JUNIOR JOHNSON: In 1990, Yankee Geoff Bodine Joined Country Boy’s Team

After three seasons, Junior Johnson decided it was time to make change. He and driver Terry Labonte agreed to part and that left Johnson with the task of hiring a new competitor.

It was a logical, mutual decision. Labonte hadn’t made the progress he and Johnson would have liked. To both of them it seemed like things were going nowhere.

Labonte did have good seasons with Johnson. He finished in the top 10 in points from 1987-1989. But he won only four races, which even Labonte felt wasn’t good enough.

Junior was faced with the often difficult decision: Who would be his next driver? Was there someone he felt could help Junior Johnson & Associates improve in 1990?

Turns out that, yes, there was.

It’s fair to say that Junior’s decision shocked a lot of observers. The driver he selected was unlike any other who raced out of his Wilkes County, N.C., shops.

Many suggested the union would not work.

Johnson thought it would. He hoped the 1990 NASCAR Winston Cup season would prove it.

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

At the close of the 1989 season, I knew I had to make some changes. It was a tough decision. It always is.

I felt it would be best if Terry did not continue with Junior Johnson & Associates. It was nothing personal, not by a long shot. Terry was perhaps the most personable and easy-going driver I ever had. He never made waves. Everyone liked him.

Now, I won’t hide the fact that, from time to time, I thought he might not have been as aggressive on the track as I would have liked to have seen.

Terry was a smooth, steady driver. He was very calculating. He did not push the car. He was not hard on equipment.

If he had a car capable of winning a race, well, he could indeed win it.

But I can’t help but think that he was at something of a disadvantage. The drivers who won most of the races from 1987-1989 were real leadfoots – guys like Dale, Rusty, Bill and even Darrell.

I freely admit I always liked that kind of driver, and I think my record as a team owner proves that. Bobby, Cale and Darrell were recognized as aggressive drivers – and got results.

During his three years with me, Terry won only four races. But, he had 33 finishes among the top five and 51 among the top 10.

Johnson selected Geoff Bodine to be his driver for the 1990 season. Bodine came from the Northeast Modified ranks and enjoyed several good seasons with Hendrick Motorsports.

In two of those three years he was a solid championship contender.

But I had been used to better things – and in three years with Terry things didn’t get better. The 1989 season was our least competitive.

I think Terry viewed everything from the same perspective I did. He said it seemed like, together, we weren’t getting anywhere.

I know he wanted to win more – obviously. But given that he hadn’t and thought there wasn’t enough progress to ensure he could, well, he reached the conclusion it was time to move on.

That was the same conclusion I reached. So we decided to part ways.

But I have to tell you this. As much I wanted Terry to be a part of the blossom years Junior Johnson & Associates enjoyed before he arrived, I have to freely admit I made more money with Terry than I did with any other driver.

I think that was because I had, perhaps, a more significant sponsorship than I had ever had. There was more money to work with.

At the same time Terry ran well enough in each of his three seasons to earn some good dollars – those points do pay off. We were profitable.

In three seasons, Terry posted earnings in excess of $2.4 million. Darn good money in those days.

So while I could always enjoy winning and all the glory that goes with it, well, I still enjoyed the financial side of it.

In that respect I reckon I wasn’t any different than any other team owner.

All team owners, from time to time, have to make a sometimes difficult decision: Which driver is going to race my cars?

I decided that Geoff Bodine would become part of Junior Johnson & Associates for 1990. He agreed.

OK, I will be very honest here. I’m not sure anyone thought we would hook up.

Geoff was a Yankee from New York and he was going to drive for a man born and bred in the foothills of the Brushy Mountains of North Carolina?

A one-time moonshiner was going to hook up with a New Englander? No one could hardly imagine such a thing.

Except me.

Here’s how I looked at it. Bodine was a huge star in the Modified ranks. Not only could he drive – and win – he knew all about cars. He could fix ‘em, build ‘em and make them better than they were.

He got his start in Winston Cup racing with Rick Hendrick in 1984 and won his first race that year. He won seven races in six years.

But by the end of the 1989 season, Darrell was Hendrick’s star. Geoff was not. Darrell won six races that year; Geoff only one.

I had a good hunch Geoff did not want to play second fiddle on a team he had helped bring to prominence. He didn’t want to play support role in a multicar organization.

I was right. Geoff quickly hooked up with me. He was going to be the driver for a one-car team that had a record of success. I’m sure it was something he simply could not turn down.

Now, I knew full well Geoff could be a bit difficult to work with at times and was a man who, sometimes, stubbornly stood by his convictions, even if it put him at odds with his owner and teammates.

But I also knew about his driving ability and his knowledge of race cars and how to make them better and faster. In my book that combination was too good to ignore.

I also knew that during the 1990 season I was going to find out if I was right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alan Kulwicki: Champion Driver Who Did Things His Own Way

Alan Kulwicki achieved success in NASCAR as an owner/driver with a small operation. His skill and determination helped win him the 1992 Winston Cup championship.

I’ve been reading Humpy Wheeler’s book,“Growing Up NASCAR: Racing’s Most Outrageous Promoter Tells All” and enjoying the heck out of it. Each chapter reveals insights on the biggest names in NASCAR in Humpy’s time. It’s been a fascinating read.

Last night I read the chapter about Alan Kulwicki.

Kulwicki is particularly interesting to me. As I’ve written many times before, the 1992 Winston Cup Season was a banner year that solidified my fandom in NASCAR.

Although my driver, Dale Earnhardt, was a non-factor that season, I was enthralled with the championship race that involved Davey Allison, Bill Elliot, and Kulwicki.

At the time I didn’t know much about Kulwicki but I sure as heck didn’t want Allison or Elliot to win.

Wheeler’s book showed me the reasons why I wasn’t off base when I found it difficult to “fall” for Kulwicki. Yet he also gave examples of the way the man was that made me cry when we lost him.

Kulwicki’s early life was littered with tragedies difficult for a young man to endure. He was a Roman Catholic Polish child growing up in Wisconsin. His mother died when he was just a boy.

His family moved in with his grandmother who then died when he was in seventh grade. When he was in the eighth grade, Kulwicki’s brother died.

These enormous losses most certainly played a role in the personality formed by a young man who began racing at 13 in the go-karts.

Gerry Kulwicki, Alan’s father, was an engine builder and crew chief for a race car in a United States Automobile Club (USAC) team for Norm Nelson and Roger McCluskey.

This job kept Kulwicki’s father away from home when go kart races were run, leaving the boy to become very resourceful.

Kulwicki’s father taught the young man how to fix things with his own hands so he’d expand his knowledge.

Throughout his local racing career Kulwicki ran first on dirt and later on asphalt. While racing, Kulwicki continued his education and earned his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 1977.

That very same year Kulwicki had taken to asphalt after racing dirt and won the track championship at Slinger Super Speedway.

Kulwicki established his signature victory celebration, "The Polish Victory Lap," at Phoenix in 1988 when drove clockwise around the track.

The following year Kulwicki added racing at Wisconsin International Raceway. He finished an impressive third in points in his rookie season at WIR. The next two years – 1979 and 1980 – he won the track’s Late Model championships.

Through the early 1980s Kulwicki ran regionally and nationally within events sanctioned by the USAC Stock Car series and American Speed Association. It was in the ASA that Kulwicki first met and befriended NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace.

In 1984 Kulwicki entered several NASCAR Busch Grand National Series races (now Nationwide). His moderate successes – no wins but decent finishes – provided opportunity for Kulwicki to run in the Winston Cup Series.

Packing up his scant belongings Kulwicki left for Charlotte to begin his NASCAR career in earnest.

He was a fish out of water with his northern background, engineering degree and loner personality. Yet he worked hard, raced hard, and learned quickly.

Bill Terry initially was Kulwicki’s team owner. Terry put Kulwicki in a Cup car in 1985 for five races and 1986 for 14. He then decided to close down his operations.

Kulwicki bought Terry’s equipment and used it for the rest of the season. It paid off as Kulwicki earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1986.

What was so impressive about this feat was two-fold. Kulwicki won the ROTY fielding his own team and he did it with one car, two engines, and only two full-time crew members.

The 1987 season saw Kulwicki adopt No. 7 as his car number. He nearly won a race and finished 15th in the Winston Cup points.

In 1988 Kulwicki hired crew chief Paul Andrews. They found Victory Lane in Phoenix that year.

As Wheeler writes, the “Polish Victory Lap” Kulwicki instituted that day was all his idea. Wheeler was surprised when he heard that Kulwicki did it.

Kulwicki, however, took credit explaining that his motivation for doing the clockwise lap around the track was to wave to the fans and give them something to remember with his first victory.

Kulwicki improved to 14th at the end of the 1988 season. The same result was achieved for the 1989 season.

Kulwicki’s insistence in doing things his own way was tested when Junior Johnson approached him to race for him in 1990. Nobody had ever declined a ride from Johnson – until Kulwicki.

Kulwicki was constantly working on his race program. From engine building to race strategies, he kept tweaking. The hard work began to pay off. In 1990 Kulwicki posted his second Cup victory and finished the season in eighth.

Once again Johnson came calling with an offer – $1 million to Kulwicki to drive the second car in his two-car team. And once again Kulwicki refused.

Sponsorship for Kulwicki’s No. 7 team was lost, so he had to run the car with no sponsor at the start of the 1991 season.

Hooters, the restaurant chain, was interested in a one-race deal sponsoring Kulwicki’s car. It did in Atlanta for the fourth race of the 1991 season. Kulwicki placed eighth in that race and a long-term sponsorship deal was struck.

Kulwicki picked up his third win at Bristol in August. He ended the season 13th in points.

If ever there was a banner year in motorsports for a driver it was 1992 for Kulwicki. He earned his fourth career Cup win at Bristol in the spring and never left the top five in points.

He posted at win in June at Pocono as well. Kulwicki strung together an impressive season which came down to the final race, at Atlanta, to decide the 1992 champion.

Kulwicki’s other competitors – Kyle Petty, Mark Martin, Harry Gant, and Allison – became non-factors in the race. Only Elliott stood between Kulwicki and the championship.

Elliott and Kulwicki exchanged the lead in the second half of the race several times. They were vying to be the driver who led the most laps to earn the bonus points that would eventually lead to the championship.

Although Elliot won the Hooters 500 at Atlanta, Kulwicki finished second to Elliott. He led just one more lap than his rival.

Kulwicki was crowned the 1992 champion and Elliot had to settle for runnerup.

As champion, Kulwicki posted many firsts for NASCAR’s top series. At the time, it was the closest margin for a champion to win – 10 points. Kulwicki was the first champion born in the “North” and the first with a college degree. He ushered in an era of change for the sport.

Until Tony Stewart won the Cup last year as an owner/driver, Kulwicki was the last to do that for two decades.

Kulwicki was never able to defend his championship. He died tragically in April 1993 in a plane crash. He was 38.

The song attached to Kulwicki has always been “My Way” for the meticulous and solitary method with which Kulwicki led his life and career in racing.

Wheeler’s book offers anecdotes that flesh out the man who was so driven.

I pulled for Kulwicki to win the championship in 1992 and was horrified to learn of his demise the following spring.

He will forever be a driver whose excellence shines through and whose death left a gaping hole in what could have been in NASCAR.

 

 

 

 

Flat Versus Banked – Fantasy Insight Dover 2

Jimmie Johnson

Last week on the ESPN coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race from New Hampshire we heard about how Denny Hamlin’s team is great on flat tracks but not so good on banked tracks like Dover. Is this comment accurate by the numbers?

This week I broke down the statistics for the most recent five races from each type of race track. Tracks were grouped into “Flat” or “Banked” groups at the various lengths. Here is the data presented as total rating for each type of track along with the breakdown by distances. Short tracks are identified for the purpose of this study to be one mile or less. Intermediate tracks are the 1.5-mile tracks. Speed depicts the super speedways of two miles or more in length.

Flat Tracks

Driver

Car #

Flat Int

Flat Speed

Flat Short

Rating

J Johnson

48

96

90

94

280

B Keselowski

2

96

91

92

278

D Earnhardt Jr

88

93

91

90

273

K Kahne

5

95

85

94

273

C Bowyer

15

86

91

95

272

T Stewart

14

87

90

94

271

K Harvick

29

93

86

87

266

D Hamlin

11

87

84

95

265

M Kenseth

17

89

84

90

263

G Biffle

16

85

91

87

263

M Truex

56

87

89

84

260

J Gordon

24

78

88

87

253

Banked Tracks

Driver

Car #

Bank Int

Bank Short

Bank Speed

Rating

M Kenseth

17

90

92

95

276

K Kahne

5

89

87

90

266

D Hamlin

11

91

87

85

264

D Earnhardt Jr

88

91

86

86

263

M Truex

56

92

89

81

262

K Harvick

29

92

88

82

261

J Gordon

24

94

88

79

261

C Bowyer

15

86

90

85

261

B Kesolowski

2

82

87

88

258

G Biffle

16

89

80

88

257

J Johnson

48

85

96

73

254

T Stewart

14

85

76

88

250

Denny Hamlin’s overall “Flat” and “Banked” track ratings are almost identical. His ranking among Chase drivers is actually higher on the banked tracks when the overall data is taken into account. But look at just the short track ratings for Hamlin.

Driver

Flat Short

Bank Short

D Hamlin

94.6

87.2

Seven points represents a difference of almost 8% in ratings between the flat short and flat banked tracks which is a significant difference. So next time you hear announcers make a general statement know that while there might be some gut feeling that led to that comment sometimes it is also based in cold hard numbers.

This week it is on to the high banks of Dover. The top four drivers in the “Horses for Courses” ranking this week are Chase drivers. But seven of the Chase drivers are outside of the top ten in ranking. Three of the drivers are outside of the top 20 including Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Martin Truex Jr.

Before you give up hope on that three-some remember they have accounted for four total wins in their careers. As I have taught you here on Fantasy Insight there are always different ways to look at every set of statistics.

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 Dover.

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

Kasey Kahne

Dave H was the winner at New Hampshire

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Top Ten After New Hampshire

Rank

Player

Total

1

Grainger

49

2

LAM

47

3

RA

45

4

Gertie

44

5

Mike N

42

6

Carbon

40

7

DMIC

37

8T

Rick

34

8T

Chris U

34

8T

Aaron C

34

Weather Report

Mostly cloudy with periods of rain, high temp near 70F

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

NASCAR by the Numbers- Presented by “Stock Car Racing Goes to the Dogs”…your pet can ride along in a real NASCAR race.

http://www.indiegogo.com/goestothedogs?a=405509

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

D Hamlin

93

J Gordon

92

B Keselowski

91

J Johnson

90

C Bowyer

90

K Kahne

90

K Harvick

89

D Earnhardt Jr

89

Ky Busch

88

M Truex

88

Matt Kenseth

Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Driver

Course

J Johnson

96

M Kenseth

94

K Harvick

91

J Gordon

89

J Burton

89

C Edwards

89

Ku Busch

89

M Martin

88

A Almirola

88

K Kahne

86 

Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

J Johnson

96

M Kenseth

92

C Bowyer

90

M Truex

89

K Harvick

88

J Gordon

88

K Kahne

87

J McMurray

87

D Hamlin

87

B Keselowski

87

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

J Johnson

282

M Kenseth

271

J Gordon

269

K Harvick

268

C Bowyer

266

D Hamlin

266

K Kahne

263

B Keselowski

262

M Martin

258

Ky Busch

257

M Truex

255

J Burton

255

J Logano

255

D Earnhardt Jr

255

P Menard

254

M Ambrose

253

R Newman

252

C Edwards

250

G Biffle

250

Ku Busch

247

T Stewart

245

J McMurray

244

JP Montoya

243

A Almirola

239

R Smith

235

B Labonte

230

S Hornish

228

D Ragan

226

C Mears

221

D Gilliland

220

T Kvapil

220

L Cassill

219

D Blaney

213

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks- Lubricated by TheOilMedics.com

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 7th)      

Mark Martin- Logical pick after winning the pole here earlier in the season

(30 to 1 Odds) 

Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week 10th)              

Kevin Harvick- Has lulled the odds makers to sleep with lack luster runs, huge overlay

(25 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week Winner)               

Jimmie Johnson- Best bet for a top five every week

(4 to 1 Odds)

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week 4th)                

Kasey Kahne- Hot driver is the best choice in this group

(10 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week 9th)                

Ricky Stenhouse Jr- Gets a spot start and should be decent bet for a top 10

Crazy 8s for Dover 2

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

Last Race at New Hampshire: Dennis won the matchup 3-2

Season Record: Lori leads Dennis at 18-10

Group 1: Dennis picks Jimmie Johnson and Lori picks Kasey Kahne

Group 2: Lori picks Jeff Gordon and Dennis picks Matt Kenseth

Group 3: Dennis picks Joey Logano and Lori picks Jeff Burton

Group 4: Lori picks Mark Martin and Dennis picks Kurt Busch

Group 5: Dennis picks Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Lori picks Sam Hornish Jr

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. Weekly prize given away! 

 

Denny Hamlin’s ‘Call’ Comes Through And Puts Him In Contention

Denny Hamlin certainly let it be known he felt he could win at New Hampshire in the Sylvania 300 and he did. He earned his first win in the Chase and his fifth of the season.

It was something of a mini-debate. No, that’s an understatement. It was a full-fledged debate.

Did Denny Hamlin make the “call” before the race at New Hampshire? Did he, in fact, guarantee that he would win?

After a disappointing performance at Chicagoland, Hamlin chose not to sulk or lay blame on anyone.

Instead he said he would overcome – he would win at New Hampshire.

The social networks were abuzz. The word was: “Heavens! Hamlin has guaranteed a victory. It’s like Babe Ruth all over again.”

In response Hamlin declared that he had guaranteed nothing. He was merely saying he and his team would respond from Chicagoland with a positive – even victorious – effort.

At Chicagoland, incidentally, Hamlin saw a good run spoiled after pit strategy went afoul. He ran out of gas late in the race, fell backward and wound up in 16th place, the last driver on the lead lap.

For a guy who claimed he did not authoritatively predict he would win at New Hampshire, Hamlin certainly made the most of the situation.

After he did indeed won, he stepped out of his car at the finish line, pointed to the sky and then took a baseball “swing.”

Shades of “The Bambino.” The Yankee great, as the legend says, once called a home run shot and then promptly clocked the ball out of the stadium.

Believe it as fact or call it a tall tale, if you will. And you can also argue that Hamlin did, or did not, make a Ruthian prediction.

In the end it doesn’t make a bit of difference.

Hamlin credited the efforts of his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing for his dominating performance at New Hampshire, in which he led 193 of 300 laps - nearly two-thirds of the race.

At New Hampshire he delivered a truly Ruthian performance.

Hamlin achieved what is arguably one of the most dominating victories of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

He led 193 of 300 laps around the one-mile New Hampshire track, including the last 52, to streak to a runaway victory over Jimmie Johnson.

It was Hamlin’s first victory in the Chase, which is now just two races old, and his fifth of the season, tops among all competitors.

Hamlin’s victory was even more prodigious when one considers that he started the race in 28th place after a mistake prior to qualifying.

Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was routinely fastest in practice; so much so that rivals made it clear he was the man to beat in the race.

But for qualifying the air pressure in his tires was set for race conditions – meaning it was far lower than required for time trials.

As a result Hamlin sank to the rear of the field like a cannonball tossed into the ocean.

Few doubted Hamlin would not overcome. It was suggested that he would streak from 28th into the top 10 before the race had gone 100 laps.

Fact is he was the leader after 96 laps. And the rout was on.

“I know we made a couple of big mistakes in the last two weeks,” Hamlin said, “but I said we were fast enough to make it up and we were. I’m going to have these guys’ backs until they die on me. This is my team.

“It was easy to be patient at the start of the race, because I knew we had a race-winning car. So, I had kind of a timeline in which I wanted to get to the front. We got there a little bit earlier than I expected, but really just took our time.”

Hamlin brought JGR its 100 Sprint Cup victory and, at the same time, established himself as a solid contender for the championship.

He moved from fifth to fourth in the point standings. Johnson displaced Brad Keselowski from first place as Keselowski finished sixth at New Hampshire.

Only seven points separate Hamlin from Johnson. Tony Stewart, last year’s Sylvania 300 winner, finished seventh and stands fourth in points, just 10 behind Johnson.

Some observers say that Hamlin’s recent stoic reaction to adversity, and his unshaken confidence, have helped shape his role as a contender.

“I have found over the seven years that I’ve been here, it’s just that everyone really feeds off of your attitude and your outlook,” Hamlin said. “Obviously when I have confidence they have a ton of confidence.

“So, I just learned to handle the bad days better and knowing that I’m one of a handful of drivers that have a great ride, an awesome sponsor, and have a championship-winning team backing me.

“I can handle the bad days when I put the grand scheme of things in a bigger picture.”

The race was very clean – there were only four caution periods, one a competition yellow flag and three others for debris – but after the last one, Hamlin lost a nearly five-second lead over Johnson.

That mattered little. When the race restarted with 23 laps to go, Hamlin simply pulled away. Even Johnson, who has finished second in both the Chase races to date, said he had no chance of catching him.

There are those who suggest the championship will be decided between Hamlin and Johnson. With eight races remaining in the Chase, it might be a bit early to suggest that.

But it seems that if Hamlin thinks he can win, he won’t hesitate to say so. There’s evidence of that.

“If you’re going to say something like that, that you are going to win, you’ve got to run extremely well,” he said. “This team just gave me a great car this weekend and it was just untouchable here. That’s all I can say is it was easy to drive.

“This is what you dream of as a race car driver to have cars like these.”

Harry Gant, ‘Mr. September,’ Proved Dreams Can Come True After 40

Harry Gant did not begin his NASCAR Winston Cup career until he was nearly 40 years old. In his '50s, he started everyone with five wins, including four in a row, in 1991.

When September appears on the calendar there is one driver who pops into my head – Harry Gant.

He will always be “Mr. September” to me for more reasons than the number of wins he earned during that month in 1991.

Gant began his career in NASCAR Winston Cup racing in his ‘40s and was competitive into his ‘50s, a time considered the autumn of one’s competitive life.

Gant’s driving career has always enthralled me because he became a rookie in the Cup series at the age of 39 in 1979 and raced for Rookie of the Year against the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte, men who were a decade or more younger.

He didn’t win that contest – Earnhardt did – and placed fourth while driving the No. 47 Race Hill Farm car for Jack Beebe.

In 1980, Gant’s sophomore year in Cup, he added a drive. He split his time between the No. 47 and the No. 75 for RahMoc Enterprises. Gant ran a few races with that organization, run by Bob Rahilly and Butch Mock, but his future lay elsewhere.

During the 1981 season, Gant eventually paired with Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds to drive the No. 33 Skoal Bandit Pontiac.

Needham was a Hollywood stuntman and director and Reynolds, of course, was a movie star. Needham and Reynolds were longtime friends and collaborators (“Smokey and the Bandit” and “Cannonball Run” among others) who entered NASCAR and created a successful team that put Gant in the cockpit of a winning car.

In their first year of competition together Gant placed third for the season behind Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison. He claimed no wins but earned three poles, 18 top-10s and 13 top-fives.  In fact, Gant finished in second place a total of 10 times before his first victory at Martinsville Speedway came on April 25, 1982. He was 42 years old. Another win followed at Charlotte in October.

In his second year in the No. 33 car – 1982 – Gant finished fourth in points at season’s end. He was seventh in points for the 1983 season.

The 1984 season would prove to be Gant’s best in the No. 33 Skoal car. With 23 top-10s, 15 top-fives, and three wins, Gant finished second in points, 65 behind champion Labonte.

Gant's most successful seasons as a driver came with team owners Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds. Racing for sponsor U.S. Tobacco Co. Gant became known as "The Skoal Bandit."

Gant followed that championship bid with another in 1985. His 19 top-10s, 14 top-fives, and three wins were enough to earn Gant third for the season behind Waltrip, who was collecting his third championship driving for Junior Johnson.

Second place, 101 points behind Waltrip, was Bill Elliot. Elliot had won the Winston Million that season and accrued a stunning 11 wins with the Harry Melling team but could not catch Waltrip. Gant was 259 points back from Waltrip.

The 1986-1990 seasons were OK for Gant and his team, but there were no more championship bids of which to speak. He placed 11th, 22nd, 27th, 7th, and 17th, respectively, in those years.

Arguably, Gant’s best and most notable season in Winston Cup came in 1991. He posted his first victory at Talladega Superspeedway for the Winston 500 run in May. It was a fuel mileage outcome that found Gant reportedly running out of gas directly after taking the checkered flag.

Gant wouldn’t score again until September. The Heinz Southern 500 was held on Sept 1st and saw Gant take top honors. He followed that with wins at Richmond on Sept 7th, Dover on Sept 15th, and Martinsville on Sept 22nd.

It seemed Gant was unstoppable. During the race at Martinsville he crashed on Lap 377 in Turn 3. Most thought Gant’s chances to win the race – his fourth in a row – were dashed.

Gant’s team remedied the situation the best they could and sent him back out to make up laps. Gant charged through the field and with 50 laps to go passed race leader Brett Bodine.

Gant won, earned the fourth consecutive victory and tied the modern era record for such a feat with Earnhardt.

Gant was well on his way to a fifth consecutive win when he won the pole for the Tyson Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Sept 29th. Gant was leading the race when Earnhardt passed him with 12 laps remaining. Gant had to settle for second.

Gant’s winning streak ended at five for the season – four in a row plus the win in May at Talladega.

In addition to Gant’s hot streak in Sept in Cup, he also collected two great victories in the Busch Grand National Series (now Nationwide). Gant added wins at Richmond and Dover to make six the total number of “W’s” to put in his column for the spectacular month.

The next season Gant was strong again. He earned 15 top-10s, 10 top-fives, and two wins. The victories came at Dover in May and Michigan in Aug. The championship turned into an epic battle among Davey Allison, Bill Elliot, and Alan Kulwicki. Gant was fourth that season, and Kulwicki took the title.

That was to be Gant’s last great bid for the championship. The next two years saw Gant without any victories and finishing 11th and 25th respectively for the 1993 and 1994 seasons. He retired after the 1994 season at the age of 54 to spend more time with his family.

 

Gant was 51 years old in 1991. He was racing with men half of his age and was a strong contender. I admire him greatly for the way his career played out.

Gant reinvented himself in his ‘40s. He was a successful carpenter who owned his own construction business. Gant was known to say, “I’m a good race car driver, but a great carpenter.”

To follow his dreams of running in Cup Gant sold half of his construction business to finance his bid in 1979.

As a lifelong race fan and person who reinvented herself as 40 approached, I always identified with Gant. He dazzled, he sizzled, he won, and he did it at an age where drivers are now considered old-timers.

Thanks for putting yourself out there, “Mr. September.” And thanks for continuing to be a beacon for those of us who want to pursue their dreams after 40.

 

 

 

 

Second Time Around – Fantasy Insight New Hampshire 2

Brad Keselowski

One of the toughest parts of fantasy race handicapping is to look beyond the statistics to make sense of the most recent race at a particular track. Too many people make the mistake of assuming that the drivers who did well in the first visit to the track will have a strong performance in the very next visit.

Some handicappers also write off a driver who had a poor effort in the first visit. But, quite often, different weather conditions lead to different track conditions and therefore a vastly different outcome the second time around.

Let’s take a look at this year’s races and see if we can detect a trend. There have been five tracks to host two races already this season. In the second visit to those tracks the winners finished 3rd, 30th, 16th, 13th and 4th.  Obviously nothing can be discerned from the selection of those five events.  Put more faith in the rating system that uses five races instead of just the most recent race at the track.

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 New Hampshire.

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

Harry J picked the winner at Chicagoland

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Top Ten After Chicagoland

Rank

Player

Total

1

Grainger

48

2

RA

45

3

LAM

44

4

Gertie

43

5

Carbon

39

6

Mike N

37

7

DMIC

36

8

Rick

34

9

Chris U

31

10

Jim R

29

Tony Stewart

Weather Report

Cloudy with a chance of showers and a high temp of 70F 

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

NASCAR by the Numbers- Presented by “Stock Car Racing Goes to the Dogs”…your pet can ride along in a real NASCAR race.

http://www.indiegogo.com/goestothedogs?a=405509

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

B Keselowski

91

D Earnhardt Jr

91

Ky Busch

91

D Hamlin

91

K Kahne

90

C Bowyer

90

M Truex

89

G Biffle

89

K Harvick

88

J Gordon

87

Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Driver

Course

J Gordon

94

T Stewart

92

D Earnhardt Jr

90

D Hamlin

90

R Newman

90

K Harvick

90

C Bowyer

89

J Johnson

89

G Biffle

87

K Kahne

87 

Denny Hamlin

Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

T Stewart

94

D Hamlin

94

C Bowyer

94

J Johnson

92

M Kenseth

92

D Earnhardt Jr

92

B Keselowski

91

K Kahne

89

R Newman

89

G Biffle

88

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

D Hamlin

274

D Earnhardt Jr

273

C Bowyer

272

T Stewart

268

J Johnson

266

B Keselowski

266

J Gordon

266

K Kahne

266

G Biffle

264

K Harvick

264

R Newman

262

Ky Busch

262

M Kenseth

262

M Truex

260

C Edwards

254

M Ambrose

250

B Vickers

249

J Logano

247

J Burton

247

S Hornish

247

P Menard

245

J McMurray

240

JP Montoya

237

B Labonte

235

Ku Busch

234

R Smith

233

A Almirola

232

D Ragan

226

L Cassill

223

T Kvapil

221

D Gilliland

218

C Mears

217

D Blaney

213

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks- Lubricated by TheOilMedics.com

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)     

Tony Stewart- Excellent on flat tracks

(7 to 1 Odds)

Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week 10th)              

Ryan Newman- Will qualify up front and be in the hunt all day

(25 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week Winner)               

Denny Hamlin- Top rated driver this week

(5 to 1 Odds)

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week 8th)               

Clint Bowyer- Tied for the best Track Type rating

(12 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week 11th)               

Brian Vickers- Comes off the bench and will post a solid finish

Crazy 8s for New Hampshire 2

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 Richmond: Lori won the matchup 3-2

Season Record: Lori leads Dennis at 18-9

Group 1: Lori picks Tony Stewart and Dennis picks Denny Hamlin

Group 2: Dennis picks Ryan Newman and Lori picks Kyle Busch

Group 3: Lori picks Joey Logano and Dennis picks Jeff Burton

Group 4: Dennis picks Kurt Busch and Lori picks Casey Mears

Group 5: Lori picks Brian Vickers and Dennis picks Sam Hornish Jr

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 

Brad Keselowski Takes Round One And Now, Won’t Be Ignored In Chase

Brad Keselowski won at Chicagoland to earn his fourth win of the season. More important, he moved atop the point standings after the first event in the 10-race Chase.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when some considered Brad Keselowski as an outspoken character with the talent for driving a stock car very, very well.

Seems tweeting during a red flag period at Daytona can make folks think that way. Speaking your mind in the face of your elders can, too.

But this year Keselowski has displayed – significantly – his acknowledged skill, which has led many to regard him as a rising star.

Before this season is over, Keselowski may be an established star. He may also be a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.

He’s made the best possible start toward the title. The 28-year-old driver for Roger Penske Racing scored a victory over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland to take the lead in the point standings for the Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Keselowski utilized a fast late-race pit stop, made under green-flag conditions, to move into position to win.

Johnson also pitted under green but Keselowski re-entered the track on lap later than his rival, lap 231. He pulled in front of Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the second turn.

From there, Keselowski pulled away to win by 3.71 seconds over Johnson to earn his fourth victory of the season, which ties him with Denny Hamlin for the most this season.

Keselowski powered his way from fifth to first in points in the initial event of the 10-race Chase. Johnson, who led five times for 172 laps at Chicagoland, is now second in points, just three behind Keselowski, and up from fourth.

“Well, there’s no better place to start than in the lead, right? Keselowski said. “It was certainly a great race. My opinion is obviously a little skewed on that.  So let’s call it a good race, how about that?

Jeff Gordon was the only one of the 12 Chase drivers not to finish among the top 18. He suffered a crash and wound up in 35th place.

“Our team just did a phenomenal job of executing, made some key adjustments during the race that got my car running really, really strong.  Certainly there were a lot of other really good cars in the field as well. “Forgive me for being redundant, but it feels like Round 1 of a heavyweight title bout, just it’s a 10‑round bout.

“Week 1 is done and we won the round but we didn’t by any means knock them out, we’ve got a lot of racing left to go.”

 This is all new territory for Keselowski. Despite his competitiveness this year, few – not all by any means – considered him a championship contender.

Even when he won his third race of the year, at Kentucky, which cemented his place in the Chase and assured him a higher spot in points after the re-seeding, he was seldom mentioned in the same context with such drivers as Johnson, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.

That will no longer be the case.

Seems that, for Keselowski, talk is good but actions are better. And while it’s very early in the Chase, he and his team have made all the right moves. And, according to him, will do so again.

“It’s certainly a long road and a tough road to get to where we’re at,” Keselowski said. “I’m proud of every step that we’ve taken along the way. I think that we can still be better.

I think that these are really good times, and I think we’re just getting into them, and the best is still yet to come here at Penske Racing.

“I’ve made it a point to not try to overstate my role in that because it is the team that does it. It’s all of us.  We all have that responsibility to make it happen.

“Certainly I might be one of the loudest in the group, but it takes all of us to make it happen, and I like where we’re going.”

Johnson, who felt Keselowski crossed a restraining line too early when exiting the green-flag pit stop, expressed the only real contention in the race.

NASCAR reviewed the incident and called no infraction.

“I don’t really think it affected the outcome,” Johnson said. “He made quick work in traffic and stretched it out on me.

“I’m just really proud of the team on all fronts. Overcame some adversity through our practice sessions, sat on pole, led a lot of laps today, fell some on pit road, race strategy, you name it, we had a very, very solid day.

“Of course we would have loved to have won the race, but we’ll take second and go on. This is a fantastic way to start the Chase.”

Kasey Kahne finished third and Kyle Busch fourth, the best performance by a driver not in the Chase. Ryan Newman, also not in the Chase, rounded out the top five.

All 12 of the drivers in the Chase finished among the top 18. Jeff Gordon was the only exception following a 35th-place finish due to a crash created by a stuck throttle.

Following Keselowski and Johnson in the standings are Stewart, third after his sixth-place finish at Chicagoland, Hamlin, fourth with a 16th and Kahne, fifth.

It seems unlikely anyone should doubt Keselowski’s swelling maturity, given his rational assessment of what remains in the Chase – especially for him.

“I won’t feel safe until Homestead,” he said. “Just call me ‘Captain Obvious.’

“No, I’m not going to feel good until it’s over. I’m really not. There’s not going to be a weekend where you go, ‘All right, it should be easy for me.’

“That’s just not the way this sport works and we see that time after time after time.”

 

 

 

 

2001: Earnhardt Jr. Rises To Top Amid Tragedy For America, NASCAR

Dale Earnhardt Jr., here racing with teammate Jimmie Johnson at Dover earlier this year, won for the first time at the Delaware track in 2001, not long after his father died in a crash at Daytona that year.

Every Sept. 11 since 2001 I have had occasion to pause, reflect, and mourn anew.

When I think back to the incidents I recall how much the nation was in shock. Life as we knew it nearly shut down completely. Our commander-in-chief wisely told us to go on about our lives as normal.

NASCAR, as a part of American culture – sports, entertainment, community, and family – had the task of continuing its season in the days following the attacks.

The last race run was at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 8. After Sept. 11t the nation was reeling and anything entertainment-wise seemed out of place and disrespectful. But life had to go on in the face of that horrific tragedy.

Dover International Speedway held the MBNA Cal Ripken, Jr. 400 on Sept. 23. Less than two weeks after the attacks NASCAR did what it does best – put on a show for the fans.

Decked out in patriotic colors, the cars roared to life allowing the drivers, the teams, the track personnel and the myriad fans around the country to exhale.

Nearly 140,000 fans gathered to cheer their favorite drivers, partake in the communal act of race fandom, and temporarily forget about their grief.

American flags were handed out for the crowd to wave and show their colors.  Thunderous chants of “USA! USA! USA!” could be heard – and felt – all around.

Lee Greenwood performed “God Bless the USA” and then Tanya Tucker belted out the “Star Spangled Banner” to which the assembled group wept with fervent passion for their wounded and proud country.

In one of the most emotional moments of 2001, Kevin Harvick (left), here with team owner Richard Childress, won at Atlanta as Dale Earnhardt's replacement in only his third Cup start.

Normalcy, thankfully, reigned on the track. All seemed lost in the magic of racing – the gorgeous choreography of pit stops, the dance the drivers make their cars perform, and the pageantry of the cars themselves.

As fate would have it Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag that day. It was a race he hadn’t won before or since but that day he found his way to victory lane.

Thrust an American flag by his crewmate after his victory, Earnhardt Jr. ran the Monster Mile in a show of patriotic solidarity with the Stars and Stripes in hand.  For that moment in time he was the embodiment of American pride, patriotism and hope for the future.

The 2001 season was far from a typical one. The opening race, the Daytona 500, ended with the sport’s iconic driver, Dale Earnhardt, losing his life in the last seconds of the race while his driver Michael Waltrip won the first Cup race of his career.

The NASCAR family, shocked and in disbelief, rallied around to cope with the sudden loss.

Throughout the season drivers accomplished seemingly miraculous feats. Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI) driver Steve Parks won at Rockingham, the first race after Earnhardt’s death. Two weeks later, in only his third start in Cup competition, Richard Childress Racing’s Kevin Harvick, the man tapped to replace Earnhardt, won at Atlanta.

Earnhardt Jr. returned to the site of his father’s death five months later and won the Pepsi 400. His teammate Waltrip rushed to Earnhardt Jr.’s side to congratulate him and celebrate their back-to-back victories at the venue.

Harvick won again with Earnhardt’s renumbered No. 29 team at Chicagoland Speedway for the Tropicana 400.

After he won the race at Dover mentioned previously, Earnhardt Jr. won at Talladega in the EA Sports 500.

Earnhardt Jr., in a stunning stroke of luck and hard work, won the No Bull 5 Million Dollar Bonus for the first time. This was one year after his father had accomplished the same feat.

Harvick earned Rookie of the Year honors.

The year 2001 was a disturbing one in the world of NASCAR as well as for the country as a whole. But people joined together to mourn and quickly got back to the business of racing. And it’s that consistency and that integrity that keeps me as a fan.

Looking back over 2001 in Cup this past week has shown how important the sport has been, why Dale Earnhardt Jr. has earned the loyalty of his “nation,” how the sport of racing can sooth a nation in pain, – and how the spirit of NASCAR permeates the country.

Thanks NASCAR.

 

 

 

 

JUNIOR JOHNSON: At The End Of 1989 Season It Was Obvious Changes Coming

When the 1989 NASCAR season began, for the first time in a long time, Junior Johnson was concerned about his team's potential performance. It turned out the season proved his fears.

For the first time in many seasons, when 1989 approached Junior Johnson was concerned about his team, or at least about its ability to steadily improve its competitiveness.

During the first two seasons of Terry Labonte’s employment as Johnson’s driver, performance was steady if unspectacular.

Which would have been more than acceptable to Johnson if he knew he could count on a better performance in 1988 than he saw in 1987.

However, that did not happen.

So when the ’89 season approached Johnson began to worry. He knew Labonte would put up good numbers. But would they be better? Would they reverse a two-year trend of shrinking productivity?

If they did not, it would be a clear indication something had to be done.

 

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

 

I freely admit I was highly concerned about the 1989 season.

Let me explain a bit. Normally as each new season approached and I didn’t have to deal with changing circumstances – new driver, new personnel, things like that – I never harbored any doubts that Junior Johnson & Associates could be better than in the previous year.

That had been the trend for many years. But after Darrell won the Winston Cup championship in 1985 and came ever-so-close to winning a fourth in 1986, well, things tapered off a bit.

When Terry came on board as our driver in 1987, I couldn’t logically expect him to win a title. New driver-team combinations seldom do that.

Darrell Waltrip won the 1989 Daytona 500 after 17 years of trying. Waltrip's best years were with Johnson, with whom he won all three of his championships. Hope this helps.

I thought we would be steady and we were. Terry won only one race but we finished third in points – a good foundation from which to build.

But the next year, again, Terry won a race but we wound up fourth in points with fewer top-five and top-10 finishes.

Now I realize these are the kinds of seasons most teams covet. But as far as I was concerned it was plainly obvious we were not making progress.

We were, in fact, going backward.

Terry and I were in our last year of a three-year contract in 1989 and there was no doubt that we would finish it out.

I’ve never been in the habit of breaking contracts. When you make a commitment to a driver, you keep it. And I can assure you that the same is done for a sponsor.

So my biggest hope for the 1989 season was that I would see improvement. More than one win and a rise of a single position in the point standings would be good enough for me.

I thought we got off to a decent start in the Daytona 500, where Terry finished fourth.

Darrell won that race, by the way, and he got his first victory in the prestigious 500 for the first time in 17 attempts.

I was happy for him, of course. But I also thought we should have won it at least once during all those years we were together.

After Daytona things went nowhere – fast. Terry did not finish among the top 10 until the seventh race of the year, at North Wilkesboro.

I couldn’t blame him alone. We had all kinds of mechanical problems and just plain bad luck.

Incidentally, the race at North Wilkesboro became part of NASCAR lore.

It was the first stock car race ever run using, almost exclusively, radial tires.

After a bitter “tire war” in 1988 between Goodyear and Hoosier – which ended when Hoosier pulled out at the end of the season – it became obvious that something needed to be done.

For Goodyear to produce so many different bias-ply tire compounds for so many race tracks and so many different conditions was expensive – and, needless to say, potentially unsafe.

So Goodyear worked very hard to produce a racing radial tire. Radials were, of course, the tires used on every passenger car in the country.

For various reasons, lots of folks said radials would not work. I hoped they would.

Radials would eliminate “stagger,” where air pressure adjustments, sizes and other modifications were made to each tire to provide ideal handling.

With radials all tires were equal, so to speak, which meant there was something less to worry about.

As I said the radials made their debut at North Wilkesboro. It was a glorious one.

Practically everybody used them, including Junior Johnson & Associates.

For some reason, Rusty Wallace, then driving for Raymond Beadle, decided not to do so.

He won the pole – yes, bias-ply tires were faster in the short run – but when the race started, I think only 10 laps passed before Rusty was so far behind he was in a different area code. It was funny, to tell the truth.

Dale goes in the books as the first driver to win a race on radial tires, which, as you know, are the only tires used to this day.

After Daytona, Terry got a couple more top-10 finishes, including a runnerup at Talladega, before we finally won at Pocono on June 18, the 13th race of the year.

I didn’t know it at the time but that was the first superspeedway victory for Junior Johnson & Associates since Neil Bonnett won at Rockingham in October of 1986.

That’s humbling.

Terry got another superspeedway win at Talladega in July, which meant that for the first time in his tenure with us, he would earn more than a single victory in a season.

But that wasn’t enough.

We had the fewest top-five finishes, nine, and only 11 among the top-10, again the fewest, in our time together.

We wound up 10th in points.

Progress? Hardly.

So I knew, and so did everyone else at Junior Johnson & Associates, there would indeed be changes for 1990.

I could never have imagined what one of them would be.

 

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