season with a roster of overly familiar winners that can best described as rote? In the short term, the win has no legs because neither Haley or the team is making the playoffs. What driver and team are able to accomplish over the long term — and in the team’s case, there are valid questions about viability — will factor into how Sunday’s win ultimately is viewed.

If a driver is ineligible for a playoff spot that would come with a victory — as happened with Justin Haley’s win at Daytona — should NASCAR award that playoff spot to the first eligible driver? Should that be considered for Cup only because of the rarity of the situation or all three national series, if at all?

Dustin Long: No. Doing so tarnishes the “win and you are in” mantra. Don’t make such silly changes.

Daniel McFadin: I don’t think so. The only time a second-place finisher should be given a playoff spot is if the winner is disqualified. 

Jerry Bonkowski: No, a playoff spot should not be awarded to the first eligible driver. In the whole big scheme of things, those still vying for a playoff spot on points have really not lost (or gained) much with Haley’s win, given that he is ineligible for the Cup playoffs. Those drivers vying for the playoffs still have to be there at the end after Indianapolis. I can’t see how Haley’s win will cost anyone a playoff spot. And no, it should not be considered for all three national series. The rule is the rule; it’s not broken, so don’t try to “fix” it.

Nate Ryan: Only a win should guarantee a berth. But it’s deflating to have an ineligible winner in a race such as this that’s billed as one of the best hopes for an underdog to make the playoffs.

Does it matter to you that Daytona is moving from its traditional weekend on or near July 4 to August next year to be the regular-season finale?

Dustin Long: No. Next question.

Daniel McFadin: I’m all for the change. If a track has two races, both of them can’t be sacred just because of where they fall on the schedule. Making it the regular-season finale raises the intensity of the summer Daytona race and gives it more significance than it ever had, which is saying a lot given how frenetic the racing was Sunday. Also, hopefully, the move provides more consistent weather for racing.

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes it does bother me. There is so much history and tradition of the Independence Day weekend that has been built around Daytona. It’s not going to have the same feeling in late August next year. Plus, even though restrictor plates are gone, I question having a race that decides the final 16-driver playoff field using tapered spacers — which to me is like a plate by another name — be an event that weighs so heavy on who will or won’t make the playoffs.

Nate Ryan: It was a long overdue change (underscored again by the events of last weekend) to end the practice of racing Daytona on a Saturday night in early July. Making a wild-card race the regular-season cutoff is also an extremely smart play. It’s sad to sever the track’s holiday tradition, but it’s outweighed by the benefits, and the lack of community uproar (the Volusia County tourism industry is happy about having adding a busy weekend; people will still visit the beach July 4) confirms it’s a good call.

Two months remain until the playoffs begin. What will be you be watching in the coming weeks?

Dustin Long: I’m looking for the team to emerge that can challenge the Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske cars. I want to see if Kevin Harvick and his team can put away the issues that have hindered them and go on a run of winning races. I also want to see how Hendrick Motorsports progresses and if Jimmie Johnson in particular can become a contender.

Daniel McFadin: I’m interested to see how much Joey Logano can flex his muscles. He’s the point leader yet he only has two wins. He’s putting together an effective defense of his Cup title.

Jerry Bonkowski: How Stewart-Haas Racing evolves, whether Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have noticeable fall-offs, if drivers who are getting close (like William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson) will finally break through with wins that boost them into the playoffs, and whether there may be another Justin Haley- or Ross Chastain-like surprise winner in any more races in the three national event series.

Nate Ryan: How many positions will be determined by points and the margins around the bubble. This is shaping up as possibly the fiercest and tightest cutoff battle yet since the 16-driver championship field was introduced in 2014.

Justin Haley wins rain-shortened Daytona for first Cup Series victory

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After leading just one lap, Justin Haley was declared the winner of Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, giving him a win in his third career Cup start and providing one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history.

The win is the first for Spire Motorsports and comes in its first year of existence. It did not have a top-20 finish in its first 17 races. It’s best finish was 22nd with Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500.

Haley, 20, is a native of Winamac, Indiana, and drives full-time for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series. He’s only the fourth driver in the modern-era to win within their first three career Cup starts. He’s the first part-time driver to win in Cup since Brian Vickers at New Hampshire in 2013.

Haley inherited the lead under caution when Kurt Busch pit after NASCAR initially declared they would go back to green a lap later. But the red flag was displayed for lightning in the area, stopping the race with 33 laps to go.

Haley was in position to inherit the lead after an 18-car crash with 43 laps to go.

“It’s absolutely a blessing,” Haley told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty incredible to have so many great people around me that have given me this opportunity to come to this level and the stage we’re performing on. … I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega. It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

Following Alex Bowman‘s win last weekend at Chicagoland, this is the first time two drivers have earned their first Cup wins in consecutive races since Casey Mears and Martin Truex Jr. in 2007.

“The stars aligned,” Haley said. “I didn’t ever think I was going to get redemption back from last year at Daytona when I got the Xfinity win taken from me.”

Haley crossed the finish line first in last year’s July Xfinity race at Daytona, but was disqualified after it was ruled he went below the yellow lines on the bottom of the track to make a last-second pass.

Sunday’s top five was completed by William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Joey Logano

STAGE 2 WINNER: Austin Dillon

More: Click here for results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Ty Dillon earned his first career Cup top five in his 108th start … Corey LaJoie finished sixth with his first career top 10 in his 75th Cup start … Matt DiBenedetto placed eighth for his second top 10 of the season … Rookie Matt Tifft finished ninth for his first career top 10 in his 18th Cup start.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez were eliminated in a six-car incident with 18 laps to go in Stage 2. It began when Harvick got a run in the tri-oval and turned Keselowski into the outside wall … Notable drivers in the 18-car wreck included Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

NOTABLE: The lap Justin Haley led in order to win is the only lap he’s led in Cup. The last driver to win a race with only one career lap led was Brad Keselowski at Talladega in 2009 … Haley is the 20th driver to earn his first Cup Series win at Daytona.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “They keep on asking you how you feel and I can’t do anything about it. If we go racing, we go racing. If it rains out, it rains out and we can’t do anything about it. At the end of the day, I was just waiting.” – Justin Haley

WHAT’S NEXT: Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 13 on NBCSN

Check back for more

Entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Daytona

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Get ready for lots of fireworks this 4th of July weekend – both on and off the race track at Daytona International Speedway.

This race marks the first time the 2.5-mile track hosts a Cup race without restrictor plates since 1988, utilizing instead the tapered spacer – which we’ve already seen used once this year at Talladega Superspeedway.

Both the Cup and Xfinity Series will be in action at Daytona. The Truck Series is off until July 11 at Kentucky Speedway.

Here are the updated entry lists for this weekend’s races:

Cup – Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)

There is a full 40-car field of cars and drivers entered for this race.

For the second time this season, Garrett Smithley is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

Quin Houff will drive the No. 15 for Premium Motorsports.

Ross Chastain will be in the No. 27 for Premium Motorsports.

B.J. McLeod makes his ninth start of the season for Petty Ware Racing in the No. 51 Ford

J.J. Yeley makes his third start of the season for Rick Ware Racing in the No. 52 Ford.

Joey Gase makes his first start of the season for Rick Ware Racing in the No. 53 Chevrolet.

Brendan Gaughan makes his third start of the season for Beard Racing in the No. 62 Chevrolet.

Justin Haley is back in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet.

And Parker Kligerman makes his eighth start of the season in the No. 96 Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing.

Last year, Erik Jones earned his first career Cup win in this race. Martin Truex Jr. was second and A.J. Allmendinger finished third.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Circle K Firecracker 250 (7:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN)

There are 42 cars entered. Four cars will not make the race.

Sheldon Creed makes his third Xfinity start of the season and the first for JR Motorsports in the No. 8 Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger makes his first Xfinity start of the season in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Joe Nemecheck makes his second Xfinity start of the season in the No. 13 Motorsports Business Management Toyota.

Riley Herbst makes his fifth start of 2019 in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Joe Graf Jr. makes his second start of 2019 in the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Chris Cockrum makes his third start for ACG Motorsports in the No. 25 Chevrolet.

Shane Lee makes his third start for H2 Motorsports in the No. 28 Toyota.

Austin Hill makes his Xfinity Series debut in the No. 61 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is on the entry list with the No. 81 XCI Racing Toyota but stated on Twitter that the team would not be competing this weekend. 

A spokesperson for True Speed Communications, which had done PR for XCI Racing, said they had no additional info and that its agreement with the team was only through Chicagoland.

Caesar Bacarella makes his third start of 2019 in the No. 90 DGM Racing Chevrolet.

Cody Ware makes his second Xfinity start of the season in the No. 99 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Toyota.

Kyle Larson won this race last year, followed by Elliott Sadler and Christopher Bell.

Click here for the entry list.

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