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Carl Edwards' exit could put Christopher Bell on fast track to XFINITY
How long do you think it took Christopher Bell to do the math? Carl Edwards ' announcement of his abrupt exit from the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has had a ripple effect that could go far beyond the promotion of Daniel Suárez to a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride. Because Suárez will fill Edwards' seat in NASCAR’s premier series, he won't defend his NASCAR XFINITY Series title. Bell will be one of the beneficiaries of the changes in Suárez's schedule. "Right now, we have a solid plan for Christopher," said Dave Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) USA. "He exceeded our expectations. He got all the way to Miami (the championship race of the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase at Homestead-Miami Speedway ). This year, we expect him to get to Miami and win. "And if circumstances play out, we really would like to get him into an XFINITY car for a couple of races. We're working hard on that, and we're optimistic, but that could very well be a domino that falls. Those are helpful -- those couple of races where there's zero pressure, but it gives you a look at the next step." Last week at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the 22-year-old Bell wasn't thinking about the next step. He was contemplating the next race, trying to become the first native Oklahoman to win the marquee event of midget racing since Andy Hillenburg accomplished the feat in 1994. (And, no, the Andy Hillenburg in question is not the Indiana-born driver who ran NASCAR races and later bought Rockingham Speedway . The Andy Hillenburg who won the Chili Bowl is a sprint car racer from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.) Bell was also thinking about the upcoming season in the Camping World Truck Series, where his own expectations mirror those of the Toyota brass. "I guess it could open it up for me," Bell said of Edwards' departure. "But, honestly, I haven't even really thought about it, because my schedule's already set, obviously, with Kyle Busch Motorsports. That's where my focus is, and we're going to aim really hard to win races this year. "We came close on the championship last year, but we didn't win many races -- we won one time. My goal is to win races with KBM." That doesn’t mean, however, that Bell wasn't enthused about the prospect of getting his first taste of the XFINITY Series. "That's great," he said during a break between features at the Chili Bowl. "That's good that I might get a couple of races -- that's really good." The extent of Bell's participation in XFINITY races depends to some degree on sponsorship. Wilson said Suárez's primary sponsor, Arris, which also sponsored Edwards, will be confined to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup car, even though Suárez will still run between eight and 12 XFINITY races. "If he (Bell) does what he should do in '17, then, naturally, we would love to get him into an XFINITY ride in '18," Wilson said. "Yes, this could play into Christopher's further development and get him one or two more XFINITY races that we may not have foreseen prior to the news (about Edwards)." Last Saturday night, Bell fulfilled his long-standing dream of winning the Chili Bowl, noting that competing in the Truck Series had informed his approach to dirt-track racing. Biding his time in the 55-lap "A" Main, Bell started on the front row and passed polesitter Justin Grant on Lap 26. He stayed out front the rest of the way. "In years past, it's been attack, attack, attack," Bell said. "This year, it didn't have to be that way. I just ran hard enough to stay in position but not get into trouble. I was able to ride behind Justin there for a while. I knew the bottom was slowing down quite a bit and I kept trying the top. I tried it two times and I almost got passed, so I knew it was going to be a matter of too early or too late at the top. "I started to watch the big screen. (Eventual runner-up Daryn) Pittman was running the top at the time. I knew he was in eighth, and I looked up and he was third or fourth so I knew I had to go. Once I went, I was able to squeak by Justin on the straightaway, and then it was a matter of just not screwing up." That sort of patience is emblematic of Bell's maturation as a driver. Early last season, he didn't look like a championship contender. In the second race of 2016, at Atlanta, his aggressiveness led to a wreck that collected Suárez, his teammate, and fellow Toyota driver and two-time series champion Matt Crafton . But Bell won at Gateway Motorsports Park nine races into the schedule, and he finished outside the top 10 just twice in the last 16 events.
NASCAR.com's Holly Cain wins NMPA Spirit Award
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Veteran motorsports writer Holly Cain has been chosen as the recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s annual Spirit Award for 2015. A resident of Lakeland, Fla., Cain has covered motorsports for more than 25 years during which time she has worked for numerous publications, including the Tampa Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer as well as AOL.com and FOXSports.com. Currently a senior writer for NASCAR.com, she has been recognized for her reporting on multiple occasions, earning awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) as well as the NMPA. Diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2014, Cain has shown tremendous courage and an incredibly positive attitude while engaged in her difficult battle. She has been a long-time supporter of the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and continues to participate in fundraising and other efforts to bring awareness to the fight against breast cancer. The NMPA Spirit Award is designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports. Each year, the NMPA membership selects four quarterly winners, with an overall winner chosen from the four candidates. Cain was the second quarter recipient of the award. Others recognized with quarterly awards this past year were NASCAR television broadcaster Steve Byrnes (first quarter), IndyCar driver Justin Wilson (third quarter) and four-time premier series champion Jeff Gordon . Cain was presented the award Jan. 17 during the NMPA’s annual convention and awards dinner in Concord, N.C. Overall winners of the NMPA Spirit Award: Year – Recipient 2015 – Holly Cain 2014 – Lynda Petty 2013 – Marcy Scott 2012 – Andy Hillenburg 2011 – Jeff Gordon 2010 – Jim Hunter 2009 – David Poole 2008 – T. Taylor Warren 2007 – Bill France Jr. 2006 – Benny Parsons 2005 – Morgan Shepherd 2004 – Kyle and Pattie Petty 2003 – Bob Latford 2002 – Larry Hicks 2001 – Ricky Craven 2000 – Kyle Petty 1999 – Clay Earles 1998 – Mark Martin 1997 – Dave Marcis 1996 – Dale Earnhardt 1995 – Ernie Irvan 1994 – Ernie Irvan 1993 – Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki 1992 – Davey Allison Family
Part 2: The Intimidator's Day at Talladega
Editor's note: This story was originally published Oct. 21, 2015. MORE: READ PART 1 HERE The Build-up "That's what we've been wanting is being able to draft up and race these guys. I think the things they've done and changes they've made will make a difference. I think you'll see a better race, a closer race." -- Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR teleconference, Oct. 11, 2000. Bobby Labonte was steaming toward his first premier series championship, heading into Talladega with a commanding 252-point lead -- more than any driver could earn in one race under the former Latford points system -- over Jeff Burton. Dale Earnhardt ranked third, 258 points off the top with Dale Jarrett further back in fourth, 388 points in arrears. Dunlap: I think he saw those upcoming races as a real chance for him to make a run. ... Earnhardt was so focused on getting that eighth championship and, I think, at that moment that late in the season he had kind of felt it slipping away. Bobby Labonte: At the time where we were in points, it was risk over reward and if you were the chaser, it was easier to make those risks. If you're being chased, this is one of those places where you bide your time and you wait toward the end of it more. Dale Jarrett (driver, Robert Yates Racing No. 88 Ford): It was such an unknown. I won't say that I dreaded the race because I looked forward to racing there. We had been very successful at Talladega, but with the unknown and being in the midst of a championship battle was something that we were a little bit leery of in making the right choices and the right calls, so, as always, you're on edge racing at Talladega. In addition to the ratcheted-up championship pressure, teams and drivers also faced polarizing new aerodynamics rules that altered the looks of the cars and the type of racing they produced. McReynolds: The aero package was interesting. NASCAR had been searching all throughout the early part of 2000. ... In the summer of that year they took about 10 or 12 of us down to Daytona to do a test, and it was really an open sheet of paper. We went down there and they told us to bring all types of spoiler material and aluminum. I don't know that they really knew what they wanted to try and we just started trying things. Helton: We'd kind of eased up to it, but back in those days, we would kind of settle in on what we would use at the Daytona 500 by the Talladega race and use it there so that everybody would get used to it or we'd find any hidden ghosts and goblins in it before we unveiled it at the Daytona 500 . Bobby Labonte: I think we were there for the test and it was like some people liked it and some people didn't. If I went from 18th to first on the last lap, I loved it. I didn't like it quite as good at the end of the day. Childress: As good as I can remember back, we had the package with the wicker on the spoiler and the wicker across the roof. It was a whole new package and the cars really drafted, really raced. Nemechek: We called that the old taxi cab strip and they put a lot of drag in the car and turbulated a lot of air. … Once the air hit that thing on the roof, there were some very unique things going on with that, and I think between our two teams we were able to understand that quicker than most. Kenny Wallace (driver, Andy Petree Racing No. 55 Chevrolet): Andy Petree was by far, in my opinion, the best at getting the most out of his race cars on the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega. He was the king of aerodynamics and getting the car low to the ground. Petree: I loved it. In my opinion, it was one of the best packages that we ever had for restrictor-plate racing because it kept the cars obviously in a big pack, but it made a big, huge hole in the air and it took a lot more power to push that aero package, so the car had more power, more response and I thought it was one of the best packages they ever had. Bobby Labonte: Back then, we didn't run a pack of 43 cars in a full pack like you do today. I don't think we circled it as much as these guys do, say in the last five or 10 years, but it was somewhere you knew that just whatever happened, you could be running in the top five one lap and then 18th the next lap. Hailey: There was a tremendous amount of unknown with the new wicker bill across the top of the car. We had no idea what we were in for. A new aero package had drivers and crew chiefs wondering how their respective cars would react in traffic. This No. 3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo had no problem adjusting. The vehicle that carried Dale Earnhardt to his final NASCAR victory still resides in the team museum. Though the aerodynamic devices were intended to slow and bunch up the cars, the speeds shown in early practices were deemed too fast. That led to NASCAR officials making a change to the size of the restrictor-plate openings -- from 1 inch to 15/16ths -- just before final practice in an effort to further slow the cars. The modification added an extra layer of intrigue to what was already shaping up to be a true wild-card race. Petree: They had a restrictor-plate size, if I recall correctly, it was a one-inch plate that we started with, which made quite a bit of power. So we sat on the pole with the 33 car (Nemechek) and that one-inch plate changed everything as far as restrictor-plate motors. Helton: I don't think it would be called unprecedented, but it wasn't something we did every superspeedway race, but we also watched very closely the top speeds, and so if I recall correctly, it seems to me like this package during practice produced some speeds that had crept up and the aero package around the car was still such that the lift-off speed was critical to us. We shrunk the plate in the middle of that event to get the speeds in a better position for the event. Skinner: The aero platform, the whole rules thing with the engine package that they brought, for some reason everything was perfect on our car that weekend and we were extremely fast. And then NASCAR decided to put a smaller plate on, and I went up into the NASCAR truck and raised hell. It didn't take Mike Helton long to come out of his chair and explain to me that NASCAR had been there long before I was and it will be there long after I'm not. His job is to make sure that we don't put cars in the grandstands and keep our fans safe, and he basically just shut me right up and they did what they wanted to do anyway. Hailey: At that time, I was actually the dyno operator in the shop, so it was my job to run the engines on the dyno. We did a lot of testing before each race because we always had the idea, 'They may go a little smaller restrictor plate or they may go a little larger.' So we had a little background. We knew kind of what to do if they changed restrictor plates as far as the engine, as far as the tuning and everything, so it wasn't a big surprise that we had to change it. We were ready.
Part 1: The Intimidator's Day at Talladega
Editor's note: This story was originally published Oct. 21, 2015. The trunks of NASCAR race cars don't typically have much utilitarian value. There's the fuel cell and that's about it. There's no need for extra freight when traveling at 200 mph. However, those with VIP privileges or an employee card at Richard Childress Racing 's sprawling museum in Welcome, North Carolina, know there's treasure inside the trunk of the dozens of retired cars housed there, many of which were wheeled by NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt. Steve Ramey, the museum's curator in residence, pulls the fastening pins and raises the decklid on one in particular, an imposing black No. 3 car that might otherwise blend in with the others. "I get to pinch myself if you want to know the truth, knowing that when I go to work and I step out of my office, I walk into a room with the black number 3 cars from the day," Ramey says. "But this car here gets a lot of respect from the fans because they know the meaning of it. … This was his chance, his day and his race, and he took it and brought it home. It means a lot to them." Every car at the RCR Museum has a story, but this one stands out. The cargo that Ramey's looking for on this specific Monday, though, isn't in the trunk. It triggers his memory -- he had removed it for reference. Once he tracks down the three-ring binder specific to RCR Chassis No. 58, the lore gains even more clarity. The loose-leaf sheets in nondescript folders document each rolling artifact in the museum with pictures, notes and the crew chief's log. The next-to-last entry for Chassis 58 is a telling one, both succinct and understated considering the magnitude of what the car -- and more importantly, the driver -- accomplished in its last race. "Had good race car & Dale did rest." This is the story of the 2000 Winston 500, where Dale Earnhardt drove to the last of his 76 NASCAR premier series victories at Talladega Superspeedway . His 10th victory at the Alabama track -- still an all-time record -- came in stunning fashion, with a rally from 18th place to first in the final five laps. By then, Earnhardt's legend was already well-established -- as a stock-car racing deity, a hard charger, as "The Intimidator" -- but the impact of his final win went beyond the highlight-reel finish. The transcendent performance earned its place in NASCAR history, stirring an already frenzied fan base into hysteria that autumn afternoon. This summer, NASCAR.com interviewed 31 people -- drivers, officials, crewmen and broadcasters -- who were at Talladega that day for their personal accounts of the tumultuous race weekend. For this oral history surrounding the race's 15th anniversary, all interview subjects are listed with their job title or role on Oct. 15, 2000, the day Dale Earnhardt shook the Alabama grandstands with seismic force and embraced his final checkered flag. There are 12 entries for Chassis No. 58, perhaps none as important as the log for Oct. 15, 2000 -- "Had good race car & Dale did the rest." • • • • • The Man and his Playground "If you call that racing, OK. So be it. We'll just sit in line. … They could take the restrictor plate off and we'll see who'll hold it wide open around here." -- Dale Earnhardt, Talladega, Oct. 11, 1997. Dale Earnhardt's contradictory love-hate relationship with the 2.66-mile Alabama speed plant might fly in the face of conventional wisdom, especially for a man who so ably maneuvered its high banks to win 10 times. While he freely expressed his disdain for the speed-sapping restrictor plates, which limited carburetion and choked engine power, Earnhardt was also extraordinarily adept at the tightly woven, aero-dependent racing they produced. The track had dished out its share of hard hits to The Intimidator over the years, but also a lion's share of its laurels. Grant Lynch (Chairman, Talladega Superspeedway ): His picture is up in our media center, with his comments to the other drivers about, 'If you don't want to race at Talladega, tie a kerosene-soaked rag around your ankles so the ants don't come up there and eat that candy ass.' … He believed when you came here this was another race and you're supposed to race. A lot of people didn't take that same attitude. Ray Dunlap (pit reporter, ESPN): You have to remember that Earnhardt hated that kind of racing and it was so funny because he was so good at it, but he would really get himself worked up before those races started. Bill Elliott (owner/driver, Bill Elliott Racing No. 94 Ford): He was really, really a good drafter, just like what Tony Stewart once said. He said, 'It's a high-speed chess game and I can't even play checkers.' I think Earnhardt was a good chess player. Andy Petree (team owner, Andy Petree Racing): There was nobody better at that kind of racing than he was -- nobody. He had like this sixth sense. It's almost like being on the highway and trying to figure out which lane is gonna move. Darrell Waltrip (driver, Haas-Carter Motorsports No. 66 Ford): He was just so, so aggressive. If there was an opening, he took it. And if there wasn't an opening, he'd make one. He just drove harder at Daytona and Talladega than I think he did anyplace else, and he kind of went where other people were kind of afraid to go or other people wouldn't go. Bobby Labonte (driver, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Pontiac): It was like he was Superman, which he was. He was really good at it, but his driving style helped that ... his intimidation factor, I guess you might say. He had fast race cars, but he could take a car that wasn't so fast every day and do better with it than anybody else because he was better at drafting and making that move. Next thing you know, he's in front of you and it's like, 'How did that happen?' Not everybody else could do that but him, seemed like. Dale Earnhardt Jr . (driver, Dale Earnhardt Inc. No. 8 Chevrolet): He wasn't this maniac that just wanted to go faster. I think everybody had the curiosity of what would the cars drive like and what would the race be like if they were unrestricted. It's just, we'd be going 230 miles an hour, I think. Danny "Chocolate" Myers (fueler, Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet): Earnhardt was a driver. If he was running good, he loved plate racing. If he was running bad, he hated plate racing, I guess. Earnhardt Jr.: I'm sure he felt more confidence over the competition when he got to those races. He respected his competitors and the guys he was out there racing against, but I think he felt like he was sort of the best at those tracks. Lynch: I have told the drivers a couple times in the driver's meeting, I don't think Talladega is any driver's favorite race track, probably won't ever be, but when they get their minds right and they do what they can do here, it cannot be duplicated at any race track in the world by any form of motorsports. It just can't be done. Earnhardt's uncanny skill at restrictor-plate racing and manipulating aerodynamics in his favor promoted a myth that grew into a key piece of NASCAR folklore -- that he could see the air. Lynch: You've heard it said that he could see air. Well, he could definitely see something. Waltrip: He had that open-face helmet and the little pair of bubble goggles and everybody always said, 'Oh, he could see the air,' but he really couldn't see it, he could feel it. If you ever look at him laying over, his head about halfway hanging out that left window with that open-face helmet and those bubble goggles. I don't think it was so much he could see it, but he could feel it and I think that really helped him find the right path to take -- the path of least resistance sometimes.
The Chili Bowl has a way of reeling us in
TULSA, Okla. -- Justin Allgaier drove his race car to his hauler after being eliminated at the Chili Bowl one Saturday years ago and was met by his questioning father. His dad wanted to know what had happened out on the race track. Justin had driven a conservative race, never challenging for position, and allowing, it appeared, other cars to pass him without putting up much of a fight. He had missed transferring to the next race by one spot. With even a little bit of aggression, Justin would have certainly finished higher and gone on to the next race. What, his dad wanted to know, had happened? Still in the cockpit, Justin explained to his dad that the steering was out. To prove it, he spun the wheel. The tires stayed locked, pointed straight ahead. His dad was baffled then, and he remains so today. The question changed from why had Justin driven such a timid race to how had he driven at all? The Allgaiers set up their midget car to drive in a circle if he holds the wheel straight. They hang the body closer to the left-side tires and use smaller tires on the left than on the right -- a configuration for the Chili Bowl's quarter-mile banked track. In the 10-lap race, Allgaier was involved in an accident on the first lap. As he pulled away from the wreck, he realized the steering was broken. He also discovered that if he feathered the brake and the throttle just right, he could circumnavigate the track anyway. For the final nine laps, Allgaier did exactly that. He didn't do well, not by a long shot. But he did well enough that his dad did not know he had no steering until he said so. All of which leaves still one more question -- why did Allgaier stay in a race in which the steering didn't work? "Because it's the Chili Bowl," Allgaier said.
Interviewing Andy Lally ... using voice-to-text
@nascarcasm chats with XFINITY Series driver, gets interesting results RELATED: All content from @nascarcasm " Follow @nascarcasm 2011 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Andy Lally returns to the NASCAR circuit this weekend, driving the No. 90 Anderson’s Maple Syrup Chevrolet for King Autosport/SS-Greenlight Racing in the XFINITY Series race at Road America . A veteran sports-car driver with an impressive resume that includes multiple wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Lally hope to improve on last year’s seventh-place finish at at the Wisconsin road course. In the rare moments when he’s not behind the wheel of a race car, Lally trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and is a practicing vegan. We had the opportunity to speak with Andy Lally using only the voice-to-text feature on our smartphones. (NOTE: Unlike previous fictitious text conversations from the author, what follows is the actual exchange with Mr. Lally.)
Lynda Petty named 2014 NMPA Spirit Award winner
Founding member of the Racing Wives Auxiliary honored posthumously
NASCAR Illustrated Champions Tour: Andy Seuss
NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Champion Andy Seuss talks about his climb to the top of the Whelen Southern Modified ranks.
Myers Brothers Awards: Andy Lally
Andy Lally accepts the 2011 Rookie of the Year Award.
@nascarcasm: What if the average fan spotted at a superspeedway?
You think driving at Talladega is hard? Spotting might be tougher. @nascarcasm gives us a look at how the average fan might perform spotting at a superspeedway.