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.
It’s coincidental, but still notable, that the NASCAR Cup Series visits its shortest oval circuit (Martinsville) then heads off to its longest (Talladega). By chance, the two tracks are amongst the longest lasting on a circuit where a decade ago new cookie cutter tracks began popping up like dandelions on a spring lawn, replacing historic venues where the Cup racers had been doing battle for decades.
Yet as different as they are, Talladega and Martinsville remain two lands that time has all but forgotten. The winds of change erode all human edifices, but in these two far flung corners of Dixie time seems to move at a less hurried pace. Have a look at the grainy black and white newsreel photos as Big Bill France promoted his new uber-speedway back in 1968-69, and there’s no doubt which track you are looking at: Talladega. It’s the same with Martinsville. There might not be much left but black and white photos turning sepia in tone around the edges, showing skinny white guys in starched white shirts with skinny ties sitting in the grandstands watching Packards, Hudsons, Plymouths, and Oldsmobiles battle… but there’s no doubt where the race was held.
Sure, there’s other historic circuits out there. But Darlington has had some major face lifts, and it’s easy to tell current photos of the track from back in the day. Richmond and Bristol have been reconfigured countless times, no longer resembling themselves in days of yore. Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, Hickory, Hillsboro, Islip? They’re just gone, baby, gone… and they ain’t coming back. Yet somehow, Martinsville remains, still successful and still hosting two Cup races a season.
Martinsville actually predates the incorporation of NASCAR. On September 25th, 1949, the track hosted its first Cup (well that year, it was actually Strictly Stock) event won by that season’s eventual champion Red Byron. Since then, it has hosted a total of 122 races in the sport’s top division. (The track even held three events in 1961, after rain shortened an early April race well before the halfway point. Bill France declared the race official, but then rescheduled it for later in the month. Yeah, they’ve been pretty much making up the rules as they went since even back then.)
But despite all those miles of racing, the last major facelift at Martinsville occurred back in the summer of 1955, when H. Clay Earles decided to pave his pretty little oval. No less an authority than Lee Petty at the time was quoted as saying management had “ruined” a perfectly good race track. But Earles was trying to sell tickets, and took note of the fact the growing number of female fans attending his races didn’t like going home coated in dust and mud. Nor, presumably, did the females who stayed home much care for laundering the clothes of their kin who went to Martinsville races (though if you watch the black and white laundry soap ads of the
The last big redesign at Martinsville involved incorporating the SAFER barriers to the track. Unfortunately, that did away with the picturesque flower boxes along the catchfence which, while regrettable, was necessary. Speeds at Martinsville are a fraction of what they are at some other tracks, but one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers ever, multi-time modified champion Richie Evans, was killed in a practice wreck at Martinsville on October 25th, 1985. We, the people, hold these truths to be self-evident: no rock and roll can be too loud, no Mustang can be too fast, no woman can be too pretty, no beer can be too cold, and no race track can be too safe.
Anyhow, despite Petty’s criticism the great racing at Martinsville held up on the asphalt, and it’s continued ever since for over five more decades. Throughout countless generations of racing, numerous configurations of cars, rich times and lean times, the sport’s rising and waning popularity, Martinsville has been there as part of the bedrock of stock car racing, offering up great events year after year. The legendary drivers and events at Martinsville would easily overwhelm a book… much less this column. Along the way, it’s none other than Lee Petty’s son who’s won the most at a track that is just a quick jaunt from their previous Level Cross, NC headquarters, as The King holds the all-time track record with 15.
A trip to Martinsville is a worthy pilgrimage for any true fan of stock car racing. The action is up close, personal, and relentless, while the area where the track is situated is picturesque and rich in history. The folks in those parts are also amongst the kindest and most polite you’ll encounter. They love their stock car racing and they love having you as a guest, as long as you don’t get too carried away and remember to take off your cap during the song and the prayer. I think it’s because there’s something primal in the memories of stock car racing fans — this is the way the whole sport started, and this is how it’s meant to be run on a tight little half-mile with beating, gouging, fenders banging, tires smoking, and tempers being pushed to their limit. This is stock car racing… not lawn croquet.
Viewed from above, the track H. Clay Earles created remains timeless. With two 800-foot straightaways, connected with two short and tight corners, the design is not unique; but it is, in fact, timeless. Somehow, their country-promoter in the post-World War II era got it just right over six decades ago, without the use of CAD-CAM design, engineering plans, or bulldozer blades guided by lasers and GPS. He built the perfect track in the perfect place, and thus Martinsville has become an enduring legend. The day they take a date from Martinsville will indeed be the day to pack your bags and leave the circus.
Turning our attention to the series’ smallest track to its largest, nobody is ever going to call Talladega picturesque or charming. Instead, it’s about as charming as a rattlesnake slithering out from beneath the pillow of your infant’s crib. “Awe inspiring” might be a legitimate term. “Frightening” is another good one. But the 2.66-mile superspeedway is the product of one man’s vision, twisted though it might have been… one William Getty France, Sr.
Buoyed by the success of the Daytona Speedway he’d opened a decade early and awash in more cash from the factory wars of the era then he could toss away at whores, handguns, and booze, Big Bill decided he was going to build him a new speedway. It was going to be the biggest, highest-banked, fastest, and baddest track anywhere in the world. It was going to make the Brickyard look like a children’s carnival ride, avenging the open-wheel types which insulted him by refusing to race at Daytona. If it happened to be built atop a Native American burial ground, so be it. Big Bill didn’t have a lot of use for dead people unless they’d punched their tickets making him money. Even then, France showed a curious lack of compassion for men killed in stock car races, even Fireball Roberts — a man he also called a close friend.
From the outset, there were problems at Talladega. The track came to be in an era where the Hemi Chryslers and Boss Fords were already overwhelming the ability of Goodyear and Firestone to keep up with the speeds on shorter, less-banked tracks. In pre-race testing, the track surface was shown to be too bumpy but even at that, too fast for the tire technology of 1969. The drivers asked for the race to be postponed, as the tire companies didn’t think they could come up with a safe and competitive tire for that first Talladega race. Even the factories were expressing some reluctance to risk their big names, giving those drivers unheralded precedent to decide whether to race or not. It seemed there was no way a safe and competitive race could be staged. But the almighty Big Bill France had built his speedway, printed the tickets, and scheduled his banquet. He expected the drivers to attend and race, even if they might end up the fatted calf on the main course.
That led to an unparalleled showdown the day before the race with France and members of the fledgling Professional Drivers Association, a union meant to protect the drivers’ interests led by none other than Richard Petty. France stared them down without blinking. He told the drivers assembled if they were too afraid to race, then they should pack up their rigs and go home. His banquet was being staged as planned, and no sissy concerns like safety were going to spoil the party. If those called and chosen weren’t worthy of the banquet, France would beat the hedgerows, alleys, and Back Streets (well that last one is Bruce, not Bible) to find enough drivers to stage his race.
Most of the big name drivers did, in fact, pack up and leave. So in defiance of all rules, Grand American cars (Mustangs, Camaros, and the like) were allowed to compete in the Grand National race to fill Sunday’s field. To assuage the disappointment of fans, France did offer ticketholders to that first Talladega Cup race a free ticket to a future Talladega or Daytona Cup event.
History will note that Richard Brickhouse went on to be flagged the winner of the first Cup race at Talladega, but that day’s big winner was Bill France, Sr. He once and forever put the drivers on notice they might be the stars… but it was his show. He ruled the sport with an iron fist… he didn’t give a damn about their opinions or safety, and if they didn’t like that, they could damn well leave. There’s been no meaningful challenge to the France family rule by the drivers since, though in open wheel racing, particularly Formula One, competitors have been treated as invaluable partners in improving the safety of the sport. You want any more reasons I find it galling that Big Bill was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame? You could pile up dead drivers like cordwood, but as long as they didn’t cost him any money, Bill France wasn’t going to let it spoil his day.
Eventually, the tire companies caught up with Talladega’s speed. In the era of what I call “The Box Cars” (late ’70s through mid ’80s), the track did, in fact, stage some truly outstanding races. The relative horsepower of the cars versus their boxy aerodynamics allowed for some foot stomping race finishes, with huge packs of cars using the draft to decide the matter. I should hurry to note that in those days, races were held without restrictor plates.
But on May 3rd, 1987, it all almost went terribly wrong at Talladega. On lap 46, Bobby Allison’s Miller Buick blew a tire and went airborne into the catchfence. Thanks be to a loving and provident God, the fence held and Allison’s car didn’t make it into the grandstands; otherwise, the amount of lives lost would have been catastrophic. Several spectators were injured, but none to a degree where it was life-threatening. In response to the near miss, restrictor plates were added to the cars at Talladega and Daytona to rein in the speeds. Of course, those plates were added as a “temporary” measure until NASCAR could find a better way to control the speeds and keep cars on the track and out of the fan seating areas. 22 years later, we’re still waiting for that better solution. (I’ll say here that if in 22 years, nobody at NASCAR can come up with a better deal than the plates, we have to argue whether they are dumber than a sack of hammers or truly equally dumb as an acre of mud.)
The changes haven’t been a fix all, as there have been other close calls since at Talladega. In 1993, Neil Bonnett’s upside down Chevy (with its requisite restrictor plate firmly in place) tore down a hundred yards of the catchfence during a Talladega race and injured some fans. In the same race, Jimmy Horton flew his car straight out of the park and dropped several stories into the parking lot. (In one of the all-time great post-crash lines, Horton noted, “When the first person to reach you after the wreck is carrying a beer, you know you’re in trouble.”) Also in that same event, Stanley Smith suffered life-threatening head injuries that he’s never fully recovered from.
Then, on April 26th of this year, the sport once again smoked a major bullet. On the final lap of the Talladega race, Carl Edwards was trying to defend his line as the leader on the last lap — but Brad Keselowski was refusing to yield. The two hit, Edward’s Ford got upside down, and hit the catchfence with incredible violence. I invite you to go back and review the pictures of that last lap wreck. This site has some beauties. Look again and stare in bewilderment at how close we came to incalculable tragedy. Several fans were injured, among them a young lady with a broken jaw.
Talladega has responded by raising the height of the catchfence. I’m sorry, that’s another crutch, not a cure. Given the powers that be’s fundamental reluctance to address the key issue at Talladega — the plates — by redesigning the track itself to allow unrestricted, but safe racing, I’ll go on record as saying eventually a car is going to land in the grandstands with catastrophic loss of life. It might even happen this weekend. It ain’t that it ain’t happened — it just ain’t happened yet.
Like Martinsville, Talladega remains unchanged in essence from its original design. But in this case, it’s not because of the fundamental purity and perfection of the joint that Talladega looks the same. It’s because the track was designed by a megalomaniac, and his family maintains their founder’s vision that dead drivers and even spectators are an acceptable cost of doing business when opposed to spending the money to fix the place.
It’s going to happen, folks. It’s going to happen soon, though I pray to the Lord I’ll be proven wrong again this weekend. And I’ve never wanted to be proven wrong as badly as I do about this.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
My two trips to Martinsville are some great memories. And how many people can say they were there when an Andretti won a Nascar race in the Petty #43?
Although I never attended a race at Talledega, my brother spent two race weekends there in the infield. He would kill me if I shared any of those stories online.
It wouldn’t bother me one bit if Talladega was removed from the circuit. It always amazes me to see cars crashing in the promos for Dega races.
“They might not survive this one! Check it out on ABC!”
Great piece as always Matt.
It is a sad day in hell when an old time, long time, stock car racing fan, in this case, myself, simply wants to see a massive 25 car pileup at the Dega!
It is about the only excitement and anticipation one can hope for since the introduction of 1. THE PLATE! 2. THE POS!
And please do not think poorly of me for hoping to not only see “the big one”, but the GIGANTIC ONE, once and for all!
(after all, the POS is so safe, so says NA$CRAP, that one should NEVER be afraid of seeing THE GIGANTIC ONE!)
May this Sunday see the hugest, largest, wildest,GIGANTIC ONE that will provide yet more advertising fodder for NA$CRAP themselves! After all, they NA$CRAP, use these “big ones” as advertising to sell more tickets!
So while I “publicly” want to see the gigantic one, NA$CRAP “secretly” also wants to see one!
TICKETS! It’s all about TICKETS, and TV ratings!
Lets go for it boys!
(oh by the way, I have been to the Dega dozens of times, including 1987 when Bobby took flight)
Excellent historical overview and perspective on both tracks and the evil empire we call NASCAR. Give me Martinsville over Talladega anyday.
Hey Carl D., I’ll give you a hint of what goes on, or used to anyway at Dega, and this was in the parking lot outside the track, not the infield, one year it had rained pretty steady leading up to race weekend, the ground was simply so much red mud!
well, the entertainement this day, was down the road a mud path was created, slippery red mud, and the game was to see how far you could get a naked lady to slide down the road! So the gals would either just run and then slide, or two guys would grab onto the naked ladies and launch them down the “runway”!
MMMM, come to think of it, almost missed the start of the race that year!
As the Marx Brothers said! “A day at the races”!
been to ‘dega and what i’ve seen in infield makes me cringe. in the past few years they’ve “cleaned it up”. i’ll never forget first time i went to dega, was surprised about “race track jail”—al state police “jail” by the entrance. and such a huge police presence all over the track. cops everywhere, and not “rent-a-cops”…real cops. crazy. ‘dega definitely has a unique party atmosphere. but the drivers best be careful when they visit the infield party land. i know jr was there a few years ago. he was so afraid someone was going to take a pic of him. the group he was with was just happy to have him partying.
might be a bit muddy there this weekend. right now rain is forecasted for saturday. of course weather will change multiple times before saturday.
i did read on na$car.com where the track had a “medicine man”/baptist preacher visit the track this week to “bless it” and try to get it back in karma balance.
usually they don’t empty the infield out after the race until the following morning. guess it gives them time to sober up.
if you’re going to ‘dega…watch your speed…cops will be living on i-20 west from douglasville, ga til you get to the track. it’s speeding ticket revenue weekend in ga!
When visiting 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile tracks over the years i often wonder if the owners know ( or care ) about the Martinsville legacy . Everything painted and manicured . Great amenities for the fans . If you owned a short track in America , why would you think you could survive if your track didn’t look exactly like Martinsville . How long has Martinsville been around vs how many times per year does the average short track change hands or go under . Theres a message here for short track owners . Get out the paint , and the landscape crew , and give the fans a reason to come to your track .
The solution could be using Aerodymanics to slow the car down instead. CART used the Hansford Device, which created a lot of drag. Some people feel that the racing was safer than the pack racing of today in IRL, which has some similarities with RP racing, although it’s also quite different.
Plate racing is not racing. Period. It’s a total crap shoot, luck of the draw.
This sports NEEDS more short tracks. NOW! And if that means nascar opens up their own bank accounts to fund it then so be it.
I’m 60 years old, lifetime race fan. I like Martinsville because it’s what racing is about. Getting your car to accelerate, brake, and turn.Plate races, I hate. Huge packs of cars wide open, and crashes which I hate. When Michael Waltrip can win plate races that should tell you all you need to know about plate races. Not real racing, I watch but wish there was an alternative to the plates.
Bill France and now his family may have been the head honchos but now the fans are slowly bringing nascrap down!! They can scream, yell, beg whatever but slowly we are shutting the “show” down as it is no longer a sport. It will remain, but only as a likeness of the WWE. As a 67 year old lifetime fan, I no longer care or watch. I just come here to read the articles and am satisfied I made the right decision!!
For the guy who talked about the “amenities” at Martinsville. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favorite tracks on the circuit, but we stopped going there about 4 years ago (along with all NA$CAR tracks). Part of my reason was the fact that the track never increased the number of restrooms when they increased the number of seats. It was absurd! You had to wait in a line for 30 minutes BEFORE the race started! Needless to say, I didn’t drink anything during the race so I wouldn’t miss 50 laps while waiting inthe ridiculously long lines. So when people speak of amenities at Martinsville, I guess it hits a nerve because restrooms are the most basic amenity in my book. I don’t care about fan zones, souvenirs, updated seats, VIP boxes, etc.
More T-Dega whining? I thought we were over that! Plate racing is what it is and it generates exciting side by side racing. this safety thing is completely overblown. You bring up wrecks over the last 20-ish years, give me a break, you could do that at any track. You are safer on any Nascar track than on the highway on your way home! The safety-crats will ruin everythign if we let them. Sorry but some things are a little dangerous otherwise we would be watching tennis! let em race!
Glenn, with how people drive here in Georgia, particulary Atlanta, any race track is safer than highway even without all the safety features of the cars. I’ve lived in GA 11 yrs and I have never seen more people that can’t drive. I’m convienced they don’t know what YIELD means. 3 days this week I’ve had my right-a-way taken away from me cause idiots didn’t yeild to my lane of traffic.
Hum, tennis….Andre Aggassi used meth!
“We, the people, hold these truths to be self-evident: no rock and roll can be too loud, no Mustang can be too fast, no woman can be too pretty, no beer can be too cold, and no race track can be too safe.” Amen to that brother. Great article that makes me want to see a race there some day.
God bless you for mentioning Islip NY. Went there as a kid with my folks in the ’60s. Now live in NC, went to the Rock before Nascar closed it and now go to Martinsville. Great article as always Matt.
Iowa Speedway, back to the future.
Take a race from California and give it to Rusty after we put a bullit in the COT.
Stuff I have pondered since the inception of plates…
Maybe “The Turnip” can chime in.
1) All teams have special “Plate” engines. Why not knock down the cubes to around 300 or less at Daytona and ‘Dega?
2) Dunno what carb size they are running – 1000, 750, 850? Whatever it is – go to a way smaller carb (350-400 cfm) without the plate.
One or both of the above would get speeds down but keep the one thing that is lacking (resulting in the packs) actual throttle response!
I know the smartest engine builders would eventually wring more HP out of the above but I think having an engine that you don’t need to keep wound up all the time will keep people a little further back from each other.
Maybe a different gear? There has got to be a way!
Thanks for reminding me of Horton’s classic quote. One of the best ever.
Wingcars, I’m not sure if you’ll see this, but those experiments have been done. I remember reading that NASCAR did try 390cfm carbs and they did little to slow down the race cars. They still got up over 200 MPH. And a month or so ago, Chevy High Performance magazine did a dyno test between a 302, 327, and 350 small block Chevy engines. They used similar heads and camshafts. They all made within 5 horsepower of each other, but the bigger engines made more torque. I’m no expert, but with them making the same horsepower, that means the top speeds will still be the same. Smaller engines will probably not help, either.