Splash & Go

NASCAR America: Kyle Petty on how much driver friendships changed

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Though the driver motorhome lot and social media have provided new windows into collegiality in the Cup Series, driver fraternization isn’t a 21st century phenomenon in NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt and Neil Bonnett were close friends while racing each other, and among many in the Baby Boom generation who developed strong bonds in stock cars (Ernie Irvan and Mark Martin are another example).

NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty, who raced in that era, believes there’s an important distinction between how drivers hung out then vs. now.

“Neil and Earnhardt were only friends when Neil was on the back side of his career and driving lesser cars,” Petty said on the latest episode of NASCAR America Splash & Go (video above). “There’s tons of ‘A’ drivers that would go to dinner with ‘C’ drivers. But not a lot of ‘A’ drivers went to dinner together. If I’m your competitor, no. But if I know I can beat you, yeah, we’ll be friends, dude. Because I’m beating you every week.

MORE: Hamlin and Larson discuss Fontana incident and aftermath

“So it’s a totally different mindset (now). I didn’t experience this. I know it probably happens in other sports, but I still believe if we’re friends and it comes down to the last lap of the race, I’m not going to drive you as hard, (and) you might not drive me as hard. You just don’t put it all out there.”

Driver relationships and how they impact NASCAR have been an ongoing topic. Analyst Steve Letarte, who had some strong opinions with Petty on Tuesday’s NASCAR America, called out prerace socializing as a problem three years ago in a NASCAR on NBC Podcast appearance.

But the controversy around how Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson interacted on and off the track (and how team owner Chip Ganassi reacted to it) has raised the issue again. Hamlin, Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are sharing a house this week in the Phoenix area and have posted about playing golf together and joking about the incident in which Larson’s car was damaged by Hamlin’s in the race Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

Petty said it’s a problem when friendships become too tight between elite drivers such as Hamlin, the two-time defending Daytona 500 winner, and Larson, who is at the top of this year’s class of impending of free agents.

“If this was (Hamlin or Larson) and a guy who’s consistently 28th or 29th, that’s OK,” Petty said. “They’re not competitors.

“Let me put to you this way: Joey Logano, nobody likes him, doesn’t have friends. What’s he do, though? Wins races and championships. Kyle Busch, you see him out? Kevin Harvick is a good example of someone who doesn’t hang with a lot of people. Jimmie Johnson has always been a loner and he and his wife, that’s their drumbeat. So the guys who come along, ‘Yeah, I’ll be nice and cordial to you, but I’m going to slit your throat.’ That’s the mental attitude you have to have.”

Petty also corrected a perception that he was close with Davey Allison and others he raced against.

“Davey and I grew up together but weren’t best friends,” Petty said. “We were competitors. I was never really close to anybody, and I got that from my dad. He was not close with anybody because he grew up in a time when drivers perished in race cars and no one got close to each other. Totally different.”

Splash & Go: Jimmie Johnson proves athleticism in Boston Marathon

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Jimmie Johnson accomplished no small feat on Monday when he completed his first attempt at the Boston Marathon.

Though he narrowly missed his personal goal of a sub 3-hour time, he capped off months of preparation for the 26.2-mile trek.

He finished the marathon in 3 hours, 9 minutes and 7 seconds at an average of 7:13 per mile.

On NASCAR America: Splash & Go, Dale Jarrett and Rick Allen, the latter a runner himself, discussed Johnson’s athletic feat.

“The performance was incredible, ” Allen said. “That’s going around your track at your high school or whatever, the quarter-mile track, that’s going a little more than a minute-and-a-half, every single lap for 26.2 miles. That’s fast. That’s really fast.

“People have said drivers aren’t athletes and they’ve questioned it. I say if you look at how someone prepares for something, that’s what I consider an athlete. Drivers get prepared to get behind the wheel of a car. Jimmie prepared to run 26.2 miles. In my mind, no question that was an extremely athletic performance.”

Jarrett observed that Johnson is one of the “very best athletes that’s ever sat in a race car.”

“The great ones are the ones who continue to push themselves in different ways,” Jarrett said.

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

Splash & Go: Daniel Suarez: ‘Keep being nice to me and we’ll be fine’

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While talking with NASCAR America’s Dave Burns for this week’s “Splash & Go,” Daniel Suarez had a clear message for his competitors in the Cup Series.

“Keep being nice to me and we’ll be fine,” Suarez said.

Or as Dr. Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk, would say: don’t make him angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Michael McDowell found this out on Friday when his confrontation with Suarez on pit road during qualifying at ISM Raceway resulted in Suarez throwing him to the ground and then Suarez being held on the hood of McDowell’s car.

The scuffle was the product of McDowell impeding the path of Suarez during his qualifying run, which Stewart-Haas Racing had planned for days due the importance of track position on the 1-mile track.

“We had a big plan for Friday,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “Maybe like never before. To get screwed the way we did. Five days of preparation for one day and to get screwed like that, I wasn’t very happy. My team wasn’t happy and they were not expecting me to react the way I did. But I wasn’t very happy with how things worked out.”

Suarez, who wound up qualifying 28th, had left pit road with three minutes left in the first round. That should have been “plenty of time” to make his run.

“We were pushing it, but we were not pushing it too hard,” Suarez said. “Because it was the first round. I knew that I needed to race that lap 80 percent, 90 percent. To get screwed liked that, that was my problem.”

Adding to his frustration was that McDowell wasn’t yet on his own qualifying lap.

“If he was stopping on the back straightaway and then going again he had nothing to lose,” Suarez said. “That was my biggest, biggest fire that I had inside. I feel like it was a lack of respect. When someone (shows) a lack of respect, you have to settle things up.”

While many may have been surprised to see Stewart-Haas Racing’s newest driver lose his cool, Suarez said those close to him know what happens when you push the limits with him.

“I have a little of me that’s like a switch, I just fire up really quick, Suarez said. “But I have to get there.”

Being employed by one of NASCAR’s more notorious hot heads in Tony Stewart also hasn’t influenced him.

“I feel like I’ve been that way my entire life and my entire career,” Suarez said. “When things don’t go as they’re planned, for circumstances you can’t control, you get disappointed. But when things get more away from the plan because of someone else, you’re going to get mad and disappointed. We all in the Cup Series, we’re very passionate. That’s why we’re there. Sometimes things get a little out of control. That’s part of racing sometimes. You just have to let people know that they have to respect the way you think and if you’re given respect … I expect that respect back. If I don’t get that, that’ll be something I don’t like.”

In a twist of faith granted by the marketing gods, Suarez has been paired with WWE wrestler Rey Mysterio in a cross-promotion effort. Mysterio will be a guest of Suarez’ this weekend at Auto Club Speedway and will drive the pace car to start the race.

Would Suarez accept an invitation into a real wrestling ring?

“I think I would be concerned to jump into that one,” Suarez said. “I think I could get my butt kicked in that one. I have a lot for respect for what these guys do. They jump high. They hit hard.”

 

Analyzing the attention on Hailie Deegan after her breakthrough wins

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Hailie Deegan’s victory in the K&N West Series season opener at Las Vegas was only the beginning for the teenager who could be emerging as a NASCAR star.

After the big win (which will be aired on replay at 6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN), Deegan was featured on FS1’s Xfinity practice coverage Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. She drove the pace car at the start of Saturday’s Xfinity race. She also announced a six-race deal Friday to race in the ARCA Series with Venturini Motorsports.

MORE: Hailie Deegan: I put my helmet on the same way everyone else does

During the latest NASCAR America Splash & Go (video above), NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett said Deegan, who became the first female to win in K&N last year, should take advantage of the exposure from her success.

“You have so many more opportunities in this day and time for these young people and drivers and aspiring Cup drivers,” Jarrett said. “I think she has all the tools to make it happen. You can do and say all the things you want, but if you aren’t making things happen on the track, I think people look at and say, ‘That’s just noise.’ But she’s making noise on the track. She’s done a great of making passes and doing things at the right time. She’s really maximizing everything on the track and off.”

Deegan’s victories come as NASCAR is in a transitory era of trying to promote its next generation of stars. Last year, that was met with some resistance from Cup veterans, particularly when there weren’t many wins by the youthful brigade for several months after Austin Dillon‘s Daytona 500 victory (Erik Jones and Chase Elliott broke through during the summer).

“There’s nothing wrong with speculation, now how far you take before it’s more than what people want, you have to have that success,” Jarrett said. “In the case of the young drivers in the Cup Series, they’re at the top level going against veterans, and it kind of backfired last year.

“In the case of Hailie Deegan, I think right now she’s getting the right type of exposure. She throws in just enough wins and shows the talent and ambition to move forward and maximize this.”

Deegan’s slate with Venturini (which also includes the K&N East race Aug. 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway) will include visits to Pocono Raceway and Kansas Speedway, providing the superspeedway experience she will need to advance.

“What I see in the schedule is she’s getting high-profile races along with difficult tracks,” Jarrett said. “That’s really important to understand that. I like she’s in good equipment in the K&N Series and Venturini has good stuff in ARCA. Especially at difficult racetracks, you don’t want a young driver discouraged. She can learn a lot and maximize her exposure.”

NASCAR America Splash & Go videos are available every Tuesday, you can watch the videos at http://www.nbcsports.com/nascar or by subscribing to the NBC Motorsports’ YouTube channel.