Daytona Day was a rousing success for NASCAR, which was able to celebrate its storied past and youthful future on its biggest stage.
The Daytona 500 is the most important race of the year for NASCAR. With Austin Dillon’s victory in the famed No. 3 and Bubba Wallace’s history-making, second-place finish, NASCAR got perhaps its most promising glimpse to date of the next generation.
Dillon wrecked Aric Almirola on the final lap in overtime at Daytona International Speedway to drive the car owned by his grandfather, Richard Childress, back to victory lane 17 years to the day after Dale Earnhardt was killed in an accident on the final lap of the season opener. It came 20 years after Earnhardt’s only Daytona 500 victory, and in just the fifth appearance for the No. 3 in “The Great American Race” since Earnhardt’s death.
Dillon and much of his Richard Childress Racing crew celebrated into the wee hours Monday by getting tattoos, permanent ones, on their buttocks. Wallace was the first black driver in the Daytona 500 field since 1969. His finish was the highest in the race for a black driver since Wendell Scott was 13th in 1966, and Wallace got the finish driving the iconic No. 43 for Richard Petty.
Wallace has rocketed to fame in the past month and won new fans following an emotional, post-race scene that included a long, tearful embrace with his mother that symbolized the struggles Wallace has faced on the road to NASCAR’s top series. Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron called Wallace, a fellow native of Mobile, Ala., before the Daytona 500. Lewis Hamilton, the only black driver in Formula 1, tweeted that he would be cheering for Wallace. When told about Hamilton’s well-wishes, Wallace admitted to “fan-girling out.”
“I look up to him. He does so many great things in the F1 world. ... Then he sent out a tweet and I got weak at the knees,” said Wallace.
Wallace noted what the kind words from Aaron and Hamilton really mean for the sport.
“People are tuning in and hopefully noticing the new face and the new change that are coming to NASCAR,” he said. There has been much angst over NASCAR’s problems, and there are many issues, including the weak TV ratings for the Daytona 500. The 5.1 overnight for Fox was down 22 per cent from last year.
It’s problematic, and NASCAR needs to find new reasons for fans to watch. There had been much hand-wringing over the retirements of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick, but it may have been unnecessary concern. Why? Because their replacements are really racy and showed Sunday they aren’t content to simply turn laps in a pack, collect paychecks and take chartered flights home.
Wallace sparred with 2016 winner Denny Hamlin, a Manchester High graduate, on the final lap, then criticized Hamlin afterward. Ryan Blaney led a race-high 118 laps and wrecked Kurt Busch, last year’s winner, trying to win the race. Chase Elliott was wrecked racing for points at the end of the first stage. Alex Bowman started from the pole and was the top Hendrick Motorsports driver.
All those drivers are under 30 years old and are considered the future of the sport. If they race the rest of the season as they did at Daytona, the on-track product might be pretty good. The changing of the guard was so palpable at Daytona that Dillon could feel the energy in the garage. Once awestruck to be racing against his childhood heroes, Dillon is part of a new crop eager to spice up the series. Previously, he just wanted to stay out of the way of the veterans.
“I feel like a lot of these guys are coming in, we’re all going to start trying to be ourselves because the people that led our sport for so long have kind of moved out,” Dillon said. “It definitely feels good to have Bubba and I up there and fighting. I think there’s going to be some great battles this year with all the young guys. There’s going to be storylines, and the NASCAR fans are going to love what they see.”
Axalta teams up with Ameristar Perimeter Security to feature the new 2017 paint scheme for the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS for Spring Race Weekend at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR), on Sunday, March 19, 2017. As a partner of Axalta, which is primary sponsor of the car in Phoenix, Ameristar will be prominently featured on the car. Dale Earnhardt Jr., voted by fans as NASCAR®’s most popular driver for the 14th consecutive season, will be behind the wheel. Earnhardt Jr. is a 26-time Sprint Cup winner and has three career wins at PIR.
This weekend’s race will be the first to feature the new paint scheme, which is nicknamed "Flash Point" by legendary designer Sam Bass, due to its graphic designs along the body of the car. Axalta’s AquaEC™ electrocoat corrosion prevention coatings are used on Ameristar’s Montage products, the leading brand of ornamental steel fences in North America. Manufactured for strength and durability, Ameristar’s Montage decorative fencing products rely on Axalta’s innovative corrosion protection qualities to ensure its fences can withstand the elements and offer a lifetime limited warranty.
“We’re excited about this new alliance between Ameristar and Axalta,” said Barry Willingham, President of Ameristar Perimeter Security. “By combining the capabilities of Axalta’s coatings technology with our state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, we will be able to deliver our customers a product quality that is unprecedented in our industry. Ameristar’s partnership with Axalta allows for product differentiation today, and their commitment to product innovation translates into our future growth for tomorrow.”
In addition to Sunday’s headlining race, Ameristar will be the feature sponsor of the No. 9 car driven by William Byron in the Xfinity race on Saturday, March 18, 2017.
“I’m excited to have Ameristar participate in the Spring Race Weekend, and to see their logo on the newly painted No. 88 Chevrolet SS,” said Michael Cash, President of Industrial Coatings at Axalta. “Racing is all about the commitment to excellence, innovation, technology and teamwork - attributes that are key to success on the track and in business. Our great customers, like Ameristar, demonstrate this commitment every day and we are privileged to be able to support their goals through our products, our services, and the ways in which we help our customers build their businesses.”
Tony Stewart has decided his 18th year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be his last. The three-time series champion will retire following the 2016 season, with Clint Bowyer taking the wheel of the No. 14 machine in 2017.
Since 2009 Stewart has held the dual title of driver/owner at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). He co-owns the team with Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America. Stewart will join Haas as a fulltime owner in 2017, with Bowyer being Stewart’s hand-picked successor to drive the No. 14 car.
“2016 will be my last year in a Sprint Cup car, but it’s not my last year in NASCAR. I love this sport and I love being a part of it, and instead of seeing me in a firesuit on Sundays, you’ll see me in a pair of jeans, and maybe even a pair of khakis. I plan to make the most of my final year as a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and part of that is to ensure that when Clint Bowyer takes over the No. 14 in 2017, he has everything he needs to win races and contend for the championship. I’m very comfortable with this decision and what the future holds for me and Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Bowyer is an eight-time race winner in the Sprint Cup Series and finished second in the 2012 championship standings.
“Today is an incredible opportunity and I’m proud and excited to take over the No. 14 in 2017,” said Bowyer, the 2008 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion. “Whether it’s racing him on Sunday or watching my dirt late model teams race at his famed Eldora Speedway, Tony and I share the same passion for racing. That makes this opportunity a perfect fit for me. I appreciate everything he’s done for me and the sport of auto racing. These are big shoes to fill, but boy am I ever looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a champion’s ride, and have Tony there with me along the way.”
Haas, who formed Haas CNC Racing in 2002 before partnering with Stewart to create SHR in 2009, embraces the transition.
“Tony Stewart has been a game-changer for Stewart-Haas Racing and for motorsports,” Haas said. “I always had an incredible amount of respect for what he could do with a racecar – any racecar, as he’s been successful in everything he’s ever driven. In getting to know Tony Stewart the businessman, I found a very smart person with excellent people skills. He’s extremely valuable to our race team and a strong voice in our sport. His passion for motorsports is unmatched, and I’m proud that his future outside of the No. 14 Chevrolet remains with Stewart-Haas Racing.”
The primary partners currently represented on the No. 14 Chevrolet include Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1, Rush Truck Centers, Code 3 Associates, Coca-Cola, Jimmy Johns and Haas Automation. The announcements regarding the partnership lineup for the No. 14 team in 2016 and beyond will be made in the lead up to the 58th Daytona 500 on Feb. 21 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
“I have been blessed with fantastic partners throughout my racing career, and I take a lot of pride in the lifelong friendships formed and the great business successes we’ve been a part of,” Stewart said. “I never would’ve accomplished all that I’ve achieved in racing if it weren’t for the support of corporate America. They helped a kid from Columbus, Indiana, reach his dreams and I’ll be forever grateful.”
Kyle Larson will remember the Quicken Loans 400 as the one that got away. Michigan International Speedway has always ranked as one of his favorites. Larson made his stock car debut at the two-mile track in June 2012. Larson started seventh in the ARCA race and finished 13th. He placed in the top five for the second time in his career at Michigan when he finished third in the XFINITY Series race.
However, the next day, Larson appeared to be headed for his first win. After rain had delayed the race twice in the first 51 laps, it appeared the race would be stopped by precipitation once again. A fourth caution was called for debris on the 125th Lap and both Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards who were running first adn second pulled into the pits for fuel which gave Larson the lead on the 128th Lap.
The No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team gambled that Larson would have enough fuel to go the distance and hold the point before the rain returned but unfortunately, he didn’t. After five laps in the lead, Larson was forced to pit for fuel. In the remaining six laps, Larson salvaged a 17th-place result.
“Yeah, we could see weather coming there off of (Turn) 4 and just praying that it would get here in time for me to stay out and be in the lead when the rain did hit,” Larson said. “Hey, I applaud my guys for trying. We are pretty deep in points so we have to take risks like that to make the Chase. I’m happy with the call, just wish the rain would have come three laps sooner.”
Larson moved up to 18th in the Sprint Cup Point Standings.
Through rain and wrecks and a backup car, Kurt Busch survived to win the Quicken Loans 400 on Sunday. The first 51 laps of the race were stalled by two red-flagged segments lasting two hours and 10 minutes at Michigan International Speedway. Rain appeared to be ready to fall at any point on Lap 129 which caused the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team elected to keep Kyle Larson on the track despite running low on fuel.
"You can never challenge Mother Nature," Busch said. "She's in charge."
Busch destroyed his primary car in the first practice on Friday, but he lined up third as the race went green and pushed Larson to the lead. Larson held onto the point for three laps before until he was forced to pit for fuel and relinquished the lead to Busch. Busch led just six laps until rain drenched the track and NASCAR called the fifth and final caution.
“It was definitely a challenge, it wasn’t easy, but I have a great group of guys behind me,” said Busch. “It’s amazing when you have team chemistry at the level we do. It’s a team combination all the way around. Tony Gibson led these guys through a back-up car. And the pit crew was there, giving their best. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know what we went through, paced ourselves, and found the lead toward the latter part of the race when the rain came in.”
Busch, who missed the first three races of the season, moved up to 11th in the point standings and third on the Chase grid. It was his second win of 2015, his 27th career Sprint Cup win overall and his third victory in 20 starts at Michigan International Speedway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano rounded out the top five. Kevin Harvick had a brutal day and although he led the most laps, a tire stem broke after he pitted from the lead after Lap 119. Harvick finished 29th and ended his run of the top 10s after he was forced to pit again two laps off the pace. That wasn't the case for last weeks winner Truex. The No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy posted its; 14th top 10 of the season in the first 15 races, the first driver to do so since Richard Petty in 1969.
“Awesome race car and another great job by the team,” Truex said. “Just missed it a little bit today, but really proud of our season, really proud to have obviously my name mentioned next to Richard Petty, The King, is pretty special, so thankful for my team and what they've done this year, and hopefully we'll keep this thing rolling.”
A new series of videos which celebrate the 65 years of Wood Brothers Racing titled "Crew Chief Corner" are being introduced by Motorcraft / Quick Lane Racing.
The videos feature Wood Brothers Racing’s first crew chief, Hall of Famer Leonard Wood, and the Motorcraft Ford Fusion’s current crew chief Jeremy Bullins. In each video, Wood and Bullins talk about various racing issues and compare what it was like in the early days of the sport and what it’s like today. In the first installment of the series, the crew chiefs discuss the role of the crew chief. According to Wood, it was more of a hands-on job in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Bullins, admitting being envious and said today’s crew chiefs are more like managers than mechanics.
Future “Crew Chief Corner” episodes, which will be released periodically during the course of the 2015 NASCAR season, will focus on topics like inspection, tricks of the trade and the 50th anniversary of the Wood Brothers’ role in helping Jim Clark and his classic Lotus Ford to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
David Pearson is recovering from a mild stroke he suffered December 9th. David Pearson is a three-time champion and NASCAR Hall-Of-Famer. His family released a statement saying Pearson “is doing great and well on the road to recovery.
“The stroke affected his left side somewhat but he is able to walk slowly and his arm continues to get better with maneuverability. He has great grip with his left hand so we are very much encouraged. He continues to have therapy on both his leg and his arm, and progresses each day. Today, he is 80 to 85 percent back to normal and we expect a full recovery soon. Thanks to the NASCAR family and all of his fans and friends and for their support and concern.”
Pearson is second to only Richard Petty on the all-time win list with 105. The 80-year-old Spartanburg, S.C.-native raced from 1960 to 1986 in what is now the Sprint Cup Series. He won the title 1966, 1968 and 1969. In 574 starts, he posted 301 top-five and 366 top 10 finishes for an average finish of 11th. Pearson also enjoyed a remarkable average qualifying effort of 6.2.