Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
I wasn’t praying for magic
“I just hope Dale’s okay.”
Three weeks earlier, Darrell Waltrip’s words in FOX’s first broadcast of the Daytona 500 had become unintentionally immortalized, spoken in concern after the Goodwrench No. 3 Chevrolet came to rest peacefully on the infield grass, in a vision that would be burned in the minds of NASCAR fans forever.
To say that Dale Earnhardt’s untimely death struck the motorsports world like a sledgehammer blow to the head would be an understatement. NASCAR Nation was badly shaken in the wake of the Intimidator’s passing. Despite Dale’s departure from this Earth in a way that one could have seen happening—the proverbial “he died doing what he loved”—it still put us all into a state of incredulous shock. It seemed so wrong. Earnhardt was happier than he had ever been, looking forward to another season of racing. He was supposed to retire comfortably, run his new team until reaching a ripe old age, and see his son follow in his footsteps. It wasn’t supposed to be over so suddenly before his 50th birthday.
When the NASCAR circus arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway, participants and fans were still recoiling from the impact. The last three weeks had been tumultuous. Sterling Marlin, whose unintentional tap had sent the No. 3 into its fatal spin, was receiving death threats from crazed Earnhardt fans until Dale Jr. stepped to the microphone to absolve him. Fans everywhere were demanding to know how it happened, questioning the quality of the seatbelts in the car, which would eventually depress seatbelt manufacturer Bill Simpson enough to give up the business. There would be an ugly and public battle between Dale’s widow Teresa and some despicably behaving members of the press over autopsy photos. Most of all, Earnhardt fans were of course inconsolable at the loss of their hero, and everyone suspected NASCAR would never be the same.
A young, promising Busch series driver from Bakersfield, California named Kevin Harvick was thrust into the national spotlight in the blink of an eye. The famous Goodwrench No. 3 became the Goodwrench No. 29, the car color was changed from black to white, and for a time the crew members had worn plain white uniforms. A devastated Richard Childress made it as easy as possible for Harvick under indisputably trying circumstances, removing as much of Dale’s legacy as he could partly so that the young rookie felt less need to live up to one of the all-time greatest in the sport.
As most all the tracks would that year, Atlanta paid its own tribute to Earnhardt. The No. 3 trailer was made available for fans to sign. Seven thousand black balloons were released into the air, a thousand for each of his seven championships. A section of the grandstands was named after him.
As the balloons floated into the sky, 43 drivers began to race, knowing that Dale would have called them a bunch of candy asses if they didn’t.
For most of the first half of the Cracker Barrel 500, the race looked to be Jeff Gordon’s to lose. The No. 24 Monte Carlo led 118 laps after taking the lead from Harvick on lap 18. But then lose it he nearly did, when an uncharacteristic mental mistake left the 24 out of fuel and a lap down. Fortunately for Gordon, his teammate Jerry Nadeau took over the lead—and allowed the 24 back on the lead lap. Gordon would eventually make his way back into contention again.
Nadeau was having an equally impressive day, leading for much of the race after Gordon’s miscue, until losing the lead to Dale Jarrett with 60 laps to go. Nadeau and Jarrett then swapped the lead until Sterling Marlin’s blown engine reset the field with 25 remaining.
Most replays of Atlanta 2001 show only the last lap, stopping the video the moment the 29 Chevy’s nose touches the finish line. What is sometimes forgotten is that the finish was ten sensational laps of racing following the final restart. Before Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon battled to nearly the first ever tie in an auto race, they had to duke it out with Jarrett, Nadeau, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., in a marvelous five-car showdown that inexplicably, incredibly, did not result in a wreck.
Nadeau led, followed closely by Jarrett, Harvick, Earnhardt, Jr. and Gordon. Jarrett tried unsuccessfully to chase down Nadeau. Harvick latched onto Jarrett’s bumper. Half a lap later Harvick was on the inside lane of Jarrett, running next to the 88. After crossing the finish line side by side, Harvick fell back behind, unable to complete the pass.
Jarrett went low inside of Nadeau. Simultaneously, Junior moved to the outside of Harvick. Jarrett pulled even with Nadeau, the two cars touching at the finish line. Then Harvick dove to the bottom, making it three-wide. Junior tried unsuccessfully to get around Jarrett on the outside. Harvick missed a mark and fell back in the turn. Gordon went high to join the fray and make it five cars all within one camera lens at 190 MPH. Moments later, Harvick, Nadeau, and Jarrett were crossing the finish line three wide, with Gordon and Junior in hot pursuit.
Harvick completed the pass around Jarrett. Four laps to go. Jarrett fell back and Gordon went to his outside. Then somehow, impossibly, all five cars got back in line, their spotters earning every penny of their salary and then some.
Gordon went high trying to pass Nadeau and couldn’t quite do it. Then in return for Nadeau’s earlier generosity, Gordon attempted to push him past Harvick. But Nadeau no longer had the car to compete…and a moment later, neither did Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who went to pit road with a cut tire and could now only watch. He would have to wait until the series returned to Daytona for his moment.
Jarrett was still in the picture, but was now a couple of car lengths behind and could only hope the competitors ahead of him made a mistake. Crossing the finish line to make it three laps to go, Gordon got underneath of Nadeau and passed him.
All of this happened in less time than it probably took you to read it.
After five warriors had left it all on the track in a stunning display, now just two were left standing, in a suddenly familiar sight: DuPont vs. Goodwrench.
Two laps to go. Gordon quickly started closing the gap on Harvick. And the only question now was, with the car running behind clearly faster, would three miles be enough?
In my younger concert-going days, I made a choice that I still today regret more than most in my life. Stevie Ray Vaughan was playing in Philadelphia alongside one of my musical heroes, Jeff Beck. It still baffles me to this day why I did this, but with economics allowing me to attend only one show at the time, I chose to see Jethro Tull instead. I not only missed Jeff Beck with his best ever supporting band, I missed what would be Stevie Ray’s last performance in Philly. Whenever I hear the stomping, kick-ass Beck-Vaughan rendition of “Goin’ Down” from that tour, I cringe at the thought that I passed on experiencing it live to see Jethro Dull. I would never make that mistake again, but the one that got away forever will always gnaw at me.
Before Harvick and Gordon come screaming down the frontstretch to the finish line, I would like to take a moment to dedicate this column to anyone who could have made it to Atlanta Motor Speedway that day and didn’t…because they didn’t want to spend the money, or deal with the traffic, or maybe even because they thought they would miss the No. 3 Chevy too much. If any of you are still kicking yourself in the head to this day over missing it, you’ll always have my sympathy my friend. Like me, you couldn’t have known.
The white flag dropped with Gordon two car lengths behind. Throughout the final lap, Gordon awaited his opportunity to pounce. In turn 3, the moment of truth arrived. Gordon went to the bottom. Harvick clung to the top. Coming out of turn four, the 24 wiggled just a hair avoiding a slower car, before pulling side by side with the 29 for the drag race. Both drivers slammed the pedal to the floor. The 29 Chevy crossed the finish line. Six-thousandths of a second later, the 24 crossed it. The tiny wiggle became the difference between the race winner and the first loser.
In a race 31,680,000 inches in length, Kevin Harvick won by just six.
What followed was an eruption of emotion, a moment of gravity seldom equaled in sports. Harvick smoked the tires in a perfectly executed burnout and then circled the speedway in an Alan Kulwicki Polish victory lap—saluting another fallen NASCAR hero—all the while holding three fingers out the window. FOX replayed an overjoyed Goodwrench pit crew leaping into the air in slow motion at the outcome. His voice quaking the entire time, Richard Childress could barely manage to say that he asked his departed buddy for help when Harvick took the lead, and that his request was answered. Like at Daytona three years earlier, entire crews lined up and shook the hand of the driver of the Goodwrench Chevrolet. Flags and banners saluting No. 3 were everywhere. Mike Joy, a consummate broadcast professional, had difficulty keeping his voice from cracking. For maybe the first time in his life, Darrell Waltrip was speechless. The delirious crowd at Atlanta Motor Speedway shook the grandstands with enduring, thunderous acclamation—for Kevin Harvick, for the tremendous finish, for Jeff Gordon leaving no doubt of its authenticity, for Richard Childress Racing’s resurrection, and for Dale Earnhardt’s entire career and life.
Fittingly, three weeks after the inconceivable and seemingly insurmountable loss of Dale Earnhardt, an ailing NASCAR came to life again at one of his favorite tracks.
Not only had the Intimidator’s Chevy won three weeks after his passing, it had happened in as heart stopping a thriller as could be conceived, a classic that was as great as events get in motorsports. To say that the race was at least in the top five in NASCAR history would not be anything remotely resembling a stretch. (I have a book called “Thunder and Glory” that ranks it tenth all-time.) You almost suspect Dale might have considered trading some of his declining years to be remembered so magnificently. Or that at least he would have taken the tradeoff of seeing his undeniable mark on full display before millions.
It was nearly impossible to witness the Atlanta finish and not be a believer in Unearthly Benevolence. It is still today just as difficult to doubt that, if nothing else, Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was somewhere enjoying the hell out of the show—and probably thinking Wonderboy would never have gotten that close to winning if he had been driving the Goodwrench Chevrolet.
ESPN did a credible if unspectacular job with its TV movie “3: The Dale Earnhardt Story”. But one issue I take with the movie is its ending with the crash at Daytona. The real ending was at Atlanta Motor Speedway three weeks later—the Goodwrench Chevy vanquishing its mightiest rival by the smallest of margins, the FOX camera focusing on the black 3 painted in the Atlanta infield, and 125,000 emotional fans in a long, deafening roar at the thought that Dale must have been present for what they saw to have just happened.
The Dale Earnhardt Story does not end in tragedy at Daytona Beach. It ends in the rebirth of a great sport and the presence of Dale’s indomitable spirit guiding it back to health at Atlanta. The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 in 2001 was the Intimidator waving goodbye and driving his racecar off into the sunset, his enormous contribution to stock car racing complete.
Life could go on. Racing could go on.
Dale was okay.
©2000 - 2008 Kurt Smith and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Sometimes I still have to look back at that day in Daytona and just sit and reflect. Dale was my favorite and he was just gone. I still get a little numb thinking about it. Harvicks win in Atlanta soothed the pain for a few minutes for me but even now I feel like I lost a part of me when Dale died.
In contrast to Mark, I was not an Earnhardt fan. To be honest, I thought he was a dirty racer most of the time. He never thought twice about taking out a fellow driver if he wanted the win bad enough. That fact is well documented, so please, forget about a verbal war here. I do however know exactly where I was standing, who was there, and what we said on that fateful day in February 2001. I knew that the sport had lost one of its greatest heroes and that the face of NA$CAR would never be the same again. How true that fact has become now. Sad isn’t it?
i was at the race that day. it was a very emotional day to be an earnhardt fan. on that last lap of the race, when harvick crossed the start/finish line and was the winner, a cold chill went through the track. i wasn’t only one that felt it in the section of champions grandstand i was sitting in. i had, and have, never felt that sensation before. i firmly believe it was dale’s spirit, at the track, letting us know it was ok. letting us know he was there helping kevin in his car, the car that dale would have raced, do the impossible for a rookie put in an impossible situation, and won the race in a specatular way. i remember seeing richard childress and chocolate myers on pit road running to victory lane and each other, tears running down their faces. i remember the entire team, torn with emotions…..i remember looking around and seeing the fans not leaving the stands as they had done the year before when dale won that race in march of 2000. however we weren’t rocking the house with jubliation for our driver in 2001, we were honoring our fallen hero. i have never seen so many grown men cry. in the week after the fatal wreck, i went to ams for a memorial service for dale. 5000 fans turned out on a rainy day. no no one wanted to leave after the service. everyone was there remembering and comforting each other. so that race in march 2001 was one that will never be forgotten. that feel of dale’s spirit at that track will never be forgotten as well.
I remember the day Dale Sr. died and I felt as if I lost my best friend. Yes he was aggresive, but that horrible day at Daytona he was driving as a mother hen protecting her young. i.e. Dale Jr. and Michael Waltrip. And when his son won at the very track where he left his soul, I cried so hard that I literally sobbed. Dale Sr. will ALWAYS be in my heart forever.
just want to say i woulde have wanted to watch jethro tull more because my god they were a lot better then stevie sorry
Well Mr Ed Clark, you go listen to Jethro Tull or Muddy Waters or whoever you want to. You missed the whole point. Its about not being able to go back and change things cause Dale and Stevie Ray are gone. Aww… just forget it, you wouldn’t understand.
Good point Kurt. If I remember correctly there were a number of coincidences involving the number three that year as it related to Kevin Harvick and Mickey(Harvick winning the third race and Mickey doing a burnout after winning and it being shaped like the number three). Now if you want to peruse a very interesting article, get Matt to do a reprint of his piece titled “What would Dale do?” He wrote that after Dale was killed when he was writing for SpeedFX. If he cannot reprint due to whatever, let me know and I’ll send it to you.
Well thanks, Rocky. I will look into that. NASCAR hasn’t done it yet this season, but I’m sure something will get my goat at some point!
I’m sure if I can’t find a link that Matt will have it somewhere. Thanks again.