Jimmie Johnson’s late move scrambles Clash field
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Paul Menard, driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, turned in one of the best driving performances of his career in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, only to see the win go to Jimmie Johnson after late contact between the two triggered a massive 17-car pileup on Lap 55 of a scheduled 75.
Johnson led the next four laps under caution before the race was called due to rain.
Menard, who set a Clash record for laps led with 51, said in a post-race interview that he just got crashed.
“Unfortunately, we just got turned there,” he said. “I didn’t really know what happened until I saw a replay. I felt like it was aggressive side-drafting. I got turned to the inside and hooked to the right and all hell broke loose.”
Johnson spent a good bit of his winner’s interview answering questions about his move on Menard.
“I didn’t try to crash Paul,” he said. “I didn’t drive through Paul. It was a racing incident. I’m very remorseful. I’m probably more remorseful than any driver in the field when stuff like this happens.
“I don’t crash people to win races. I looked in the mirror and there were a lot of cars caught up in it, and I hate that aspect of it. So absolutely I’m remorseful.
“But at the same time, I have a split-second decision to try to win a race, and I set up the pass and got position on him clean. I don’t know what triggered his car wobbling, and then the accident started from there.”
Second-finishing Kurt Busch said Johnson made a risky move on Menard.
“Johnson made a move on Menard, and he stayed in that no-zone — I call it the no-zone — in that left rear quarterpanel for way too long, and it just drug Menard around with him,” Busch said. “That’s some of the instability in the draft that these cars show. And that’s why we end up single file a lot … trying to make sure we’re making our move because sometimes … your move is your last move because the cars are so unstable.”
Busch’s comments about lots of single-file racing in the Clash, a non-points race for pole winners from the previous season and others, were echoed by Jamie McMurray, who is making his final Speedweeks appearances before taking a job as a commentator for Fox. He said the fact that there were just 20 drivers in the Clash was a factor.
“When we get 40 cars out there, it will be way better,” he said. “It’s hard at [restrictor] plate races when you don’t have enough cars on the track. … The [Gander RV Duels on Thursday] might be similar, but the [Daytona] 500 will be totally different, and hopefully it gets hot. If it gets hot and the track gets slick it will be way different.”
Joey Logano finished third ahead of Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman.
PHOTO CAPTION: Jimmie Johnson hoists the Clash winner’s trophy in Victory Lane. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
NASCAR Hall of Fame inducts a legendary 10th class
by RICK MINTER/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Last Friday night, the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, inducted its 10th class — Jeff Gordon, Roger Penske, Jack Roush, the late Alan Kulwicki and the late Davey Allison.
Gordon’s acceptance speech drew some of the most enthusiastic applause of the night when he thanked his fans, including those seated at the back of the auditorium during the induction ceremony.
“What a special evening. I’m so honored to be here surrounded by friends, family, fans and many people that have worked very hard behind the scenes for me over the years,” Gordon said. “Thank you to the fans who make racing the great sport that it is. You make being a race car driver a dream come true.”
Penske and Roush, both longtime and successful team owners, thanked the drivers, partners and employees that made their success possible.
“When I announced my plan to start a NASCAR Cup team in January 1988, few, if any, knowledgeable fans and even fewer Cup team personnel would have given me favorable odds of surviving for more than three decades as I stand before you tonight,” Roush said.
Many felt it was fitting that Kulwicki and Allison, who raced together and died relatively young in accidents just three months apart back in 1993, were inducted in the same ceremony.
Allison died at 32 and Kulwicki at 38, and both perished in aviation crashes. Allison won 19 races, while Kulwicki, who was both driver and owner, won five races and the 1992 Cup championship.
Teen Late Model driver Connor Okrzesik outduels Kyle Busch at SpeedFest
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
The 2019 asphalt stock car season got off to a glorious start Saturday with the 15th running of SpeedFest at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, Georgia.
The event attracted some of the biggest names in asphalt short-track racing, as well as NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch and Harrison Burton. But in the end, it was young Connor Okrzesik outdueling Busch to get the biggest victory of his career.
A large crowd packed the grandstands on a sunny but cold afternoon to watch a 125-lap Pro Late Model race and the 200-lap Super Late Model feature.
Georgia’s Casey Roderick, who had hoped that a solid start for GMS Racing in an Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway last year would lead to more NASCAR starts, hasn’t had his calls to NASCAR power brokers returned, but he answered every challenge in winning the Pro Late Model feature.
In the 200-lap finale, Late Model regular Brian Campbell was one of the early favorites, but spun on his own while leading on Lap 49. Polesitter Steven Nasse reassumed the lead, but soon lost it to Burton, the NASCAR Truck Series driver and son of retired NASCAR driver Jeff Burton.
Burton led until the halfway mark, but lost the lead to Busch, who had worked his way forward from the 10th starting position.
While many at the track were expecting Busch to motor away from the field, Okrzesik (pronounced OH-krezik) had other ideas, and took the lead from Busch on Lap 110 with a gentle nudge to his bumper in Turn Two.
The 17-year-old driver from Grand Bay, Alabama, dominated the second half of the race, losing the lead briefly when several drivers stayed on the track during a round of pit stops.
But Okrzesik, whose No. 14 Chevy is prepared by chassis whiz and former NASCAR Cup driver Mike Garvey, would need more heroics to defeat Busch, as two late caution flags allowed Busch to restart alongside the youngster. But each time, Okrzesik pulled away, and at the finish he was three car lengths ahead of Busch, with Burton finishing a close third over ARCA regular Chandler Smith and Nasse.
In his winner’s interview, Okrzesik said he tried to not be intimidated by the sight of Busch’s No. 51 Toyota in his rear-view mirror.
“I didn’t pay attention to who was behind me,” he said, adding that his stunning victory “feels amazing, unbelievable.”
Busch sounded impressed by the youngster. “Connor was really, really fast; his car was on a rail,” he said. “Second was all we had.”
NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin, who watched the race online, tweeted his comments about the young winner: “Okay @connorokrzesik you have my attention. Masterful driving young man. Congratulations.”
Burton seemed happy with his podium finish.
“It’s a great way to kick off the year, with a top-three finish,” he said. “Anytime you’re racing with Kyle Busch, you’re doing something right.
“Now we need to go out and win some races.”
Photo: Kyle Busch drove the No. 51 Late Model Toyota Camry to a second-place finish behind Okrzesik./Twitter.com/KyleBusch
Bubba Pollard — one of the best drivers around
By Rick Minter/Andrews McMeel Syndication
There was a time, 10 to 15 years ago that Bubba Pollard and his supporters thought he needed and wanted a career as a driver in NASCAR’s elite division.
But that didn’t happen.
Now, many in the sport are saying that NASCAR needs Pollard, and other blue-collar drivers like him.
Pollard, now 31, is a third-generation racer from the Atlanta suburb of Senoia, Georgia.
His late grandparents Hence and Reba Pollard were the co-founders and longtime promoters of the local short track, Senoia Raceway.
His father, Sonny, was an accomplished asphalt short-track driver before he put his career on hold to focus on helping his son develop as a driver.
Young Bubba was an outstanding Legends driver before moving to the asphalt short tracks. He soon won the championship at Senoia Raceway, and began racing — and winning — Late Model races on tracks across the Southeast.
His success earned him a slot in the “Gong Show” tryouts hosted at that time by Roush Racing. He didn’t win the Gong Show, but his family did continue its NASCAR quest by funding several starts for him in the ARCA series.
When that didn’t lead to an opportunity with a top NASCAR team, Pollard and his family returned to the short tracks.
He blossomed into one of the nation’s top asphalt Late Model drivers — many say he’s the best in that business. He’s won more than 100 Late Model features, most of them longer-distance events. He has major victories at nearly every track in the Southeast and at tracks across the continent, including Kern County Speedway in California. He’s won most of his division’s marquee races, including the Oxford 250 in Maine, which he accomplished last year in his first try.
On off-weekends from asphalt racing, Pollard often drives a Late Model on the dirt at Senoia Raceway, where he’s one of a few drivers who have won on the speedway when it was asphalt and on the current dirt surface.
A recent article in Autoweek stated that when it came time to chisel the Mount Rushmore of short-track racing, Pollard should be placed alongside legends Dick Trickle, Sam Ard and Jack Ingram.
Among the things that attract fans to Pollard is the fact that he really is a blue-collar guy in a sport increasingly populated by younger drivers with strong financial backing.
Surprisingly, given his results on the track, Pollard’s not even a full-time racer. During the week, he, like the rest of his family, pitches in and does physical labor at the family business.
It’s reminiscent of the days when NASCAR had stars like Harry Gant, who was just as accomplished as a carpenter and cattleman as he was at driving.
Hard work is part of Pollard’s DNA. His grandfather was a timberman, farmer and part-time race track promoter. His parents continue to operate the farm and have added a construction business and a disposal business.
“We never know what Monday morning will bring,” Pollard said by phone late one evening as he drove home from work. “Some days we’re working cows. Sometimes we’re pumping septic tanks or installing them. Other times we’re throwing trash.
“We work together as family just like we race together as a family.”
Pollard said he and his family once dreamed of him making it to NASCAR.
“Growing up around racing, I looked up to idols like Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon,” he said. “Our goal was to someday race in NASCAR, but looking back on it, NASCAR just wasn’t the place for me at that time. It didn’t work out, and I’m OK with that.”
Pollard said one thing he’s proud of is that he continued to be the same person, and didn’t try to change just to make himself more attractive to a race team or sponsor. For one thing, he continued to go by “Bubba” rather than his given name of Andrew, even though the nickname at that time was a non-starter for many power brokers in the sport.
Ironically, the sport seems to accept Darrell Wallace Jr. as “Bubba” today.
And he didn’t move to Charlotte to lobby for a job, as many aspiring drivers did then and still do. And he’s a relatively hefty fellow, whereas most newer NASCAR drivers are skinny by comparison.
Talent has never been an issue, in the opinion of many who’ve watched Pollard race. Since his earliest days, he’s raced with a maturity far beyond his years.
“I think if I had gotten with the right team and the right people, I could have gotten the job done,” he said.
Instead, he continues to work and race with his parents, his sister, Andrea, and his wife, Erin, and young daughter, Mac, at his side.
“I’m in a good situation now, doing it with my family and enjoying what we do,” he said.
In addition to collecting trophies, Pollard has become the face of the asphalt short-track side of the sport.
He emphasizes sportsmanship and recently has been a vocal proponent of the tap rule.
Under the tap rule, if a driver involved in an incident feels he’s at fault, he can tap the top of his car, signaling to officials that he should be the driver sent to the rear of the pack instead of the driver who spun out.
“You never know who is watching you,” Pollard said of his focus on sportsmanlike behavior behind the wheel. “It might be a potential sponsor or someone who could help you with your racing.
“And now that I have a 2-year-old daughter, I want to set a good example for her.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Bubba Pollard won the 45th Annual Oxford 250 last season at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, and was joined in Victory Lane by his wife and daughter. Speed51.com
Newman settles in at Roush Fenway Racing
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Ryan Newman, speaking on the phone last week as he rode down a Texas highway after what he described as one of his best hunting days ever, sounded just as excited about his prospects for the 2019 NASCAR season as he did about his just-completed hunt.
Newman is moving from the No. 31 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing to the No. 6 Ford at Roush Fenway Racing.
“There’s a lot of new,” he said of his thoughts heading into the 2019 season. “New ride, new manufacturer, new crew chief, new teammate, new rules, new aero package. The schedule will be the same, but I’m looking forward to the season.”
As for the switch from Childress to Roush, Newman said it was time for a change after several disappointing seasons.
Last year, for the first time in his full-time Cup career, Newman failed to score a single top-five finish. (He even had two top-fives in seven Cup starts in 2001, the year before he started Cup racing full time.)
“I needed something to ignite me,” he said. “I felt like I stuck around (at Childress) long enough.”
Newman, who turned 41 on Dec. 8, has 18 career Cup wins, but only one, in 2017 at Phoenix, during his five seasons at RCR. He has 51 poles, the most of any active Cup driver and ninth on the all-time list, but none since he joined RCR.
Several other drivers around Newman’s age, including Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle, have lost their full-time rides after several seasons of declining performance.
Newman said he’s looking more ahead than in the rearview mirror when it comes to his career and being in the 40-something age bracket.
“Seeing Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, who are in my age group, winning races and competing for championships pushes me,” he said. “I think I’m capable of running good and winning at every track we go to.”
Newman also said he’s looking forward to being a teammate to Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is returning as driver of the No. 17 Ford at Roush.
“We both come from open-wheel backgrounds and had success there, so while our driving styles may be different, we should be alike in the way we describe how our cars are handling,” Newman said.
Newman will open the season with a new sponsor on his No. 6. Oscar Mayer announced last week that it will be the primary sponsor on Newman’s Mustang for the season-opening Daytona 500, a race Newman won in 2008 while driving a Dodge for Roger Penske.
He said he’d like nothing better than to kick off his new program with another victory at Daytona.
“A win in the Daytona 500 means so much in our sport,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have one Daytona 500 win under my belt, and make no mistake, the goal is to put this No. 6 Oscar Mayer Ford in Victory Lane at Daytona next month.”
Photo:Roush Fenway Racing.
Bass Pro Shops to continue sponsorship of Martin Truex after move to Gibbs
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Martin Truex Jr.’s longtime sponsor Bass Pro Shops will move with him from the now-shuttered No. 78 team to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing, the team announced last week.
According to the news release, Bass Pro Shops has signed a multi-year contract, and its logos will be carried on the hood of Truex’s car for 24 races this season.
“We’re fired up to keep rolling with Martin in 2019,” Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris said in the release. “His spirit and passion for hunting and fishing makes him a great ambassador for Bass Pro and the outdoors.
“Martin is a true champion in racing as well as in life, and I’m honored to call him my friend and fishing buddy of more than 15 years.”
Daniel Suarez, who drove the No. 19 last year, appears set to join Stewart-Haas Racing.
Photo Caption: Bass Pro Shops will be the primary sponsor of Martin Truex’s No. 19 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing for two dozen races next season. Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for NASCAR
Ed Clark releases annual Cup Series predictions for 2019
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark has made his annual predictions for the upcoming NASCAR season.
Last year, Clark was fairly successful as a prognosticator. He correctly predicted that William Byron would win Rookie of the Year in the Cup series and that all three Team Penske drivers (Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney) would visit Victory Lane. He also was correct in forecasting that stage finishes would be more aggressive, which they were, as evidenced by battles between teammates like Stewart-Haas drivers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch that had fans on their feet at times all season.
Clark was close on his call of three first-time Cup winners. There were two — Chase Elliott and Erik Jones.
He missed in picking Chevrolet to win the Manufacturers’ Championship (won by Ford), and that a major team would switch manufacturers for 2019 — none have so far, although some mid-pack teams have switched.
Clark declined to pick a series champion, after choosing Joey Logano in 2017, but, as evidenced by Logano’s win in 2018, there was merit in his past selection.
Here are Clark’s predictions for 2019:
1. Seven-time champion returns to Victory Lane
After a 2018 season that fell well short of the extremely high standards he’s set in his illustrious career, Jimmie Johnson is primed for a rebound in 2019.
Don’t be surprised if the No. 48 gets off to a bit of a slow start, as Johnson and new crew chief Kevin Meendering get familiar with each other. As the season rolls on, however, I believe the No. 48 will become more of a factor and be in the mix for a race win or two, with Johnson making a return to Victory Lane in 2019.
2. Chase, the championship contender
After breaking through for his first Cup Series victory, Chase Elliott quickly followed it up with a second and a third win during NASCAR’s playoffs. Like one year prior, however, Elliott’s championship pursuit stalled in the Round of 8 in 2018.
I believe that changes in 2019, with the sport’s most popular driver keeping up the momentum from 2018 and winning several more races, including a win in the playoff’s penultimate round to guarantee Elliott and the No. 9 a shot at the championship in the season finale.
3. Busch vs. Truex
Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — two of the three drivers dubbed “The Big Three” throughout the 2018 season — are now teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. I don’t see either one of these guys slowing down in 2019, and I think that’s going to result in some of the fiercest competition between two highly talented drivers with equal equipment throughout the year.
I believe several late-race battles for the win will be decided by these two. I predict this pair trades numerous 1-2 finishes in 2019.
4. Both Ganassi drivers find Victory Lane
Former series champion Kurt Busch moves over to the No. 1 car in 2019, joining Kyle Larson and the No. 42 in the Chip Ganassi Racing stable. I’m expecting a solid season with trips to Victory Lane for both of these drivers.
Kurt brings a wealth of experience behind the wheel of a Cup car (he is making his 650th career start in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, after all) and has what it takes to get the No. 1 to the checkered flag first.
Larson’s raw driving talent is well-documented, but despite having several shots at victory in 2018, he came up just short. He’ll have a few more shots at the checkered flag in 2019, but this time he’ll seal the deal and roll the No. 42 to Victory Lane.
5. More exciting racing in 2019
Starting with the 2019 Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 (at Atlanta Motor Speedway in February), NASCAR’s implementing new aero changes and horsepower reductions at its larger tracks to bring the competition closer together.
I see this change resulting in some of the most intense racing we’ve seen at the intermediate tracks in the last 20 years.
I expect three-wide racing on restarts, side-by-side battles around the track, and back-and-forth passing throughout a run will be more commonplace at these larger tracks. It may even create the right circumstances for one of those vintage photo finishes here at Atlanta.
6. More winners in 2019
In 2018, just 10 drivers earned their playoff spots via wins during the regular season, the fewest to do so since the current playoff format began in 2014. That will change in 2019, thanks in part to the aforementioned aero and horsepower changes at larger speedways bringing the competition closer together.
Thanks to this increase in parity, more drivers will win their way into the playoffs in 2019; I predict 12, including a first-time winner or two.
PHOTO CREDITS: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR
A Look Back at 2018
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
From start to finish, the 2018 NASCAR season produced its share of surprising storylines, from Austin Dillon’s stunning victory in the season-opening Daytona 500 to Joey Logano’s triumph over the “Big Three” in the championship-deciding finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Dillon Makes a Splash at Daytona
The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s Super Bowl despite being the first race of the season. This year, as it often does, the 500 gave NASCAR’s season a strong jump-start.
With the recent exodus of top stars, including Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., there were worries that the new faces of the sport wouldn’t be able to hold the attention of fans used to familiar faces with long histories.
But Daytona provided a good transition, as Dillon put the No. 3 Chevrolet — made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt — back in Victory Lane, a place it visited often while Earnhardt was its driver. Pushing Dillon across the finish line and finishing second was another youngster, Darrell Wallace Jr., driving the legendary No. 43, which also has a winning history stretching back decades to the times current team owner Richard Petty was the car’s driver.
Wallace’s finish also provided NASCAR’s diversity movement a big boost, as Wallace is the Cup circuit’s lone African-American driver. Among those pulling for the popular youngster at Daytona were Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, who sent Wallace a pre-race message on Twitter, and baseball’s Hank Aaron, who phoned him.
As is often the case for those who surge to success in the Daytona 500, the top-two finishers were unable to maintain that pace for the rest of the season.
Dillon made the playoffs, due to his victory, but had a lackluster rest of the season.
He led just 23 laps all year, including the one lap he led at Daytona, and scored just one other top-five finish. He wound up 13th in the final points standings.
For Wallace, his runner-up at Daytona wound up being his only top-five finish of the season and one of just three top-10s. He finished 28th in the final standings.
Johnson and Knaus Part Ways
It’s often said that maintaining positive chemistry between driver and crew chief is the key factor in creating a winning combination in racing.
That certainly was the case for Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, as they dominated the sport for nearly two decades, winning seven Cup championships and 81 races together.
But by midway into the 2017 season and throughout 2018, the dominant duo of previous seasons seemed to have lost their magic.
They went winless for this season, continuing a string dating back to Johnson’s most recent win, at Dover in June 2017. He led just 40 laps and also had just two top-five finishes — both career lows — and 11 top-10s, which tied his 2017 performance as the lowest of his full-time career.
Near the end of the season, it was announced that the pair would be splitting up, with Knaus moving over to the No. 24 driven by William Byron and Johnson being paired with Kevin Meendering, who is moving up from the Xfinity Series, where he most recently worked with Elliott Sadler, who retired at season’s end.
“It’s time for us to move on and have a new project and have new people to work with,” Johnson told reporters at Homestead-Miami Speedway after ending the season with a 14th-place finish. “But [Knaus] is my brother offseason, there is just no way around it. So, not an easy situation. … The season is behind us now, and I look forward to a good offseason and getting geared up for 2019.”
Elliott Arrives in Victory Lane
With a strong charge on the road course at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott finally broke through with his first Cup victory. It was fitting that it came on a road course, as his father, Bill Elliott, also scored his first Cup victory on a road course, at the old Riverside International Raceway in California in 1983.
And both Elliotts got their first Cup wins after eight runner-up finishes.
Elliott, 22, was cheered loudly by a large crowd on hand at the Glen, a sign that he’s also following his father’s tire tracks as far as popularity goes.
“I ran out of gas, so I was coasting around, had a great view to see all the people,” he said. “It looked like a sell-out.
“When I was coasting around, people were still fired up. I’m sure some of them weren’t happy, but there were a lot of people that were still pretty excited. … They were standing up, so that’s just a cool thing to see. There’s nothing that can recreate that feeling and looking in the stands and seeing people that excited for you for, something that you did.”
And in a move that symbolized what the day meant for many, when Elliott ran out of gas on the cool-down lap, the likely superstar of the future got a push to his victory celebration from a superstar of the present, his teammate and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
Elliott went on to score two more wins, at Dover and Kansas, and finish sixth in the final points standings. He also won his division’s most popular driver award, his first and the 17th for the Elliott family, bolstered by his father’s NASCAR-record 16.
The Roval Debuts at Charlotte
Faced with a lack of buzz about three races, including the All-Star Race, on the same “cookie cutter” race track, Charlotte Motor Speedway took a leap and built the Roval, a combination infield road course along with portions of the track’s 1.5-mile quad-oval.
The Roval hosted its first Cup race in September. The event drew a large crowd and delivered an uptick in TV ratings for a sport that had experienced significant declines in viewership.
The race on the 2.28-mile, 17-turn track wasn’t loaded with drama in the beginning, but had plenty in the closing laps.
On a restart with six circuits remaining, Brad Keselowski, who had led the previous 29 laps, drove off the track and into the Turn One barrier, taking five other contenders for the win with him.
After a red-flag period for clean-up, the green flag flew for a three-lap dash to the checkered flag, with two former champions — Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. — leading the way.
Truex held the lead until they were within sight of the checkered flag, but Johnson made a desperate move into the final turn, lost control of his car and bounced into Truex, knocking them both around.That opened the door for third-running Ryan Blaney to scoot by and get his first and only win of the season.
The finish also had implications for the playoffs, as it was the cutoff event for the first playoff round. Four of the 16 playoff drivers faced elimination, and it wasn’t until all the cars had crossed the finish line that the losing four were determined.
Among them was Johnson, who fell to eighth in the race and wound up tied for the final transfer spot with Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola. Johnson wound up the odd man out due to the tiebreaker of best finishes in the opening playoff round. Also eliminated were Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin.
Logano Outruns the ‘Big Three’
NASCAR’s playoff format once again set up a dramatic finish to the season, as the three drivers who dominated the regular season — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — squared off for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway against Joey Logano. Logano earned his spot in the final four by knocking Truex aside on the last lap of the fall race at Martinsville Speedway in the first race of the playoff’s third round.
Still, entering the championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400, most eyes were on the Big Three, and deservedly so.
They’d combined to win 20 of the 35 races leading up to Homestead, with Harvick and Busch winning eight apiece and Truex four. At that point, Logano had just two wins, the first coming at Talladega in the 10th race of the season.
But when it came down to a late-race shootout at Homestead, Logano stepped up and took control.
The Homestead race — and the championship — was decided in a 15-lap dash set up by a spin by Daniel Suarez that brought out the race’s final caution flag. The four championship contenders — Logano, Truex, Harvick and Busch — all restarted on the first two rows.
Logano lined up beside Truex on the front row and lost the lead to him initially. But a daring pass to the outside with 12 laps remaining gave Logano a lead he would never relinquish. He simply drove away from Truex, Harvick and Busch to win by 1.725 seconds over the runner-up Truex.
Logano’s team owner, Roger Penske, said his late charge at Homestead was one of those situations where Logano is at his best.
“When it’s time to go, he’s the guy,” Penske said.
The runner-up finish for Truex and his No. 78 team was particularly bittersweet, as it was the final race for that team. Owner Barney Visser closed his operation due to the financial issues caused by a lack of sponsorship going forward.
Truex and his crew chief, Cole Pearn, are moving to Joe Gibbs Racing to take over the team that previously fielded cars for Daniel Suarez, who had not announced his 2019 plans as of last week.
PHOTO CAPTION: Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and locked up an early playoff spot.Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kasey Kahne exits NASCAR with legacy of early Cup Series success
by Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Among the many milestone events in the 2018 NASCAR season was the apparent end of Kasey Kahne’s NASCAR driving career.
Kahne, at the age of 38, was believed to have several more years ahead of him in his Monster Energy Cup Series career, but after falling seriously ill during the running of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Labor Day weekend, he never ran another competitive lap in a Cup car.
He worked with his doctors to try to determine why he was so dehydrated after driving in competition and even ran a mock race at Charlotte. But in the end, he and his doctors decided he was no longer able to compete under racing conditions in the heat of a Cup car.
So, he announced his retirement, and he now plans to resume racing Sprint cars, where the open cockpits are cooler and races are relatively shorter.
Many in the sport were disappointed that Kahne’s career was not celebrated more by the NASCAR community, especially during year-end festivities.
Clint Bowyer took to Twitter to complain that Kahne wasn’t mentioned during the Cup awards ceremony in Las Vegas.
He wrote: “If a guy put in more than 10 years of his life or so into @NASCAR I do hope they figure out a way to recognize his being there somehow as we go along. Kasey should’ve been recognized at the banquet for all he’s given the sport.”
Kahne’s career, indeed, was remarkable, especially in the early years.
The Enumclaw, Washington, native first came to NASCAR as a driver for Ford Motor Co. He raced in the series now known as Xfinity in 2002, in a car owned by the late Robert Yates, who at the time was busy with his Cup operation, but set up a Busch Series team just for Kahne.
“That was kind of my first go in stock cars,” Kahne said at a press session during the 2018 NASCAR media tour. “Ford was pushing that pretty hard at the time, so that kind of forced Robert [Yates] into doing a 16-race schedule with me.
“We just went from there. It started in a small little building in a small shop with little lighting and everything, and a group of guys working hard to get cars ready for Daytona.
“It ended as part of Rensi Racing up the road, which helped us a good bit by the end of that year just with some speed and things.
“So it was cool to get to know Robert and Doug [Yates] and Dale Jarrett at the time … Ricky Rudd, Elliott Sadler. … It was a great experience. I wouldn’t change it.”
Kahne didn’t win in his time with Yates, but got the first of his eight Xfinity victories the next year in the No. 38 Ford owned by Brad Akins.
“That was more of a team that had been racing, and we instantly were fast right off the bat with that car,” Kahne said.
He switched to Dodge in 2004, moved to the Cup Series and took over the No. 9 car vacated by Bill Elliott. He scored his first Cup win the next year at Richmond and had his best season in 2006, when he won six races.
Kahne went winless in 2007, then won twice in 2008, as the team became known as Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
He then won twice more in 2009, as the No. 9 team morphed into Richard Petty Motorsports.
After a winless 2010, Kahne moved to Team Red Bull and won at Phoenix. In 2012, he joined Hendrick Motorsports and won twice in his first season. He scored three more wins over the next two seasons before going winless in 2015 and 2016.
He got his 18th and final win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year in his lame-duck season at Hendrick.
Kahne was most successful on the 1.5-mile tracks at Charlotte and Atlanta, winning four Cup races at the former and three at the latter.
But by the end of his time at Hendrick Motorsports, it was becoming apparent that Kahne’s health was an issue.
After he won at the Brickyard in 2017, he appeared to be completely exhausted. And as it turned out, he was.
“I’ll carry that win forever because that will be one of my biggest wins in racing,” Kahne said at the media tour. “I was barely alive after that race. I was so worn out. … I’ve been pretty bad after some races, but not at that level. That stuck with me through like Wednesday and Thursday before I started feeling (better). Thursday was the first day I started feeling really good again. It was tough. I don’t think I’ve ever been that dehydrated, for sure.”
Appropriately it might seem, Kahne ran his last NASCAR race at Darlington Raceway, where he was absolutely dominant in the Camping World Truck Series. He won both of his starts there, and posted three other wins — at Charlotte, Homestead and Rockingham — in just six career starts in the Truck Series.
Photo: Kahne was perhaps most widely known as the driver of the No. 5 Chevy at Henrdrick Motorsports from 2012 to 2017.Courtesy of NASCAR
Kurt Busch settles in at Chip Ganassi Racing
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
In today’s NASCAR world, where drivers often have to be able to bring sponsor money to get the good rides, Kurt Busch has proven once again that talent can carry a driver a long way.
NASCAR’s onetime bad boy was announced last week as the new driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet at Chip Ganassi Racing.
It’s the sixth team that has hired Busch in an 18-year career that has seen him score 30 race wins, 27 poles and the 2004 championship.
Busch’s partings with his previous teams weren’t always on the best of terms. He left Roush Fenway Racing after a 2005 season that saw him taken out of the car at Phoenix after an arrest for reckless driving prior to a race.
He quickly landed a ride with Roger Penske and continued to win races, but saw his final year with Penske marred by a verbal attack on highly respected reporter Dr. Jerry Punch — an incident captured on cellphone video and widely distributed via social media.
He moved to the team owned by maverick James Finch for 2012 and to the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team in 2013. In 2014, he joined Stewart-Haas Racing, and more issues surfaced later that year, with a domestic violence allegation that led to him being suspended by NASCAR in February 2015. He was reinstated after three races and won two events in 2015. He recently concluded his final season aboard that team’s No. 41 Ford.
Now he moves to Ganassi, where he replaced Jamie McMurray, who is expected to compete only at Daytona in February and has been offered a front-office position with the team.
Busch said on a teleconference last week that he sees the move to Ganassi’s two-car team — the other being the No. 42 driven by Kyle Larson — as a chance to continue winning races and competing for championships. He won one race this season, made the playoffs and finished seventh in the final Cup standings.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to go out and win races, to have a shot at the championship and to use my experience that I’ve gained over all these years with a group like Chip Ganassi Racing,” he said. “I feel like it’s a good mesh with Kyle Larson. Something that Chip and I talked about as far as the driver lineup and the way that we wanted to go into 2019 and attack and go right out of the gate and go for wins and get this program where it needs to be and what Chip has for his championship dreams.”
Ganassi said getting a driver with Busch’s credentials is a plus for his team.
“I think first of all I think, as anyone knows, it’s not oftentimes a NASCAR champion and a Daytona 500 winner comes available,” he said. “I think when somebody like that comes along, you’ve got to take a serious look at him. It didn’t take me long to say yes, when he became available. It helped that in addition to his talent behind the wheel, Busch could bring financial backing.
“To bring on somebody like Monster is something we are pretty happy about,” Ganassi said. “They have brought a lot to this sport of NASCAR, and I’m as excited as I’ve been in a long time to work with both of them.”
The team owner also said current sponsors McDonald’s and Cessna are still with the team.
Ganassi also said he likes the fact that Busch is known for getting directly involved in the preparation of the race cars and is a regular presence at the race shop.
“I think anytime you can have a veteran guy like that, that A. knows how to win races, but B. is a good guy in the locker room per se, I think that brings something to our team that I think will only enhance a young guy like a Larson or any of the other young guys we have that maybe don’t have the years of experience that put a little gray hair on me from time to time,” he said.
There’s been some speculation that Busch, age 40, will only be in the No. 1 for the 2019 season and then retire, and he didn’t exactly deny that when asked about it on the teleconference.
“If we come out of the gate gangbusters and we’ve got five wins by July Daytona, well, let’s talk about 2020,” he said. “I had always talked about 2019 and that being my 20th full-time year. That’s a number I had in my mind, but anytime you get an opportunity like this and now seeing everybody on the shop floor [at Ganassi’s team], you don’t know what is around the next corner as far as motivation and challenges.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Kurt Busch will drive the No. 1 Chevrolet at Chip Ganassi Racing. PHOTO BY Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR
9 Steps to Winterize your Motorcycle for Winter Storage
With winter months soon ahead motorists are starting to prepare their motorcycles, choppers, dirt bikes, and ATV vehicles for winter storage.
Following a few simple steps for winterizing your motorcycle will prevent your bike from seizing on ignition.
Bikes and other motor vehicles should not only prepare their bikes for winter storage, but also for any non-riding period in excess of 1-2 months.
Proper preventative measure and maintenance ensure optimal engine health and function after storage.
The most common issues arising from motorcycle storage are body and parts rust, fuel contamination, battery drain, and engine corrosion.
This article will address the following issues:
Where to store your bike
How to cover your motorcycle(s)
Changing the oil
Preventing rust and other surface body defects
Disconnecting and storing the battery
Monitoring tire pressure
Preventing engine cylinder damage and corrosion
Using fuel stabilizer
Ideally your motorcycle or dirt bike should be stored in a temperature regulated environment with low humidity and away from UV light. Your local motorcycle dealer or bike shop may offer winterizing and storage service for a nominal fee. Most motorcycle enthusiasts will store their bike in their freezing garages which is why proper winter preparation and maintenance is necessary.
Covering any windows in your garage will prevent temperature changes and condensation from the sun’s radiant heat.
It is important to choose the right material for covering your motorcycle. Sheets absorb moisture and hold it against your motorcycle causing rust.
Tarps trap condensation by not allowing air exchange leading to rust. Another unfortunate problem with tarps is that they will often bond to your bike’s body paint in the cold and ruin the paint job when removed. Specially designed motorcycle covers prevent moisture absorption and allow air exchange.
Changing your oil to a winter grade oil will ensure easy start up in the spring. Even if you are not due for an oil change it is a good idea to perform an oil change as combustion created acid byproducts in motor oil which can corrode your motors inner surfaces.
Waxing your motorcycle before storage will create a protective barrier against rust and moisture. A light spray of WD-40 on engine parts and the frame will protect your bike against corrosion.
Batteries should be disconnected and removed from the bike to prevent current drain. Dead batteries are the most common start-up problem motorcycle enthusiasts face in spring.
Charging your battery every few weeks will maintain its charge Cold temperature inversely affects tire pressure; meaning that the colder
it gets the more the air in your tire compresses, lowering your tire pressurewhich causes premature wear. Continually monitor your tire pressure and use a motorcycle paddock, lift, or stand to raise your bike’s tires off the frigid garage floor.
Lubing your engine’s cylinder walls with engine oil will prevent corrosion and rust. Without lubricating your motorcycle’s cylinders premature ring and piston wear is a very real possibility.
Gasoline breaks down overtime creating compounds that clogs the fuel system. Filling your tank with fresh gas, draining your fuel line and carburettors, and adding fuel stabilizer will prevent gasoline from decomposing and prevent moisture collection.
Brake fluids are water-absorbing, or hygroscopic, by nature. If you haven’t changed your fluids in the past year or two chances are a good deal of moisture has been absorbed which can cause engine corrosion.
Following these steps will prevent problems with starting your motorcycle after the winter months.
Joey Logano honored for his charitable work
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship wasn’t the only honor that Joey Logano collected last weekend. He also won the annual Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award.
The award program, now in its fourth year, honors NASCAR industry members for their philanthropy. Logano’s foundation was given $60,000, while the other nominees, driver Ryan Newman and Sonoma Raceway track president Steve Page, each received $30,000 for their respective charities.
In the six years since it was founded, the Joey Logano Foundation has been responsible for distributing $2.7 million to various charities, according to a Comcast news release.
Among its projects, Logano’s foundation formed the JL Kids Crew to help children with serious illnesses attend events at racetracks.
His charity’s Grant Funding Program also sends funds to organizations that assist the families of the sick, foster children and children of veterans.
During the recently completed NASCAR playoffs, Logano’s foundation helped nonprofit organizations in 10 different NASCAR markets through its Chasing Second Chances program.
Logano and his wife, Brittany, actually participated in an event in Florida the night before he won the Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His group took needy families shopping at a local grocery store to buy food for their Thanksgiving meals.
Newman was honored for his work with his Rescue Ranch organization, which he and his wife, Krissie, formed to promote respect for all animals, the earth and the environment.
Logano discussed his work with his foundation in a press conference held prior to him being announced as the winner.
“We talk about race wins, we can talk about how I’m a hard racer. That’s fine,” Logano said. “But when you take your helmet off, you become a different person.
“I think our whole industry does a great job of understanding that we’re all very fortunate and very blessed that God has given us the opportunity to do what we love.”
He said that his foundation work often reminds him of just how lucky he is.
“In our little la-la land out here in NASCAR world, it’s great, but we don’t see all the challenges a lot of times that people fight every single day,” he said. “We get mad and storm off after we blow a tire or we hit the wall, have a bad pit stop, pout away.
“Is it really that bad? I don’t think so. It’s OK. Life is still pretty good.”
He said he started a second chance program because of the second chance he got in his racing career when Roger Penske hired him to drive the No. 22 Ford after he’d gotten pushed out at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Chasing Second Chances is a big piece of the foundation mainly because I’ve gotten a second chance in my career for racing with Team Penske after a not-so-good start of my career,” Logano said. “I know how different I handled a lot of situations being there the second time. Man, only if I had a second chance, I’d do things a lot different, right?
“God gave me the opportunity to do things different. I feel like I need to pay that forward, as well. Brittany does a great job helping me with that. I don’t have as much time to focus in on it as I’d like to. She does a great job of setting a lot of things up, working with everything.”
And he said he’s not in charity work to get recognition for himself.
“It’s about what you’re supposed to do,” he said.
During the winner’s interview after Logano won the championship, team owner Roger Penske mentioned Logano’s charity work and the honor he received for it from Comcast.
“That’s a side of him,” Penske said. “They had a lot of people that had delivered a lot back into the community, and I think that his commitment and the things that he has done gave him that championship.
“At the end of the day, as you get older, you say, that’s a real championship. We can race on the racetrack, we can win races, but to get that as a philanthropic person in NASCAR I think is pretty special.
“I think we couple that together, we’ve got an A-plus guy.”
PHOTO: On the eve of the Cup championship, Joey Logano and his wife, Brittany, left, took 100 families shopping for Thanksgiving meals.
Photo Credits:Joey Logano Foundation
Joey Logano captures first Cup Series title
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
When Joey Logano was coming up through the racing ranks winning Bandolero and Legends races with ease long before he was old enough to legally drive on the highway, he was tagged with the nickname “Sliced Bread” — as in “the best thing since …”
But when he landed in the Cup Series in 2008 at the age of 18, and was quickly put in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing car that had been recently vacated by veteran Tony Stewart, he was unable to live up to the lofty — and, many felt, unrealistic — expectations.
After four full seasons with just two race victories and a best finish of 16th in the standings, he was shuffled aside at JGR to make room for Matt Kenseth.
On the recommendation of Brad Keselowski, team owner Roger Penske hired Logano and built the No. 22 team around the youngster, whom many had already written off at that point. Paired from the beginning with crew chief Todd Gordon, Logano blossomed into a major force on the Cup circuit.
His win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday night — a victory that delivered his first Cup championship — was his 19th since joining Penske and the fifth time he’d finished eighth or better in the final standings.
Logano’s late-race charge to the championship was typical of the way he’s been at his best when so much was at stake. In fact, just to be in the Championship 4 at Homestead, Logano had to pull off an aggressive bump-and-run on Martin Truex Jr. on the final turn of the Oct. 28 race at Martinsville Speedway.
At Homestead, the race — and the championship — boiled down to a 15-lap shootout set up by a spin by Daniel Suarez that brought out the race’s final caution flag. The four championship contenders — Logano, Truex, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch — restarted on the first two rows.
Logano lined up beside Truex on the front row and lost the lead to him initially. But a daring pass to the outside with 12 laps remaining gave Logano a lead he would never relinquish. He simply drove away from Truex, Harvick and Busch — the “Big Three” drivers of the 2018 season — to win by 1.725 seconds over the runner-up Truex.
Penske said Logano’s late charge at Homestead was one of those situations where Logano is at his best.
“When it’s time to go, he’s the guy,” Penske said. “To me, I couldn’t ask for a better result and a guy that delivers it for the whole team.”
Crew chief Gordon seconded Penske’s comments: “You give [Logano] that opportunity of ‘Here it is — it’s right in front of you,’ he steps up to another level.”
Logano said in his winner’s interview that his maturing into an aggressive, successful driver is actually a harkening back to his earliest racing days.
“I just feel like I’m back to where I was growing up,” he said. “As the kid growing up, I was an aggressive racer, and I was able to win a lot of races.”
Then came the struggles. But he was able to use those dark days to his advantage.
“The opportunity to make mistakes is one of the best things that can ever happen to you,” he said. “I made a lot of mistakes … things I shouldn’t say or whatever it was, but there are no regrets, either, because that’s formed me into the man I am today. And if it wasn’t for each and every one of those mistakes, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, and I wouldn’t have the people around me, either, that have surrounded me.”
He said those tough times, especially at the end of his Gibbs tenure, were tougher than he admitted at the time.
“That was a pretty low point for me,” Logano said. “I was thinking about, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m not going to be a race car driver anymore and what am I going to do with my life, and this is awful,’ and next thing you know, there’s the 22 car and Roger Penske and Todd Gordon and an amazing race team all the way through that wants you to drive.
“Like I say, God works in some mysterious ways sometimes, and it just really worked out for me.”
Photo Caption: Joey Logano hoists the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway.Courtesy of Ford Performance