Retro Rundown 2018: Southern 500 paint schemes

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The 69th Southern 500 is just around the corner. You only have to wait 20 days for the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway, which will air on NBCSN.

That night will be a blast from the past with paint schemes representing NASCAR’s history as the track celebrates NASCAR’s 70th anniversary.

Here’s a roundup of the paint schemes that have been announced so far.

No. 00 – Landon Cassill: The StarCom Racing driver will pilot a car with Bobby Allison’s 1988 Miller High Life paint scheme. Derrike Cope, StarCom’s team manager, drove for Allison from 1994-96. Matt DiBenedetto drove the scheme in last year’s Southern 500.

No. 2 – Brad KeselowskiWill drive Rusty Wallace’s paint scheme from the 1990 Cup season.

Team Penske

No. 4 – Kevin Harvick: Will drive a scheme based on Busch Beer’s can design from 1996.

Stewart-Haas Racing

No. 9 – Chase Elliott: The Hendrick Motorsports driver will have a scheme based on one driven by his late cousin, Casey Elliott. He passed away from cancer in 1996.

Photo: Dustin Long

No. 12 – Ryan Blaney: Will drive a scheme based on the car his father, Dave Blaney, raced in the 2003 Cup season.

No. 14 – Clint BowyerBowyer will driver a paint scheme based on the car NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett drove to a win in the 1965 Southern 500.

 

No. 17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr: The Roush Fenway Racing driver will have the John Deere paint scheme driven by Chad Little from 1997-2000.

Top: Roush Fenway Racing/Bottom: Getty Images

No. 18 – Kyle Busch: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will pilot the original Skittles paint scheme first driven by Ernie Irvan in 1997.

No. 20 – Erik Jones: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will pay tribute to the Camping World Truck Series career of his spotter, Rick Carelli.

No. 21 – Paul Menard: Wood Brothers Racing will pay tribute to Cale Yarborough’s win in the 1968 Southern 500, which was the first for the team and Yarborough.

No. 22 – Joey Logano: The Team Penske driver will pay tribute to Steve Park with the Pennzoil scheme Park drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the early 2000s and won two races with.

Logano picture: NBCSN/Steve Park picture: Getty Images

 

No. 24 – William Byron: Will drive Jeff Gordon‘s iconic DuPont “Rainbow Warriors” scheme he raced full-time from 1993 -2000.

Hendrick Motorsports

No. 31 – Ryan Newman: The Richard Childress Racing driver will honor the late Neil Bonnett with his scheme. The car will be painted like the Mom & Pop’s sponsored car Bonnett drove in two Cup races in 1993. He was the first RCR driver to drive the No. 31.

RCR

No. 32 – Matt DiBenedetto: Will drive Jeff Burton‘s paint scheme from the 2000 Cup season.

 

No. 37 – Chris Buescher: The JTG Daugherty Racing driver’s car will have a scheme dedicated to the 110th anniversary of Busch’s Best beans.

No. 41 – Kurt BuschWill drive his own paint scheme from the 2003 season when he was part of one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history at Darlington Raceway, losing to Ricky Craven by 0.002 seconds. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the race.

 

No. 43 – Bubba Wallace: The rookie driver will boast the first STP paint scheme Richard Petty drove in 1972 at Riverside International Speedway.

Richard Petty Motorsports

No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson: The three-time Darlington winner will drive the scheme he used in 2012 when he won the Southern 500 and gave Hendrick Motorsports its 200th victory.

Richard Childress Racing

No. 95 – Kasey Kahne: The Leavine Family Racing driver will boast the paint scheme from his 2006 Cup season, when he won a career-best six races and claimed six poles.

No. 99 – Derrike Cope: Cope will be sponsored by Bojangles and will have the paint scheme Cope drove in the Cup Series in 1993 when sponsored by the company.

StarCom Racing

 

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Long: Late to his own party, Chase Elliott enjoyed the ride

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — As the crowd gathered, Bill Elliott, who had been on the backside of Watkins Glen International’s 2.45-mile circuit, appeared.

Crew members, who had celebrated on pit road, soon followed.

Then came the drivers. Friends Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace walked over. So did Kyle Busch and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and William Byron.

They all stood around waiting.

Finally, Chase Elliott arrived in Victory Lane.

It was a scene NASCAR and fans had awaited since Elliott’s Cup debut in March 2015, a day heralded with hope and hype for what Bill Elliott’s son could someday do for the sport.

MORE: Chase Elliott receives hero’s welcome in Dawsonville

Signed to a contact by Rick Hendrick at age 15, an Xfinity champion at 18 and the heir to Jeff Gordon’s car at 20, Elliott combined heartbreaking looks with a hot rodder’s drive.

Add that famous surname and how could he not be a superstar in the sport? All that remained was for him to win.

He couldn’t for 98 Cup races — nearly the length of three full seasons. Blaney won during that time. Kyle Larson won. Erik Jones won. Chris Buescher won. Austin Dillon won a Coca-Cola 600 and a Daytona 500.

Elliott fell behind his generational classmates. He came close to winning at times but those results often left him a frustrated or angry eyewitness to someone else’s joy.

Last year proved particularly painful for him.

Busch passed Elliott for the lead coming to the white flag at Dover last October to win. After Elliott parked his car on pit road, he sat there. He removed his helmet and placed his head in his hands. Jimmie Johnson approached but knew there was little to say that would console his teammate. Instead, Johnson helped shield Elliott from the crowd, giving the youngster a moment to vent with salty language.

Four weeks later, Elliott led less than three laps from the scheduled end at Martinsville before he was spun by Denny Hamlin. They engaged in a heated debate afterward that continued at Phoenix a few weeks later when Elliott roughed up Hamlin on the track in retaliation.

Late restarts cost Elliott wins at both Michigan races in 2016, as he piled up second-place finishes. He was a runner-up eight times in those first 98 races, matching what his father did before Bill won his first Cup race — which came on a road course.

Each weekend that Chase Elliott failed to win, the question loomed larger: When would the Hall of Famer’s son win in NASCAR’s premier series?

Elliott felt the pressure, burden and disappointment. Sunday morning, he turned to a football coach for guidance.

As Elliott passed the time before the mid-afternoon start, he pulled up a video of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart from last month’s SEC Media Day. Smart spoke with the calm conviction of a preacher when asked about pressure and expectations.

“I think potential is dormant ability,” said Smart, whose team lost the national championship game in overtime to Alabama in January. “And I think effectiveness is what we get out of our potential. And we talk to our players all of the time, the pressure is really a privilege.

You should feel privilege to have pressure to win games, to have expectations. We can’t run from those things. We know that. If pressure is a privilege, how you manage that and how you embrace that and our coaching staff getting the effectiveness of our players out is what’s important to us.”

Smart’s response resonated with the 22-year-old Elliott.

He watched the video again and again and again.

“He’s talking to kids who are my age, if not younger than me,” Elliott told NBC Sports. “I felt like he was kind of speaking to me. For some reason it really sat with me. Just felt that was something to keep in the back of my mind. It is a privilege to be in those positions, and you’ve got to make the most of them.”

Elliott understood his situation. While Busch clearly had the best car going into the race, Elliott was in that next group. He was closer to a win than he had been most of the season.

This was his chance for a breakthrough.

Elliott didn’t back down against Busch early in the race. When Busch fell out of contention for the win, Elliott dueled reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr., who sought his third consecutive road course victory.

Elliott assumed the lead on Lap 57 when Busch had to pit a second time under caution because of an issue with his team’s fueling left his tank about half empty.

Truex quickly moved to second on the restart but then laid back, saving fuel and waiting to pounce. Elliott also saved fuel. His lead over Truex dwindled, but it was too early for Truex to make a move. He stayed close enough to remain in Elliott’s rearview mirror.

At the behest of crew chief Cole Pearn, Truex pressured Elliott, hoping to run Elliott out of fuel if he couldn’t get around him.

Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson watched from the pit box while he and his team calculated fuel mileage.

“You don’t know how much fuel you’re saving,” said Gustafson, who celebrated his 43rd birthday Sunday. “We’re trying to do the best job we can calculating but you don’t know. It is a cat-and-mouse game. We hadn’t run that far into a run competing against (Truex) all race, so I didn’t know if his car was going to do better than ours or ours was going to do better than his.”

Gustafson said the team projected Elliott wound run out fuel on Lap 89.92 of the 90-lap race — essentially coming to the checkered flag.

Elliott didn’t have to time to ponder fuel because of a mistake on the final lap. He applied too much rear brake entering Turn 1. His car wheel-hopped and drifted wide into the right-hand corner.

“When that happens,” Elliott said of the wheel-hopping, “typically you’re either going to spin out or knock it out of gear and miss the corner. I tried to knock it out of gear, completely blew Turn 1”

Truex closed the gap.

All Truex needed was to get to Elliott’s bumper and in this summer of rock’em-sock’em finishes, Truex would continue the reign he, Busch and Kevin Harvick — the Big 3 — hold over the rest of the field.

Elliott rocketed through the esses and extended his lead on Truex. They both charged through the inner loop, their cars launching off the curbs. After exiting the carousel, Truex ran out of fuel but Elliott didn’t notice immediately.

“I was trying not to pay him much attention,” Elliott said. “I was expecting him to be three or four car (lengths) back coming out of the carousel.”

As Elliott approached the finish line and his first Cup checkered flag, spotter Eddie D’Hondt told him: “That’s one of many!”

Elliott screamed and then headed for his father, who had been spotting near the inner loop.

“I was going to go and absolutely burn it down to the ground in front of him,” Elliott said of the burnout he planned.

He couldn’t. The projection by Gustafson and the team’s engineers were incorrect. Elliott didn’t run out of gas just before the finish. He ran out of gas as he got to the inner loop after he won, going about a half lap beyond what he needed.

Elliott then found himself stranded on the track as fans cheered, his crew rejoiced and Hendrick Motorsports saw the end of a 37-race winless drought.

Johnson, who had a provided a confidant’s understanding to Elliott after that Dover despair, again knew how to help. He drove behind Elliott and pushed his teammate’s car the rest of the way so Elliott could begin his celebration.

“That’s something that I’ll never forget,” Elliott said. “His friendship has meant a lot to me and very appreciative of what he’s done in helping me be a better racer and a better person.”

After the celebration on the frontstretch, Elliott headed to Victory Lane. Instead of announcing his entrance by revving engine, his silent, out-of-gas car slipped in modestly in front of the large crowd that had been waiting.

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Friday 5: A long waiting game for Christopher Bell

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While winning on the race track, the key question for Christopher Bell is if he’s losing off it.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver heads into Saturday’s Xfinity race at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBC) seeking a record-tying fourth consecutive series victory.

Saturday’s race will be his 81st career start in either the Xfinity or Camping World Truck Series. While Bell has won 15 percent of those races, he has yet to make his Cup debut. That puts him behind many drivers who have since moved to Cup full-time.

There seems to be little doubt about Bell’s ability to move to Cup, it’s just a matter of when.

He said Wednesday that his preference is to run in Cup next year if there is an opportunity.

“I don’t feel like I need another year of Xfinity,” said Bell, who has won five of his 27 career Xfinity starts. “I think the best way for me to win at the Cup level is to get there and start trying at it.

“You know, I feel like I’m different than the guys that have been coming up here over the last couple years, and everyone is saying that they’re moving guys up too quick, and the difference is that I’m 23 years old, I’m not 18, 19 or even 20 years old. I’ve got a lot of racing experience, and right now I feel like I’m in my prime as a race car driver. If the opportunity comes to go Cup racing next year, I definitely don’t want to waste another year in my prime, so to speak, of not learning and not getting that experience of Cup racing.”

Many of the drivers he hopes to race against in Cup made their series debut after fewer Xfinity and Truck starts than Bell.

Consider the list of how many races in Xfinity and Truck that current Cup drivers competed in before making their Cup debut:

12 races — Joey Logano (12 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

33 — Erik Jones (12 Xfinity, 21 Truck)

36 — Kyle Larson (30 Xfinity, 6 Truck)

36 — Alex Bowman (36 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

46 — Chris Buescher (46 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

47 — Chase Elliott (38 Xfinity, 9 Truck)

48 — Trevor Bayne (48 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

49 — Matt DiBenedetto (49 Xfinity, 0 Truck)

54 — Ryan Blaney (20 Xfinity, 34 Truck)

57 — William Byron (33 Xfinity, 24 Truck)

58 — Austin Dillon (11 Xfinity, 47 Truck)

80 — Christopher Bell (27 Xfinity, 53 Truck)

84 — Ty Dillon (36 Xfinity, 48 Truck)

95 — Daniel Suarez (68 Xfinity, 27 Truck)

130 — Bubba Wallace (85 Xfinity, 45 Truck)

Every driver progresses at their own rate and what works for one driver isn’t going to work for another. Still, five of those drivers on the above list (Logano, Jones, Buescher, Bayne and Blaney) won a Cup race by their second full-time season.

The bottom line on what Bell does next year will be money. If there’s enough sponsorship money backing him, there will be a way to get him to Cup. Without that money, he seems headed for another year in Xfinity with Toyota’s Cup lineup seemingly set.

Cup organizations are limited to four teams and Joe Gibbs Racing already employs former champion Kyle Busch, former Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, 2017 Cup Rookie of the Year Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, who is coming off a career-best runner-up finish last weekend at Pocono.

The only other high-profile Toyota organization is Furniture Row Racing, which cut back to one team this season because of sponsorship and faces new sponsorship questions after 5-hour Energy recently announced it won’t return after this season. While reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. is a free agent at the end of the season, he said last month at Kentucky that “I don’t plan on doing anything different” for next season.

Bell said Friday at Watkins Glen that he was not aware of any plans to put him in a Cup car for a race this season.

“Right now, we’re right in the middle of closing out the regular season with three road courses in front of me, so I’ve got my hands full right now, especially going into road course season here and trying to maintain our points lead,” Bell said. “Nothing’s been talked about or said to me about that.”

He said he would be open to running a Cup car this year even if it came during the Xfinity playoffs. Bell said he believes it would still help him.

2. The mystery of Kyle Larson and road courses

Kyle Larson has an average starting spot of 5.2 in his Cup career at road courses.

His average finish in those races is 18.1.

Only once — Aug. 2014 at Watkins Glen — has Larson finished in the top 10 at a road course.

“I didn’t grow up racing anything close to a road course, but I always enjoy the challenge of competing at places like Watkins Glen,” Larson said. “We usually have pretty good speed at the road courses on short runs, but just need to be better a few laps after we fire off.

“I’ve got two poles at Sonoma now and have started the last two races at Watkins Glen on the front row in second, so we have speed but unfortunately haven’t been able to carry that speed for the whole race. Even though the tracks are fairly different, hopefully we learned a good bit about a month ago at Sonoma that we can put to use this weekend and put together a good race up until the finish.”

Larson’s frustration with road courses was evident at Sonoma in June. After starting on the pole, he finished 14th.

“I just don’t understand how I can try and take care of my tires and still be the worst car on long runs here. I don’t understand,” Larson said on the radio to his team during the race.

“That makes two of us,” Larson’s crew chief Chad Johnston responded.

To help his road course ability, Larson is running in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

3. Extra laps for many Cup drivers

Several drivers who score points in the Cup series are competing in other events this weekend at Watkins Glen International to gain extra experience on a road course.

Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace are entered in today’s K&N Pro Series East race.

Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola are entered in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

Logano won the Xfinity race at Watkins Glen in 2015 and ’16. Keselowski won this race in 2013.

This is the first time Allmendinger, who won the 2014 Cup race at Watkins Glen, has competed in the Xfinity race at Watkins Glen. He last drove in the Xfinity Series in 2013. He ran two races that season, winning at Road America and Mid-Ohio.

4. Could history repeat?

Chase Elliott seeks his first career Cup win. If he gets it this weekend, he would match his dad Bill in scoring his first career Cup win at a road course. Bill Elliott’s first career Cup victory came at Riverside International Raceway on Nov. 20, 1983.

Already Chase Elliott has matched his dad in runner-up finishes before scoring that first win. Chase has eight runner-up finishes. That’s how many his dad had before he scored his first Cup win.

5. Something to shoot for

While the Big 3 of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have seemingly won everything this year, there’s one are they’re short.

They’ve yet to score a win on a road course, restrictor-plate track, short track and a 1.5-mile track in the same season.

The last to do it was Joey Logano. He won the Daytona 500 and the fall Talladega race for his restrictor-plate wins. He was conquered Watkins Glen for the road course element and added wins at Bristol (short track) and Charlotte and Kansas (1.5-mile tracks).

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Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin among seven drivers held from Pocono practice

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Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Chris Buescher and BJ McLeod will be held out of the final 15 minutes are Saturday’s first Cup practice at Pocono Raceway.

The 50-minute session on the 2.5-mile track will begin at 9 a.m., the first of two practices Saturday at Pocono for Sunday’s race. The five drivers are being penalized because their cars failed prerace inspection twice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Reed Sorenson and Timmy Hill also will be held from the final 15 minutes for being late to prequalifying inspection at Chicagoland Speedway last month.

Under a new qualifying schedule being used at a few races this season (most recently at Chicagoland), Cup Series cars won’t be inspected prior to Cup qualifying at 4:10 p.m. Saturday.

Prerace inspection will occur directly after qualifying ends at Pocono, and any cars that fail will have their qualifying times disallowed.

 

Bump & Run: Is it time to run Cup race on dirt?

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What should happen next: A second race on dirt for the Trucks, a race on dirt for Xfinity, or a race on dirt for Cup?

Nate Ryan: A midweek race on dirt for Cup at Eldora Speedway. As track general manager Roger Slack explained last year, an interim step with Xfinity doesn’t make much sense. Cup cars would work at the short track, it’s just a matter of getting the logistics worked out and settling on a solid tire compound.

Dustin Long: Cup race on dirt. Everyone talks about making bold changes to the sport. Be bold.

Daniel McFadin: Xfinity on dirt. These kind of experiments shouldn’t skip a step on their way up to the premier series. The question is where do they race in order to keep Eldora its own thing?

Dan Beaver: A combination weekend with Xfinity and Cup. And the perfect place for it would be Virginia Motor Speedway – a half-mile clay track with modern amenities, grandstands that could actually hold enough fans to make it profitable.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. won a jukebox for winning at Kentucky. This weekend, the New Hampshire winner will collect a lobster. What is a trophy in racing (past or current) that ranks high on your list?

Nate Ryan: The Harley J. Earl Trophy is a mammoth and ornate representation of the winning significance of NASCAR’s marquee race. The timeless elegance of Martinsville Speedway’s grandfather clocks would be a close second.

Dustin Long: As an Indiana native, you can’t beat the Borg-Warner Trophy for the Indianapolis 500 winner, but I always liked the surfboard given to the winner at Auto Club Speedway.

Daniel McFadin: I have an affinity for the trophy given to winners at Bristol Motor Speedway. There’s nothing flashy about it and it would feel at home in Victory Lane in any decade of NASCAR history.

Dan Beaver: It’s hard to beat the grandfather clock from Martinsville – the iconic special trophy.

Of the seven remaining races before the playoffs, which one are you most intrigued to see what happens?

Nate Ryan: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Though the action (or dearth of it) won’t necessarily be different as the Brickyard moves to the cutoff slot, it will be interesting to see how the myriad points battles unfold.

Dustin Long: Pocono. Pit strategy can play a key role there. Two of the last four races there have been won by drivers scoring their first career series win (Chris Buescher in 2016 and Ryan Blaney in 2017).

Daniel McFadin: Watkins Glen. It’s the race where strategy or absolute chaos could be instrumental in a new winner. I’m hoping for chaos.

Dan Beaver: It’s gotta be Bristol, baby! Only three races will remain until the playoffs and the entire field is going to be jacked up.