Seems That For Kyle Busch, Being A Good Boy Has Been A Good Thing

With his victory at Richmond Kyle Busch extended his string of good performances in the 2012 Sprint Cup season. This year he seems somewhat of a changed man who has avoided controversy.

Controversy has already arisen just nine races into 2012 Sprint Cup season.

For example, there have been NASCAR rulings against David Reutimann at Martinsville and Carl Edwards at Richmond – and they have ruffled feathers and stirred debate.

But, surprisingly, there’s one story that hasn’t been prevalent in the headlines, and it used to be.

NASCAR’s “bad boy,” Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, is doing his job and is out to win a championship – which, obviously, would mean a lot to him.

That’s nothing new. But this season, unlike the past, the Las Vegas native has been squeaky clean. He hasn’t been the subject of controversy, there have been no rough comments to the press and no one has been put in the wall because of some on-track dispute.

Nothing negative has been associated with Busch. Nothing at all.

Busch logged three top-fives and four top-10s in nine starts before he earned his first win of the season at Richmond Saturday night. His 24th career victory was his fourth in a row in the spring Richmond race and it broke the record of three straight previously held by Richard Petty (1971-73).

So why is Busch such a cool customer in 2012?

Maybe he’s matured. Maybe he has realized it’s time to look at the bigger picture.

Let’s go back to late last season when Busch was parked at Texas after he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday during a Camping World Truck Series race.

Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, made the announcement the morning of Nov. 5, before the Nationwide race, that Busch would not compete in that event or any other over the weekend.

“This has been done under section 9.12 of the rulebook that gives NASCAR the authority to react during a race weekend,” Helton said. “And, following the event and after a good deal of conversation and discussion, NASCAR has decided to maintain that parked position on the driver of the No. 18 truck for the balance of the weekend.

“So basically what that means is that Kyle Busch will not be participating today or tomorrow in the NASCAR events here in Texas.”

Michael McDowell was chosen to fill in for Busch in the Sprint Cup race and finished 33rd.

While McDowell was on the track, Busch sat on the pit box under two-way radio headphones, listening but not talking.

For him, there was another storm brewing behind the scenes. Longtime sponsor, M&M Mars, wasn’t happy with the bad press Busch was generating and wasted no time telling him so.

The press highlighted other controversial incidents that involved Busch during the 2011 season, and for his sponsor, it was obvious some intervention was necessary.

The wake up call came when Busch lost backing from M&M’s for Sprint Cup events at Phoenix and Homestead. As a result, team owner Joe Gibbs had a very stern chat with his talented young driver and demanded a new, dedicated effort from him.

Busch's crew chief, Dave Rogers, realizes Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing team had not, prior to Richmond, achieved expected performance levels. He feels things are about to change.

Through April, Busch, known as “Wild Thing“ and “Rowdy,” has been very, very quiet. He’s been a virtual no-show in the media, other than for the positive news he’s generated.

He’s steadily built an impressive resume of finishes at the front. The Sprint Cup race winner at Richmond, and winning Busch Series team owner there with brother Kurt at the wheel, was very happy to talk with media members when asked about his weekend and about his win.

Busch was surprised when told he had set the record for consecutive in Richmond’s spring event.

“Is that some sort of record?,” Busch asked. “It means so much that we’re able to come to this place every time and know that we can have a decent car and again, like I said, it wasn’t the best car, but it was really good.

“We just kept fighting, kept ourselves up there in track position, kept the fenders clean, the right side clean – didn’t hit the wall or anything.”

The team has had its share of roller-coaster finishes since the season-opening Daytona 500.

Crew chief Dave Rogers has focused on getting Busch to victory lane and building the team to championship status through impressive finishes.

It’s been a work in progress but the team has seemingly turned the corner when it comes to consistency.

“I have to perform a job and my job is to bring the best race cars I can to the race track each and every week, regardless of whether or not people are saying we’re in a slump,” Rogers said. “You know, obviously a year ago, if I think you look back, we were leading the most laps and contending for the win nearly every week at this point in the season.

“Now we’re not living up to that standard. That tells me we’ve got to work harder, bring better race cars to the race track.

“I feel this race is an indication that we’re turning the corner. I think Kansas was an indication. Kyle came back after Kansas and just gave me phenomenal feedback about what we need in our mile-and-a-half program and that we’d come back to Richmond, a place we think we should run good and we do.

“I don’t think one race makes or breaks a season, but I am pleased we were able to run up front. Now we’re looking forward to going to Talladega, Darlington, Charlotte and seeing what we can do at those tracks.”

This year Busch, and Rogers, have not dealt wiith controversy, nor has Busch had to explain himself in NASCAR’s hauler.

That leaves more time to focus on the race car, wins and championship points.

So far the new Busch is impressive.

Second chances can be a very good thing.

Controversy At Richmond: Contrived Or Not, It’s What Fuels NASCAR

It may have been a controversial finish at Richmond, but nonetheless it was a good one for Kyle Busch and team owner Joe Gibbs, who have now won four straight spring events at the short track.

Not a season goes by that NASCAR doesn’t have to deal with a controversy that is the direct result of a competitive decision – or, more precisely, a miscommunication or misunderstanding that resulted from that decision.

In some cases the core reason for the controversy is many fans’ belief that NASCAR often acts in favor of itself – or perhaps a selected competitor with prejudice to all others.

There’s also the theory that the sanctioning body makes decisions to alter a race’s character; to make it more exciting for the fans regardless of any negative effects that may strike some competitors.

If, in the outcome, one or more of them suffers because of an alerted scenario, well, so be it.

I’ve never been among the ranks of the “conspiracy theorists,” those fans that believe NASCAR is inherently secretive and manipulative, with only its own interests in mind

I’ve never bought into that. I believe the majority of the media and fans haven’t either.

But, Lord knows, there are plenty of theorists out there.

However, just like everyone else, there have been times when I thought NASCAR made an error in judgment, one that it stubbornly refused to admit or change.

As a result I’ve theorized that the outcome of a race was altered unfairly – until proven otherwise, of course.

I felt that way late in the Richmond Sprint Cup race when Carl Edwards, the race’s dominant driver, was penalized.

It happened on lap 319 of 400 on restart from a caution period. Edwards swept past Tony Stewart and was immediately penalized by NASCAR for jumping the restart.

Edwards was puzzled by the call, simply because he thought he was first in line.

No, NASCAR said. Stewart was and as such he is permitted the first move at the start-finish line.

Edwards was by no means the only person confused. Several in the press box, media center, in the grandstands and watching on TV also thought he was in first place and could not understand NASCAR’s ruling.

I freely admit I was among them.

Edwards maintained that his spotter, Jason Hedlesky, told him just before the green flag flew that he asked a NASCAR official where his driver stood.

The answer was: in the lead.

“I had a split second to decide what I was going o do,” Edwards said. “I thought since I was on the outside NASCAR made a mistake. I was at a disadvantage there but it was the best I was going to get.

“It looked like Tony waited or spun his tires so I went and they black-flagged me. I don’t understand that.”

NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton, head of competition, stressed that even if an official “supposedly” told Hedlesky that Edwards was in the lead, it would not have mattered.

Edwards should have known Stewart was the leader because the field was told so just before it lined up for the double-file restart.

Pemberton added that even if Edwards were the leader, he still would have been penalized because he restarted before the designated restart zone.

OK, I’ll buy that. I understand. Seems the correct ruling was made.

However, there was still a miscommunication that led to a misunderstanding.

Penalized by NASCAR for a late-race infraction, Carl Edwards was denied a victory at Richmond after he dominated the race, leading 206 laps.

I find it very hard to believe that Hedleskey fabricated his explanation. It’s very likely he was indeed told by an official that Edwards was in first place – even though that information was incorrect, or at the least, unclear.

Why would Hedleskey make it up and thus jeopardize his driver and, let’s face it, his own job?

Of course, NASCAR isn’t going to admit an official might have passed along incorrect information.

Edwards led 206 laps in his domination of Richmond and seemed well on his way to his first, badly needed, victory of the season.

He was obviously frustrated and a post-race meeting with NASCAR did little to ease that, although he took the high road.

“We just have to agree to disagree,” he said. “They run the sport and do the best they can. I drive a race car and do the best I can.

“The whole thing is very frustrating, I don’t feel like we did the wrong thing.”

Just 12 laps later there arose another controversy when NASCAR called a caution period for debris on the track.

Cautions for “debris on the track” are always ammunition for the “conspiracy theorists,” by the way. They often say they are NASCAR’s way of reshaping a race’s character.

Kyle Busch came out ahead of Stewart after subsequent pit stops, which put him in the lead. He went on to win the race.

Interestingly, the debris was a water bottle – or something like it – that, along with sheet metal, had come to rest outside of the groove and had been on the track for at least eight laps, according to Stewart.

“It had been sitting there and nothing happened,” Stewart said. “Kinda hard to lose a race on a call like that one.”

“It was a gift,” Busch said. “I don’t know where it came from or what it was, but it doesn’t matter. The guys went to work on the pit stop and got me out front.

“That was the win right there. I knew the car was fast and once in the lead I knew I could restart the race how I wanted.”

NASCAR never admitted the debris wasn’t in the groove. I admit that if it did, I didn’t hear it. But, truth be known, it doesn’t have to admit anything.

Which, of course, is something else that always fires up the “conspiracy theorists.”

The victory was Busch’s fourth consecutive in Richmond’s spring event and indicated his Joe Gibbs Racing team is making strides to regain its winning form.

Edwards, meanwhile, exercised the type of competitive prowess his Roush Fenway Racing team has missed all season.

No doubt he’s pleased with that.

But he’s not pleased with the outcome at Richmond.

Busch is delighted.

There are those who will say that what happened at Richmond was the result of NASCAR chicanery.

They will never be convinced it wasn’t.

Even if NASCAR’s races have lately been devoid of the crashes and accidents that create drama, there was plenty of dramatics at Richmond.

I daresay folks will be talking about the race for quite a while.

And, let’s face it, that is exactly what NASCAR wants.

 

 

 

In The End, It’s Not Just Driver Or Crew Chief, It’s The Chemistry Between Them

Crew chief Dale Inman won numerous races and championships with Richard Petty and then moved on to another pair of wins and a title with Terry Labonte. But it's obvious the majority of his success was achieved with one driver.

My pen name around the Internet is Chief 187™. I have held this name since 2007 when my husband and I joined a now-defunct NASCAR social media site.

He had joined first and used the pseudonym “Racer 187” because he is an active member in the Vintage Sports Car Club of America and his competition number is 187.

A few months after he joined and socialized, mostly with women who populated the site, it became apparent to me that I needed to reactivate my NASCAR fandom and claim my husband!

He was overjoyed that I wanted to join the site and helped me navigate the process. When it came time to fill in user name he proudly stated, “Chief 187.”

“What?” I asked.

He stated, “I’m Racer 187 and you are my crew chief so you are Chief 187.”

I loved it and it stuck. That was the start of my writing career but not as my job as crew chief to the amateur Team 187. That I had been since we bought our first race car in 2001.

My husband and I enjoy discussing anything and everything including, and especially, NASCAR topics.

Recently he and I were discussing the importance of driver over crew chief and vice versa. He wondered aloud if statistics would prove that crew chiefs might very well be the stronger component on race teams than the drivers.

I was intrigued. Immediately I started researching.

As you can imagine, it is easy to find statistics of nearly every kind about NASCAR drivers from “back in the day” all the way to the present. But it is far more difficult to locate statistics about crew chiefs – difficult but not impossible.

I began my research with Dale Inman, Richard Petty’s crew chief for most of his career and during every one of Petty’s championship seasons.

I knew Inman had won a championship with Terry Labonte so I went about checking Inman’s stats.

Out of 168 race wins credited to Inman, 166 had come with Petty at the helm. Labonte had won two with Inman.

Inman and Petty’s relationship seemed symbiotic although Petty won 34 races without Inman and Inman captured a Cup without Petty.

I next moved on to Barry Dodson, crew chief for Rusty Wallace when he won his first and only championship. Dodson has 18 wins in the Cup series whereas Wallace has 55. Clearly Wallace was able to adapt to different crew chiefs.

Ray Evernham had an impressive collection of wins in his relatively short career.

He posted 47 victories with Jeff Gordon along with three championships. Those were the only wins he had as a crew chief. Of course, Gordon went on to win thirty-eight more times and even earned another Cup with crew chief Robbie Loomis.

Todd Parrot enjoyed a string of success with Dale Jarrett. Together they earned 27 of Parrott’s 30 wins. Elliot Sadler and Marcos Ambrose account for the other three, two and one, respectively.

In fact, whether it was Glen Wood winning 10 races with Cale Yarborough, Robbie Reiser winning 16 of his 17 victories with Matt Kenseth or Greg Zipadelli posting 33 of his 34 wins with Tony Stewart, it seems that many of the crew chiefs past and present have had better luck with one driver than bopping around.

But then there are crew chiefs that dispel that trend.

Steve Addington, now with Tony Stewart, is a crew chief whose victories have spread out to include several drivers.

Larry McReynolds collected 23 wins in his years as a crew chief. He racked up victories with Ricky Rudd (2), Brett Bodine (1), Davey Allison (11), Ernie Irvan (7), Dale Jarrett (1), and Dale Earnhardt (1).

Although he never earned a championship – he had a career high third in points twice with Allison – McReynolds showed versatility and competency across the board, no matter the driver.

Jimmy Fennig has enjoyed 34 career victories over the years. His statistics incorporate wins with several big-name drivers.

Bobby Allison won twice with Fennig. Mark Martin captured 14 victories and Kurt Busch also won 14 times under Fennig’s direction.

More recently, Kenseth has been able to post four wins with Fennig as crew chief.

Fennig’s style and expertise obviously cross all obstacles that other driver/crew chief relationships sometimes can’t overcome.

Steve Addington has not yet won a championship yet he has shown that no matter who is in the cockpit, he has the goods to get them to victory lane.

Of Addington’s 18 career wins, 12 have come with Kyle Busch, four with Kurt Busch, and two have come with Stewart just this year.

Darian Grubb is another crew chief that appears to be able to win with nearly every driver he is paired.

Grubb chalked up two wins with Jimmie Johnson, one with Casey Mears, 11 with Stewart – including the five at the end of the 2011 season that led to the team winning the title – and two this season with Denny Hamlin.

All of my research shows me that there are examples to prove any theory.

That racers are the true talents, like Earnhardt, who won seven championships with three different crew chiefs (Doug Richert, Kirk Shelmendine, and Andy Petree), as well as the 1998 Daytona 500 with McReynolds, is sometimes obvious.

Inman, with Petty, exemplifies that crew chiefs are a vital component in the formula needed to win races and championships, as are Jimmy Makar with Bobby Labonte.

However, in the final analysis, drivers and crew chiefs are equally important. It’s the chemistry between them that matters most.

My research may not have been clear-cut or decisive, but it was dang interesting and gave me tons of historical perspective. It also gave me insight into the crew chiefs on the pit boxes this season.

In my opinion, an epic battle is brewing among Hamlin, Stewart and Kenseth with crew chiefs Grubb, Addington, and Fennig, respectively. Add the combinations of Chad Knaus and Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte – and so many other pairings – it’s no wonder we’re seeing some of the most competitive racing in decades.

As for the importance of driver over crew chief or vice versa, it seems that nothing works if the team sees itself as anything other than just that – a team.

Which is how it works at Team 187.

 

 

 

 

Richmond: It Has Done More Than Evolve; It’s Something Entirely Different

The fall race at Richmond is the last of the "regular" season before the Chase begins. The 12 drivers who make the "playoff" always celebrate at the end of the event.

There was once a time when there were two speedways in stock car racing that had some of the worst fan and media amenities in NASCAR.

Yet they were hugely popular and routinely offered some of the best racing of each season.

They were both short tracks – North Wilkesboro Speedway and Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway.

North Wilkesboro was located near a small city of the same name in the foothills of North Carolina.

It was one of the first tracks to become a part of NASCAR. It staged its first Grand National race in 1949, won by Bob Flock in an Oldsmobile.

In 1953, Richmond became a part of NASCAR, conducting a race won by Lee Petty.

For decades after its first race in 1949, other than a conversion from dirt to asphalt, North Wilkesboro hardly changed at all.

Its grandstands were fashioned by rows of concrete, the rest rooms were as basic as could be (no running water or urinals in the men’s room – just use the dirt floor, please), wooden bleachers provided seating on the backstretch and chicken wire formed the fences between the fans and the track, which could accommodate 15,000 fans – maybe.

When my career began, I remember that there was one phone in a press box that sat maybe 15 folks.

None of this made a bit of difference to the fans.

North Wilkesboro was located in the heart of Junior Johnson country, a nerve center for stock car racing’s precursor, moonshine hauling.

Many of the races held at the track featured drivers who had been or still were, for that matter, haulers with fast cars, who could negotiate small country roads under the light of the moon.

North Wilkesboro fans knew who they were. Heck, North Wilkesboro fans knew racing, pure and simple.

On race Sunday, they would go to church, go home and change clothes, get to the track, buy tickets and watch the drivers engage in some slam-bang stuff.

Which the drivers did routinely. Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s the vast majority of NASCAR races were held on short tracks. And, compared to many of them that came and went, North Wilkesboro was a palace – as was Richmond.

Drivers knew full well the North Wilkesboro region’s reputation and its status as a nesting ground for racing. It followed that they wanted to perform well at the half-mile track.

They sure seemed to have fun doing it.

Oh, the track had another appeal. For most of the drivers it was only an hour, maybe a little more, to get back home after each day’s activity.

The media enjoyed working North Wilkesboro because it was simple. Practice, qualifying, more practice, a companion race and then the big event itself.

No long-winded press conferences; no unnecessary time spent waiting for anything scheduled to take place after 5 p.m. – such a thing did not exist.

The race started at 1 p.m. and more times than not was completed by 4 p.m. Many media guys were home the same night.

It didn’t get any simpler than that.

Although Richmond has been reconfigured and is a longer track than it was, it still retains the "slam-bang" form of racing that is prevalent on short tracks.

It was the pretty much the same thing at Richmond, with a few differences.

Richmond, located in Henrico County, was routinely the second race on the schedule – not always but more times than not.

The media that came to Richmond had just completed two long, hectic weeks at Daytona reporting on the season’s first, and most prestigious, race and everything that came with it.

Richmond was indeed another race but, like North Wilkesboro, it was simple. The media wasn’t burdened by excessive announcements and speedway PR stunts.

It was a welcome relief from the previous two weeks.

Amenities for fans and media weren’t much. Richmond started out as a half-mile dirt track that sat 10,000. Like North Wilkesboro, its racing surface was converted to asphalt.

Paul Sawyer and driver Joe Weatherly purchased it in 1955.

Sawyer opted for the name Richmond International Raceway. It had been known as the Virginia State Fairgrounds, Atlantic Rural Fairgrounds, Rural Exposition Fairgrounds and Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway.

Richmond offered the same type of racing as North Wilkesboro – beat-and-bang short-track stuff.

I can’t tell you how many drivers told me, over the years, that they welcomed racing at Richmond after dealing with Daytona and the draft.

Yes, fans welcomed it, too.

As time progressed and NASCAR moved into new, larger venues with new, larger tracks, it became obvious that North Wilkesboro and Richmond were going to have to adapt if they wished to survive.

North Wilkesboro tried very hard. It enlarged its seating with handsome new grandstands. It provided more amenities for fans, including new suites. It expanded its press box and added a media center.

But in the end, expansion, and even tradition, did not matter. The track held its last NASCAR event, won by Jeff Gordon, in 1996.

Richmond made changes, too. But it went well beyond adding seats and a media center. The track underwent a major metamorphosis, the likes of which few speedways could match.

The thinking was the speedway needed to be converted into something more fitting for a major city and a large, sprawling metropolitan area.

It was reconfigured into a D-shaped, 0.75-mile track, still the only one of its types in NASCAR. Its grandstands can seat 94,063 fans. It’s the first Sprint Cup facility to present both spring and fall races under the lights.

As much as fans liked Richmond before, the majority of them love it now – and the same can be said for the drivers.

Richmond has been part of NASCAR for six decades. It is one of just three short tracks, along with Bristol and Martinsville, which remain on the Sprint Cup schedule.

To survive, all three had to evolve.

Perhaps Richmond did more than evolve.

It changed entirely – into something that is, today, unique.

Sometimes One Rating is Enough – Fantasy Insight Richmond 1

Kyle Busch

Last week I taught you the lesson of the “Triple Threat” with Jimmie Johnson being the wise pick because he was rated highest in each of the three classifications. This week the smart money will be on a driver that hasn’t looked too “Rowdy” yet this season but is primed for a big race at Richmond International Raceway. Sometimes leading in one rating is good enough.

This has been a weird season for Kyle Busch. Whether the changes at Joe Gibbs Racing or the fact he is racing less is to blame we have not seen the usual challenges for wins on a weekly basis that we are used to seeing from the younger Busch. An 83 rating for the last five races is solid but not spectacular. The track type rating of 79 is not typical of a usual race-winning pick. But his 97 rating at Richmond is amazing and it is enough to put him on top this week.

Digging deeper into the stats we see even more reason for optimism. Last week despite a poor qualifying effort Busch finished in 10th place. While this is well below usual Busch expectations it did show improvement during the weekend which is very positive news. In 14 career starts at Richmond Busch has had three wins and only two finishes worse than sixth place, to go with an average finishing position of fifth place. It doesn’t pay to bet against statistics such as those. Denny Hamlin will also be strong and Marcos Ambrose and Ryan Newman are two value plays.

Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week and don’t forget to send in your pick for “Whiteboard Fantasy Racing” this week for Richmond.

Send in your pick to win this week’s Cup race to dennis@racetalkradio.com for a chance to win a copy of the National Speedway Directory from SpeedwaysOnline.com.

 

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Winner Last Week

Bryan Grangier was the winner last week

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Top Ten After 8 Weeks

Rank

Player

Total

1

Carbon

20

2

LAM

16

3

RA

15

4T

Shari P

12

4T

Grainger

12

6T

Gertie

11

6T

Chris U

11

8

Aaron C

10

9T

Mike N

8

9T

Pops

8

9T

Rick

8

 

Weather Report

Cloudy, chance of showers, green flag temp of 74°F

http://raceweather.net

Fantasy Racing Question of the Week: Dave from Ohio: Why do you say “240 pts minimum for a contender” in your ratings section every week?

Answer – The value was picked based on statistical research over seven seasons. Only three winners had a total of less than 240 pts on the power ratings. Upset winners in recent seasons such as Brad Keselowski at ’Dega and Regan Smith at Darlington both qualified as contenders based on the 240 pt. threshold too.

If you have a question about Fantasy Racing send it to dennis@racetalkradio.com and get it answered next week. 

NASCAR by the Numbers- Lubricated by TheOilMedics.com

Using a proprietary race analysis technique we take the fans inside the numbers every week. DMIC’s rating system has been in use since 2002 and has proven to pick the contenders from the pretenders!

Consistency is King (Last Five Races)

Driver

Last 5

M Truex

95

M Kenseth

94

J Johnson

93

G Biffle

92

D Earnhardt Jr

92

K Harvick

90

D Hamlin

90

T Stewart

88

R Newman

88

C Edwards

87

Ryan Newman


Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Driver

Course

Ky Busch

97

D Hamlin

95

K Harvick

93

C Edwards

93

J Gordon

90

C Bowyer

90

R Newman

89

J Johnson

88

Ku Busch

87

AJ Allmendinger

87

 

Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

T Stewart

93

C Edwards

91

G Biffle

91

J Johnson

90

B Keselowski

90

D Hamlin

89

K Harvick

89

M Truex

89

AJ Allmendinger

88

J Gordon

88

 

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

D Hamlin

275

K Harvick

272

C Edwards

271

J Johnson

270

T Stewart

267

G Biffle

264

R Newman

264

M Truex

261

Ky Busch

260

AJ Allmendinger

259

J Gordon

259

M Kenseth

258

D Earnhardt Jr

256

B Keselowski

256

C Bowyer

256

JP Montoya

254

M Martin

254

J Logano

250

Ku Busch

249

J Burton

249

K Kahne

243

M Ambrose

241

A Almirola

241

J McMurray

240

R Smith

237

D Ragan

232

P Menard

232

D Reutimann

228

B Labonte

227

C Mears

226

T Kvapil

221

D Blaney

217

D Gilliland

215

L Cassill

214

Denny Hamlin

 

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks

Each week we will take you beyond the numbers to handicap the field from top to bottom to help your Fantasy Racing team succeed. You are also invited to join Lori Munro and I on “White Board Fantasy Racing” every Monday night on “Doin’ Donuts” at 8pm ET on RaceTalkRadio.com. Win fun prizes by picking just the race winners in our unique format. Send your picks to info@racetalkradio.com to enter.

Top Pick (Last Week 3rd)

Kyle Busch- Shows his Rowdy side this week

(6 to 1 Odds)

Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week 36th)

Ryan Newman- Should start in top ten and that helps here

(22 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week 9th)

Denny Hamlin- Can’t argue with his success at his home track

(8 to 1 Odds)

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week 33rd)        

Marcos Ambrose- Hunch pick but finished 5th and 9th here in 2010

(60 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week 35th)  

David Ragan- Not expecting better than 25th place

Crazy 8s for Richmond

Each week Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen battle in the most unique racing game around! We pick one driver each from each 8 driver group using the current points’ standings. Our picks can help you round out your fantasy racing lineup!

Last Race at Kansas: Dennis won the matchup 3-2

Season Record: Lori and Dennis are tied at 4-4

Richmond Group 1: Dennis picks Denny Hamlin and Lori picks Martin Truex Jr

Richmond Group 2: Lori picks Kyle Busch and Dennis picks Brad Keselowski

Richmond Group 3: Dennis picks Marcos Ambrose and Lori picks Mark Martin

Richmond Group 4: Lori picks Kurt Busch and Dennis picks Kasey Kahne

Richmond Group 5: Dennis picks Stephen Leicht and Lori picks Landon Cassil

 

Do you have what it takes to handicap the races? Join Lori and Dennis every week and play in the Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Series! Send your pick for the Cup race to info@racetalkradio.com to enter. W

NASCAR HOF Needs To Induct Several From The Ranks Of Its Pioneers

Junior Johnson and Richard Petty were members of the inaugural group of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and rightfully so. The hall needs to be certain racing's pioneers are inducted, also.

I have to admit I got inspired when I read a piece by veteran motorsports writer – and long-time friend – Al Pearce.

I read ol’ “Crazy Al’s” discourse on the NASCAR Hall of Fame and quickly discovered we shared the same opinions on the hall’s shortcomings.

Pearce was, not unexpectedly, thorough and reasonable. He made excellent points.

Like him, and everyone else, I have my thoughts on the NASCAR Hall of Fame and its selection process.

That selection process is unquestionably the Hall’s most hotly debated issue. It has been made abundantly clear that fans and media members will always contest it.

Their reasons range from the number of eligible HOF inductees per season to the veracity of the selection committee – not to mention, of course, the critics’ personal preferences for hall membership.

One thing needs to be mentioned before this goes any further: No hall of fame in any sport, how it operates, how it elects members and which individuals it rewards with membership, is ever going to satisfy everyone.

It’s never happened. Nor will it ever happen.

So it will be with the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

But there are some things I think NASCAR can do that will, at the least, end some criticism and perhaps produce a more complete, balanced and respected hall of fame.

When the NASCAR Hall of Fame was opened, and its membership guidelines announced, the sanctioning body quickly put itself into a hole.

Among other things, the guidelines mandated that only five new members would be inducted into the hall each year.

Given that when the hall was opened, there was already a 60-year backlog of worthy candidates. It was going to take one heckuva long time for the even the best of them to be inducted.

Sure, the first individuals enshrined were obvious choices: Richard Petty, Bill France Sr., Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and a few others.

They all achieved such greatness competitively, or in the development of NASCAR itself, that they became icons known and appreciated by everyone.

To quickly install them in the hall of fame was simply a matter of common sense, with which no one can argue.

But after three years things are a little different. Now the issue of who is inducted becomes more debatable.

Perhaps it would not be so if, say, 10 individuals were inducted.

But that only five will enter is of serious concern to many. The fear is that many of NASCAR’s pioneer drivers, mechanics, owners, officials, businessmen and others who worked in the “dark ages” and carved the path for what the sport is today, will be shuffled aside.

Why? Because there are so many of then and so few are elected per year.

The hall of fame provides displays of historical NASCAR cars and other artifacts. There are many interactive exhibits as well.

But it’s also because of selection panel’s membership. Many of those who vote see few races per year and have followed the sport for only a small number of seasons.

Others include heads of media organizations, those linked to, and even employed by, NASCAR and even three members of the France family itself.

Which can lead to two conclusions: NASCAR-influenced panelists can be induced to vote as the sanctioning body might demand.

Second, the relatively small number of panelists with any real knowledge of NASCAR’s past may forget, if they ever really knew, the sport’s pioneers – those who must be inducted into the hall sooner rather than later before they are entirely forgotten.

They are the very foundation of NASCAR.

They achieved great things simply by racing. They did so in an era where there was little radio, certainly no TV, no marketing, no public relations, no cyberspace, no social media – nothing.

They became stars via newspapers and word of mouth. Fans liked them and told others about them.

Thus, their reputations grew. So did NASCAR.

My only real concern with the NASCAR Hall of Fame is that these individuals’ inductions will come so slowly that, given time, they may well be forgotten.

Among the newest nominees to the hall are team owners Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick and champion driver Rusty Wallace.

I don’t have a problem whatsoever with their entrance into the hall. They certainly deserve it. For that matter, so do several others whose noteworthy careers were shaped after NASCAR’s pioneer days.

But I believe those pioneers deserve first consideration, simply because without them, there would be no Childress, Hendrick or Wallace.

NASCAR was formed on the shoulders of such individuals as multiple champions Herb Thomas, Tim Flock and Buck Baker; crowd-pleasing competitors such as Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Fireball Roberts and Fred Lorenzen; innovative team owners like Raymond Parks and Carl Kiekhaefer; skilled technicians exemplified by Smoky Yunick and Red Vogt; the courageous competitor Wendell Scott – and more.

A hall of fame represents a sport’s past and honors those whose lofty achievements helped make it grow.

Right now, that can be said of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

But as time goes by, it surely does not want to forget many of those whose accomplishments helped make it grow.

To assure that does not happen, the hall has some work to do.

Hendrick Motorsports Is Competitive But Expectations Have Yet To Be Met

While Jimmie Johnson is clearly in contention for a sixth career championship, he, along with the other Hendrick Motorsports drivers, has yet to bring the organization its 200th victory.

Eight NASCAR Sprint Cup races have been completed thus far in 2012 and, surprisingly, Hendrick Motorsports’ quest for win No. 200 continues.

Drivers Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne are working hard to claim it but, thus far, it just hasn’t happen. That translates to 32 starts among four teams without champagne and glitter.

Johnson was the last Hendrick driver to visit victory lane. He took the checkered flag at Kansas last October, 14 races ago.

Even with his five consecutive championships – which came to an end after the 2011 season – Johnson was mentioned as a strong championship contender and a certain winner.

Fact is, many felt this year’s champion could come from the Hendrick ranks. That might still happen. But, so far, performance has not met expectations.

For instance, Gordon’s disappointing 40th-place finish in the Daytona 500 got the season off to a disappointing start.

Eighth and 12th-place finishes followed at Phoenix and Las Vegas. Then came a 35th at Bristol followed by a 26th at Fontana, 14th at Martinsville, fourth at Texas and 21st at Kansas.

This year we have not seen the competitive Gordon we had anticiapted.

At Kansas, Gordon took the high road. He thought his finish was better than expected given late-race engine issues.

“We lucked out in some ways, I feel like, by finishing 21st. It could have been a lot worse,” Gordon said. “We struggled today. We missed the setup and we were still going to finish seventh or eighth. So I think that says a lot about our race team.

“But yeah, we obviously had a valve spring, I believe, something in the valve train that broke. They gave us more gear here this time and I think that took a toll on not only us, but on a lot of guys out there.

“I felt like it was turning a lot of rpm, even though we have a rev limiter to keep it from going over what we think it needs to and it never did; but still, it caused a problem.”

Gordon said he felt the 200th win for team owner Rick Hendrick would have come three weeks ago at Martinsville when he put on his most dominant performance of the year.

But a late-race crash with Johnson and Clint Bowyer eliminated his chances.

“I think if you look at Martinsville, it was so meant to be there,” Gordon said. “And it just didn’t happen. We’re going to get it. It’s just very competitive right now.

“And we, on the No. 24 team, need to qualify better. We’re working toward that. I think some of it’s me and not getting the most out of it. But as a group, we know it’s coming. It’s just when you have a target it always makes it more challenging.

“This year we’ve had great race cars. Kansas wasn’t our best but Jimmie was up there and so was Dale Jr. Everybody is running good; we’ve just got to run a little bit better.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is enjoying his best season to date with Hendrick. While he says he's not concentrating on the team's 200th win, he feels it will come.

Johnson led all Hendrick, and Chevrolet, teams at Kansas. He battled his way from the 15th starting position and took over the lead on lap 92. He wound up in third place, which marked his fourth top-five finish of 2012.

But he could not deliver win No. 200.

“We had good speed and we could run second and third all day long, but we needed more,” Johnson said. “I was hoping we could win it on pit road or some other scenario.

“But Denny (Hamlin) went up there and passed Martin (Truex Jr.) and won the race. We ran where we should. We just needed a little more for the win.”

Earnhardt Jr. continued his consistent campaign in 2012 with a seventh-place finish.

He was near the front throughout the 267-lap race but couldn’t challenge for the win at the end.
He, too, feels getting the 200th win is very important and that it will come.

“Well, you want to win for Rick and for yourself and your team. Everybody here needs a win for one reason or another,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We’re all working really hard. I’m not really focusing on it or honing in on it too heavily.

“You’ve just got to think about what your car is doing and what you need to do to help your car and make it faster and the wins eventually take care of themselves. We’ve just got to keep working and not think about the big prize, but just think about the little things we need to work on every day.”

With eighth place, Kasey Kahne earned a top-10 finish for the second straight week after many problems culminated into a rather rocky start this season.

“I think we have been good all year. We are just kind of putting it together,” Kahne said. “I feel like the Hendrick cars are as fast as anything here.

“We just need to put the full race together, as far as the No. 5 guys go. The other guys, I think, are running really well.”

The Sprint Cup schedule moves to Richmond International Raceway this coming Saturday night.

Gordon, Johnson, Kahne and Earnhardt Jr. have all won there in the past.

To earn win No. 200 is certainly possible.

However, by no means is it guaranteed.

 

Give Hamlin His Due At Kansas, But Much Praise Should Be Granted Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. is had a very good season to date - to say the least. His second-place finish at Kansas, his sixth this year among the top-10, has lifted him into second place in points behind Greg Biffle.

All due congratulations go to Denny Hamlin, who won the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway for his second NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the year, 19th of his career and the 95th for his Joe Gibbs Racing team.

Hamlin ran down race leader Martin Truex Jr. with 35 laps to go in the 267-mile race on the 1.5-mile Kansas track, then overtook his rival with 31 laps remaining.

Hamlin, already a winner this year at Phoenix, led the rest of the way – and in so doing held off a late, desperate attempt at a pass by Truex Jr.

As impressive as Hamlin was, and as solidly as he’s started this season after an uncharacteristically sup-par 2011 campaign, Truex Jr. should be given his share of praise from the STP 400.

Unlike Hamlin and a handful of other top-flight competitors, Truex Jr. was very likely not on anyone’s radar when it came to victory in Kansas – or, to be frank, at any other track this season.

That might have well been an oversight.

Coming into Kansas, Truex Jr. had compiled four consecutive top-10 finishes, two of which, an eighth-place run at Fontana and a sixth at Texas, were out of the top five.

He came into Kansas ranked fourth in points and was the lead driver in what had become, and continues to be, a highly competitive season for the surprisingly resurgent Michael Waltrip Racing team.

Truex Jr. started sixth at Kansas but it wasn’t long before he established himself as the race’s dominant driver.

He ultimately led 173 laps – a figure he hadn’t ever approached – and seemed in firm control until a couple of factors, apparently, did him in.

First, late in the race the weather changed, however briefly, from cloudy and cold to sun-drenched. It was theorized that this altered the handling characteristics of Truex Jr.’s Toyota.

Maybe, but Truex Jr. suggested the problem was something else.

“I don’t know what happened with our last set of tires,” said the 31-year-old driver. “They were terrible. I couldn’t go at all – I was just dead sideways.

“I don’t think it was the sun. We just put on that last set of tires and the car wasn’t anything like it had been all day. It was just loose, loose, loose.

“We lost the lead and once that happens, it’s so hard to get it back. I was running just about where Denny was, but when you’re that close, it’s just about impossible to pass him.”

It wasn’t that Truex Jr. didn’t make an effort. With three laps remaining he made a bold move to the inside of the track in an effort to pass Hamlin.

However, the move came up short and Truex Jr. made a precarious slide to the high side of the track behind Hamlin.

There was nothing else he could do.

“I was a little faster than Denny but he was running against the wall right where he needed to be,” Truex Jr. said. “I was just trying to gain some ground.

“It was a desperation, last-ditch effort. I was just trying something. I’d like to try it again. I drove as hard as I could.”

Truex Jr. admitted he was very disappointed to lose after such a dominating performance, which amounted to his fifth consecutive run among the top 10.

He hasn’t won since the spring race at Dover in 2007 when he was with Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Truex Jr. was the dominant driver at Texas. He led 173 laps and seemed well on his way to victory until, late in the race, a set of tires changed the handling of his car for the worse.

However, he is likely somewhat consoled by the fact that he’s now second in points, 15 behind Greg Biffle, who finished fifth at Kansas for his sixth top-10 run of the year – which includes a victory at Texas.

Truex Jr. admitted he’s pleased with the effort. But he also suggested that some of his goals, and those of MWR, have yet to be reached.

As an example, he noted that while his performance was suitable, those of his teammates, Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer, were not.

Both fell victim to engine failure, a malady that hasn’t played a significant role in Sprint Cup races for several years, especially since the development of “bulletproof” powerplants.

However, at Kansas, at least eight teams were struck with engine woes.

“Winning certainly helps and that’ s what we’re here to do,” he said. “But come September we want to be in the Chase and we want to go for a championship, too.

“Our other two cars didn’t run as well as we wanted them to today and that’s probably the first time this year that our cars have run that different.”

Truex Jr. referred to the fourth race of the season, at Bristol, where MWR cars finished third through fifth to trigger the team’s competitive resurgence.

“We’ll look into what happened today a little bit and get a little bit smarter and a little bit better,” he said. “I think if we push each other to be the best team in the series, well, that will put all our Toyotas up front.”

Of the MWR trio of teams, only those of Truex Jr. and Bowyer can win a championship. Martin runs a limited schedule and Brian Vickers will replace him in eight races.

At present Truex Jr.’s unexpectedly strong performances through the first eight races of the season have made him the team’s leading contender to make the Chase – and, perhaps, win a championship.

Meanwhile, at Kansas, more news was made by a team other than Gibbs and Waltrip.

Hendrick Motorsports’ bid to win its 200th Sprint Cup race fell short once again.

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson notched the 199th win at Kansas last fall. He came close to a repeat this year but had to settle for a third-place finish.

Fourteen races have now passed since Hendrick’s last victory. It will get another chance this weekend at Richmond.

Now, it should be noted that three of four Hendrick drivers finished among the top 10 at Kansas – Johnson, Kasey Kahne, who, for the second week in a row shook off bad luck to finish sixth – and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who took seventh.

Jeff Gordon was one of those who fell victim to engine failure and finished 21st.

 

The Iconic No. 3 Has Its Place In NASCAR Sprint Cup Competition

The "stylized" No. 3 that was attached to Dale Earnhardt for so many years has yet to return to NASCAR Sprint Cup after his death in 2001. Some fans say it should never be restored.

Few topics are more polarizing in NASCAR today than what Richard Childress should do with his No. 3 in the Sprint Cup Series.

Fueled by strong, emphatic emotion, the No. 3 can rarely be discussed without passion.

There are usually two camps:  One distinctly in favor of retiring the number from competition and one comfortable with its return to Sprint Cup.

Those vehemently against seeing the RCR No. 3 car in competition feel the number is synonymous with Dale Earnhardt. They believe that when Earnhardt died, at Daytona in 2001, the era of the No. 3 car ended.

Earnhardt made the No. 3 iconic.

To see the No. 3 on the track in first, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and, currently, the NASCAR Nationwide Series, is disturbing to many. They are uncomfortable with their hero’s number in competition when he is not the driver.

Like the No. 99 of the National Hockey League’s Wayne Gretzky or a long roster of numbers in Major League Baseball, there are legions of fans who feel Earnhardt’s No. 3 should be retired lest anybody forget him and his accomplishments.

They feel no driver is worthy of strapping into a race car with the number that so prominently identifies Earnhardt.

There are those fans, however, which feel differently. They may have reverence for Earnhardt, but understand that a number is not the driver.

Some fans are old-timers who have been NASCAR supporters for several decades. They recall a time before Earnhardt occupied the No. 3. Others are newer fans that may never have seen “The Intimidator” drive.

These fans either have a respect for the history of the sport and the fact that Earnhardt was a profoundly important part of it, or simply do not have an emotional attachment and do not feel the need to see the No. 3 retired.

My favorite part of being a columnist is being able to express my opinion openly.

I have made it clear that I had one favorite driver in all my years of watching NASCAR and that was Earnhardt. When he died, as part of my grieving process I walked away from the sport for many years.

I’ve watched programs about Earnhardt, talked about him and written about him a lot over the years and will continue to do so. He is a large part of my NASCAR fabric and I feel his absence daily.

My stance about the No. 3 in Cup competition may surprise some, but I think I can back up my position fairly.

While I consider writing and talking about NASCAR as my job, it is also my passion. I listen to podcasts, radio shows, and read myriad articles on the subject.

Recently, Richard Childress was heard on several programs discussing the future of the No. 3, the number he “owns” and has used since 1976.

Childress understands the emotional attachment people have with the “stylized No. 3” that Earnhardt ran. He is sensitive to the legion of fans who still worship Earnhardt and thus, by association, the No. 3.

But Childress has been doing an awful lot of interviews concerning grandson Austin Dillon’s use of the number and his team’s intentions when it enters the Cup Series.

The No. 3 Chevrolet, with Earnhardt aboard, began its NASCAR journey over three decades ago and for years featured Wrangler as the sponsor.

The No. 3 was brought back to NASCAR in 2009 after a hiatus following Earnhardt’s death – save the one time Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove it in a Nationwide race in 2002. Dillon started using the number in Iowa in the truck series and by 2010 ran the number full time on that circuit.

In 2010 Dillon won rookie of the year honors in the NCWTS. In 2011 he became the series champion.

This year Dillon is running in the Nationwide Series with the No. 3.

So why is Dillon granted permission to run the No. 3 in both the NCWTS and the NNS? It is because he is Childress’ grandson. NASCAR is rich with legacies. Among Childress’ legacies is a race team for his grandson.

When Childress was asked earlier this year if the No. 3 would ever be used by Dillon in Sprint Cup, he replied, “I never say never.”

Childress does emphasize that it is the “stylized No. 3” that everyone associates with Earnhardt.

In a different interview posted on the Jayski website, Childress reminisced: “Dale had his picture taken with Austin (and Ty Dillon) in victory lane in the 1998 Daytona 500.”

His point is that Earnhardt adored grandson Dillon and would be very proud of the driver he has become.

Later in the Jayski interview Childress recounted, “Many people drove the No. 3 car throughout history.”

Also quoted on the same Jayski program was a fantastic sound byte by Earnhardt Jr.

Eloquent and thoughtful, Earnhardt Jr. said, “(The No. 3 car) is like a bank where you deposit history.”

Clearly Earnhardt Jr. has no issue with the possibility of the No. 3 car running in Cup, especially with Dillon as the driver.

Earnhardt Jr. does admit Dillon would have a rough road to navigate in terms of fans’ reactions to the No. 3 in Cup, but, personally, he is fine with the situation.

My opinion is Dillon should run the No. 3 in the Sprint Cup Series. NASCAR has no history of retiring numbers.

Childress has created an amazing legacy for his grandson – grandsons when Ty is included – that he should be proud to carry into the next generation.

Even Earnhardt Jr., arguably the one man who could drive the No. 3 whom fans of all mindsets might possibly accept, feels Dillon has every right to drive the car bearing that number.

When Earnhardt was alive he began procuring a legacy for his own family in the form of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. That organization provided a ride for Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt Jr.’s grandfather, the late Ralph Earnhardt, drove the No. 8. That was the number fit for the grandson. That was Dale Jr.’s legacy, not the No. 3.

I believe Earnhardt would be fine should Dillon create a new chapter for the No. 3 car. What would upset Earnhardt is that his son doesn’t run the No. 8 – not that Childress’ grandson wants to drive the No. 3 in Cup.

Dillon is the only driver I can see making his Cup debut in a No. 3 car. Actually, I’m all for it and hope it happens in the near future.

That’s my opinion. I’m interested in yours.

 

For more of Candice Smith visit http://chief187.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Junior, A Presidential Pardon Was A Great Start To The 1986 Season

Junior Johnson was certainly smiling after a successful 1985 season, but he was even happier when, late in the year, he received a Presidential Pardon.

Before the start of the 1986 NASCAR Winston Cup season, Junior Johnson was extremely confident that his teams, and drivers Darrell Waltrip and Neil Bonnett, could, once again, be winners and championship contenders.

Waltrip won the championship the year before and Bonnett finished fourth in the final point standings, which made Junior Johnson & Associates the most successful team in NASCAR.

With no significant personnel or sponsorship changes made for 1986, Junior’s teams appeared to be on solid footing.

As buoyed as Junior was over the prospects for the ’86 season, something else happened that was even more satisfying – at least personally.

He received a gift from the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

I have to be honest.

When 1986 rolled around, I was very comfortable and satisfied, professionally.

In 1985, Junior Johnson & Associates won a third Winston Cup championship with Darrell. The team remained intact with the promise of doing even better things in the upcoming season.

I thought things could not be better.

But in early in 1986, they got a lot better – well, personally, that is. What happened had nothing to do with racing, nothing at all.

On Dec. 26, 1985, President Ronald Reagan signed a presidential pardon for my moonshining conviction in 1956 – after they nabbed me at my Daddy’s still and I went to prison for 11 months in Ohio.

The announcement was made on Jan. 12, 1986, a day before the National Motorsports Press Association’s annual convention in Charlotte.

It made all the headlines.

OK, I admit it. I liked that. I wanted all of NASCAR, and the country for that matter, to know.

I filed the request for a pardon in 1981. As the years went by, I never gave up hope, because I was told that it would likely take some time.

Five years later it happened. The pardon was full and unconditional and retroactive to the completion of my sentence. It was a sign of forgiveness. It did not erase the record of conviction or indicate innocence.

However, it did restore basic civil rights, which are lost upon conviction of a felony. And among those was the right to vote.

Darrell Waltrip continued to drive a Chevrolet with Budweiser sponsorship in 1986. That season got off to a rocky, controversial start.

Let me tell you that the loss of basic civil rights impacts you in a way you can’t imagine. You come to think of yourself somewhat less than an American citizen. It’s not a good feeling.

The pardon was a tremendous Christmas present for me. I could not have imagined anything better.

I have to admit that it also vindicated me from an accusation that had, for years, prevented my induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

I became eligible for the hall in 1971. But the man in charge of the induction committee, Dick Herbert, who was the sports editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, refused to count any votes cast for me.

He called me “a common criminal.”

It was a long 10 years before I finally got voted into the hall. Don’t know what happened to Herbert but, finally, the votes cast for me by the other North Carolina sports writers were counted.

So with the pardon, I felt I had at last, without question, earned the honor. Reckon I was no longer a “common criminal.”

I didn’t think I could be any happier than to be inducted into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame. But the pardon topped that.

And I would be very remiss if I didn’t tell you that despite my run-ins with Bill France Jr. over the years, it was his family, along with the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., that helped make the pardon possible.

So at the start of 1986, I was buoyed professionally and personally. I was counting on our teams, with Darrell and Neil, to provide a bigger boost – which, to me, meant winning races and even another championship if possible. That’s what racing is all about, right?

However, the season didn’t start well at all. In the Daytona 500, Darrell did good enough. He finished third in the race, won by Geoff Bodine after Dale Earnhardt ran out of gas with three laps remaining. Terry Labonte wound up second with Darrell behind him.

It was the third year in a row Darrell finished third. That might be a good thing for some owners, but, given what I knew Darrell and his team could do, it wasn’t good enough for me. I knew we were better than that.

For Neil, well, Daytona was a disaster. His Chevrolet had a broken wheel on the 100th lap – now how the heck can you ever figure that would happen? As a result he go into a multicar wreck with Joe Ruttman, Buddy Baker, Harry Gant and Cale.

What a mess. Neil wound up in 32nd place.

To me, it continued what had become an established trend for Junior Johnson & Associates, one I did not like.

It seemed that we always had a championship-caliber team with Darrell aboard. And, although Neil had done some great things (and even was, for a time, better than Darrell), the same could not be said for him.

Don’t misunderstand me here. Neil was a great driver. He performed well for us. He was a great representative for our team and very popular among the fans.

I just couldn’t understand why Neil, along with our team, could not move to a higher level.

I came to the decision that I would concentrate on Neil’s team and its efforts. It seemed to be the logical thing to do. I mean, Darrell and his bunch had long since matched their potential.

But it evolved that in just the second race of 1986, at Richmond, I had to put my concerns for Neil’s team aside.

Darrell and Junior Johnson & Associates – and myself, of course – got involved in one of the ugliest and most controversial finishes in NASCAR’s history.

It was one that played a big role in the outcome of the season.

 

 

 

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