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Don’t worry, ‘Big 3’ don’t plan on retiring anytime soon

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Over the last two days, the Bristol Motor Speedway media center hosted two news conferences for NASCAR drivers who just announced they were retiring from full-time competition after this season.

Elliott Sadler was first on Thursday. The 43-year-old Xfinity driver announced his time was up after 22 full-time seasons in Cup and Xfinity since 1997.

Kasey Kahne followed on Friday, as the 38-year-old Cup driver will end his full-time career after he made his Xfinity debut in 2002. His first Cup season was in 2004.

Kahne and Sadler both cited spending time with family as a deciding factor in making their choices.

Their decisions to step away from racing full time in NASCAR are the latest in a slew of drivers who have announced their retirements since 2015, including Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Danica Patrick and Greg Biffle.

Is it just a matter of timing, with drivers who entered NASCAR around the same time taking their leave together?

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Sadler said. “I don’t know if it’s one thing. NASCAR is a grueling schedule. It’s a long schedule. I just think quality of life nowadays is something we’re thinking more about, and I’m sure there are more top-name guys to retire in the next two to three years.”

Don’t expect the “Big 3” of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. to hang it up in the near future.

Busch, 33, is in his 14th full-time Cup season and has a few reasons to keep racing, including dollar signs.

“I’ve asked my accountant that question and he says I’m screwed,” Busch replied when asked if he could retire before reaching his 40s. “I’ve got to keep going. I’ve got way too much debt, so unfortunately, I don’t think I can retire as soon as the rest of those guys are currently at the moment, but we’ll see how things go in the future with what I’ve got going on.

“We’ve gone through a lot of change over the years with packages and cars and things like that in the Cup Series, and I’ve been around for a few of them, maybe not as many as some other guys like Jimmie (Johnson), most notably, and Kurt (Busch). It still feels like there’s some opportunity to excel, and you hope that you can excel. Obviously, the better drivers, the more talented drivers should always shine and come to the top and maybe we can still have that opportunity with whatever new package is coming – if it is coming. We’ll see what happens in that regard.”

Harvick, 42 and in his 18th Cup season, also made clear it clear he’ll be around for the foreseeable future.

Harvick gave his answer in the middle of response to a question about whether he was surprised about Kahne’s retirement announcement.

“It’s a constant evaluation of the things that you do,” Harvick said. “We’re going through the same type of evaluation and how you spend your time and the way that you manage your time. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Are you retiring?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m not retiring,’ but you’re going to a lot of decisions come out that make you think that I am, but it’s really all about making sure that you have your time managed and do things that make sure that family is first and racing.  We’ll worry about the retirement thing in a few years when we have to start thinking about that stuff.”

Truex, 38 and in his 13th season, also said “I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon,” even with questions surrounding his future at Furniture Row Racing.

“Obviously, it’s getting tougher and a lot more challenging each season to bring in the sponsorship and bring in the dollars it takes to be competitive so that requires more work from us,” Truex said. “I think if you’re not running good, it’s just hard to deal with it all. For me, having fun and doing what we’re doing and hopefully we can keep it up like I said earlier and keep things rolling. Definitely busy schedules and look, some of these guys have been racing since they were 6, 7, 8 years old and they have families and they want to do some other things. Wish all those guys the best.”

Tony Stewart wants to return to the Indianapolis 500 — and win

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DEARBORN, Mich. – Tony Stewart has an itch to race more often, and the three-time NASCAR champion naturally wants to scratch it at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2019.

Stewart, an Indiana native who grew up dreaming of winning at the Brickyard, hasn’t raced the Indianapolis 500 since 2001 but said Tuesday “it’s not out of the question” that he will return to Indy as soon as next May, which will be broadcast by NBC.

Stewart, who had downplayed the idea of racing the Indy 500 in recent years, said he would want to run at least one IndyCar race before returning.

“If I go, I’m not going just to run it,” said Stewart, who hasn’t had any serious discussion with teams yet. “I don’t want to be a sideshow like Danica (Patrick) was at Indy this year. If I go, I want to go feeling like I’ve got the same opportunity to win that everyone else in the field does.

“It’s an insult to the guys who do it every week to show up and think you’re going to be as good as those guys are. They’re on their game. They know their cars. They know how they need their cars to feel in practice to be good in the race. It’s foolish to think you can just show up and be competitive and have a shot to win.”

Patrick qualified seventh and finished 30th in the 2018 Indy 500, the final start of her career.

Stewart has five starts in the Indianapolis 500, starting on pole as a rookie in 1996 and leading 64 laps in a career-best fifth in 1997.

He believes he could be in winning form with the right team and a little time to knock off the rust.

“One race might not be enough to feel like you’re where you need to be,” he said. “But at least little things like pit stops and having that much duration of time in the seat to make sure no points or parts of the seat are pinching — things when you’re only in it for 10 minutes you don’t notice, but two hours you notice it. Those are things to sort out once you get there.”

Asked if it was important to run well because his return would make him the focus, Stewart said, “I don’t give two (craps) about the focus.

“I care about running well in the car. I don’t want to be the circus sideshow. If I do it, that’s not why I’m doing it. If I do it, I’m doing it because I want to win the race.”

The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, who retired from the Cup Series in 2016 after 17 seasons, caused a stir in the preseason when he said he wanted to run a road course in the Xfinity Series.

Stewart said he looked at it, but he would have had to trade off four sprint car races.

“(It) was a lot to give up,” he said. “I still plan on doing it somewhere down the road if the opportunity is right. If that opportunity does come around and I don’t have four sprint car races on the schedule, I’d definitely like to do it again.”

After a disappointing 2017 in which he struggled in returning to run 45 sprint car races, Stewart has run 62 races so far this year.

“I feel every night I’m in a car, we’re better,” said Stewart, who turned 47 in May. “Our performance is better. We’ve already ran 62 races this year. We’re much better than we were last year.

“The more I race, the better I get. Even on days we’re off, I’m learning things that will help down the road. It’s just getting back in that rhythm again and finally starting to get confidence back as a driver, and feel like I’m ready to start doing some stuff.”

After a deal fell apart to put him in a Ford seat for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Stewart said the world’s most famous endurance race also remains on his radar.

“Everything’s a possibility,” he said. “There’s nothing I’ve written off and said, ‘You know what, I’m never doing it.’ Everything is an opportunity still. I’m getting anxious to do stuff again.”

With possibly one exception – Formula One.

Even though NASCAR partner Gene Haas has a team, Stewart said it literally wouldn’t be a good fit.

“That’s going to be a tough one,” he said. “(F1 drivers are) skinny. I don’t mind working hard to be a race car driver, but I don’t want to have to work that hard just to be skinny. I like to eat still.”

What’s next for Danica Patrick after the Indy 500? Dreams, downtime and waffles

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Danica Patrick was a 14-year-old growing up in Roscoe, Illinois, she had a firm idea of what she’d be doing 20 years later.

A reporter from her hometown newspaper recently reminded her of that in a recent interview when he brought a prescient artifact from those teenage years – an essay that she crafted as an up and coming go-kart driver about her racing accomplishments.

“I’m breezing through it, and then at the end, it said, ‘I wanted to race Indy cars,” Patrick, 36, said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I was 14. I told him, ‘See? If this isn’t an example of “Write that shit down,” nothing is.’

“This is manifesting. You have write it down and you have to imagine what you want. So I do that as much as I can.”

Heading into the final start of her career in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, Patrick already seems to have a solid idea of the next 20 years — in part, because of having some glimpses into her post-racing life.

There has been plenty of downtime since her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500 three months ago. She has taken vacations (including an India trip to meet the Dalai Lama with boyfriend Aaron Rodgers) and created several new routines on her suddenly free from racing weekends.

“I make waffles on Sundays now,” she said. “That’s pretty fun.  In the summer, there’s like farmers market.  I can’t wait for that.  I mean, there’s going to be probably some new stuff that I don’t know yet.

“The one thing that I am definitely looking forward to less of is less stress.  Last weekend was awesome at the end of it all because it went well with qualifying, but I was nervous for 95% of that weekend. That’s uncomfortable.”

But testing her comfort zone is appealing to Patrick, who has spent most of her adult life testing the boundaries of gender norms in her profession. Though the pressure of race weekends might disappear, her incessant quest for challenges probably will remain.

Now that racing is over, Patrick still has a winery, a clothing line, a cookbook and a fitness manual to promote – and more is on the way.

“I just have a habit for pushing myself to uncomfortable spaces, making them comfortable for me,” she said. “At least just making them comfortable enough to be able to manage.

“As an example, I went bungee jumping a long while back, like 10 years.  I’m super scared of heights.  I’m still scared of heights.  But I just like to know that if I want to do something, I am brave enough and confident enough to do it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not still scared.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still something that’s easy to me afterward. I just like to know I can get past the fear if I have to.

“I’m OK with transitioning into other things, finding a little bit of happiness and joy each day, less colorization of emotions. I’m ready for that.”

So what specifically is on tap? Talk shows? Another book?

Patrick demurs when pressed.

“I think I have definitely big dreams and aspirations for myself, for all my companies, for the kind of emotion I want to have on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a good, easy, happy, calm, joyful, exciting, adventurous life.  If I say I want it, there’s a very good chance that’s what I’ll get.”

In the short-term, there’s hosting an ESPN awards show that will keep her busy through July.

And after that, her schedule will free up just as Green Bay Packers training camp begins for Rodgers, the two-time MVP quarterback.

“I’m thinking I’m going to have plenty of time to write a cookbook in Green Bay,” she said.

Reviewing Danica Patrick’s highs and lows at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the legacy left by her success

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So much of Danica Patrick’s fame can be traced to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s where she became a household name 13 years ago when she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and emerged as a transcendent athlete.

It’s where everything started. This Sunday, it’s where everything will end, too.

In her last warmup before starting the final race of her career, Patrick had a bumpy final practice Friday on Carb Day. She was eighth fastest, but her Dallara-Chevrolet was in the garage most of the session because of an electrical problem in the engine. After returning during the final 10 minutes of the session, Patrick’s No. 13 seemed to be OK.

“At the end of the day, these are things you’re actually glad for, because if this had happened Sunday, we would have been done,” she said. “I’m glad to get the issues out of the way early on. Overall, today felt good. We made some changes when I went out the second time, and I’m feeling good about starting seventh on Sunday.”
Though she has had her share of success – along with a fourth in her debut, there was a third in 2009 and six top 10s in seven starts — Patrick has learned well how to handle frustration at the 2.5-mile track, too.

Fuel mileage might have kept her from winning her debut, a pit collision ruined 2008, and an unstable setup made 2010 a wild ride.

For a review of her up-and-down history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and her legacy in racing, watch the video essay above that ran during Friday’s NASCAR America Motorsports Special on NBCSN.

 

NASCAR’s Avengers are here to save the day

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In case you haven’t heard, a little movie called Avengers: Infinity War was released last week and it has made all the money.

The Avengers, also known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” are a ragtag cast of characters and personalities that on paper shouldn’t work, but in reality make for drama that has captured audience’s attention for 10 years in cinemas and decades in comic books.

This raises an obvious question.

Which NASCAR Cup drivers – current and retired – would make up the Avengers?

Here’s an exhaustive (one afternoon of contemplation) evaluation of NASCAR’s best.

Send your Avengers/NASCAR recommendations to Daniel McFadin.

Nick Fury – Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, is the most visible face of NASCAR’s leadership. Now imagine that face with an eyepatch.

Iron ManAustin Dillon has that Tony Stark style and he parties like the billionaire playboy philanthropist would if he owned a barn.

Rocket Raccoon – No, Tony Stewart isn’t a talking animal. But the talking raccoon is a weapons expert who likes to make things go boom. If you’re ever in a tight spot that requires the use of a flame thrower, Stewart is your man.

Star Lord AKA Peter QuillClint Bowyer has a couple of things in common with this character. Both are from the Midwest. Bowyer hails from Kansas and Star Lord from Missouri. Also, Bowyer is the driver most likely to call someone a “turd blossom.”

Captain America/Falcon – These modern-day best friends and allies bring to mind the Ryan Blaney/Darrell Wallace Jr. duo and NASCAR’s best bromance.

Spider-Man – The youngest member of the Avengers is a tech savvy teenager just getting his feet wet in the superhero world while also attending high school. William Byron fits the mold of the webslinger as he navigates his rookie year in Cup while taking college courses.

The Incredible Hulk – Don’t make Matt Kenseth angry. He might not be physically imposing, but poke the bear enough and you’ll have to face his inner Hulk in-between haulers after a race or find yourself punted into the wall at a short track.

ThorJeffrey Earnhardt has the beard, he just needs the hammer.

Doctor Strange – The Sorcerer Supreme has the ability to manipulate time and space. When it comes to restrictor-plate racing these days, few are better than Brad Keselowski at manipulating the draft to work their magic.

Drax the Destroyer – Just like this Guardian of the Galaxy, it takes a lot to make Paul Menard smile.

Black Widow – For a long time the former Russian spy was the only woman in the Avenger boys club and Danica Patrick was in a similar position in Cup until moving on after this season’s Daytona 500.

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