Hot Lap: Point-of-view look at Richmond International Raceway
NASCAR's pace car driver, Brett Bodine , takes a spin around Richmond International Raceway to showcase the unique configuration the 0.75-mile track, and shares some tips on what to look for in the Toyota Owners 400.
Old-school ways guide John Hunter Nemechek's rise
When the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rolls into Martinsville Speedway for this Saturday's Alpha Energy Solutions 250 (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), John Hunter Nemechek will arrive as the series’ most recent winner. It’s coming up on a five-week break for Nemechek and his fellow racers, more than a month since he pulled into the winner's circle at Atlanta Motor Speedway for his second career victory. The win sets up the 18-year-old to be in position to participate in this year's inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase. Similar to the Sprint Cup Series' Chase format, eight drivers will compete for the title, attempting to advance through two elimination rounds to reach the championship-determining event at Homestead-Miami Speedway where four will vie for the title. RELATED: Truck Series Chase 101 That Nemechek is already in position to begin considering Chase scenarios is nothing short of remarkable – the son of former Sprint Cup driver Joe Nemechek had only 30 career starts in the series heading into the 2016 season. That his NEMCO Motorsports team has been able to compete against larger, more established organizations in spite of its limited resources is no less amazing. There's no questioning Nemechek’s talent – he has finished in the top five in roughly one third of his starts and has 17 career top-10 results. His first win came last season at Chicagoland Speedway . The inability to test slows progress, but it's something each team must deal with today. Nemechek said it helps that he is surrounded by so much experience on his team. "I have two of the most veteran (people) here in Dad and (crew chief) Gere Kennon," he said. "They like to do stuff the old way, old school; all their experience and knowledge I've learned from. "Dad has taught me everything he's learned in a 20-year period in a 3-4 year period. That's sped up my learning curve. Then bringing Gere on board, he's taught me a lot about these trucks; he's been in the sport forever." The elder Nemechek won four times during a 20-plus year career at the premier series level. He also won 16 times in what is now the XFINITY Series, and was that division's champion in 1992. Kennon's racing resume includes title-winning runs with two-time series champion Sam Ard in what is now known as the NASCAR XFINITY Series, as well successful stints with Brett Bodine and Ron Hornaday in the that series. Kennon was also a chassis specialist for Roush Racing before moving into a crew chief role in the mid-‘90s for team owner Butch Mock and driver Morgan Shepherd in the premier series ranks. NEMCO Motorsports is a single-team, family-owned organization with roughly a dozen employees and limited funding. The group hired its first engineer this season. They might get out-spent, but they won't be out-worked. They might be out-engineered, but not out-smarted. "To be competitive in this series, it takes a few million dollars," Joe Nemechek said. " … It's hard to round that up on a weekly basis." Funding from Fone Fuel and Berry's Bullets has been a big help, he said, but added that his group is "making hundreds and hundreds of calls every week. "I know what we spend in this deal, and we're probably spending half of what the big teams are. But it's too hard; you just can't keep doing that and have success. At some point all your people get burned out; it's tough." Parker Kligerman has driven to the top of the points standings after teaming with the small Ricky Benton Racing organization. Nemechek sits third, behind Kligerman and Brad Keselowski Racing's Daniel Hemric . RELATED: Hemric finds perfect home " Dual roles lead to success for Kligerman He has five starts at Martinsville, more than at any other track hosting the series, and finished second there in last season's fall event. "It means a lot to be able to come back to the race track where I made my (series) debut," Nemechek said during the track's recent media day event. "I've improved a lot since then. "Also to finish second here (last fall), we've improved on our finishes every time we've been here over the past two and a half years so if we can keep doing that and just improve it by one (position) this year, we'll be good."
Groseclose's passion where rubber meets the road
Meet @nascartireguy and learn how he landed a job in the sport he loves FOLLOW: @nascartireguy on Twitter CONCORD, N.C. -- David Groseclose carefully takes the 27-year-old photograph out of its frame for closer examination, making it easier to marvel at its full-circle nature. Back then, a 10-year-old David and his older brother, Jeff -- both wearing Scouts uniforms -- sidled up to an aspiring rookie driver named Brett Bodine to pose for a photograph at the boys' home track, Bristol Motor Speedway. When their father took that snapshot in 1988, none of the parties could have imagined that the younger Groseclose would one day report to Bodine . That day came in January 2014, when Groseclose, now 37, showed up for work at the NASCAR Research & Development Center as the sanctioning body's lead tire engineer. For Groseclose -- who appropriately tweets from the handle @nascartireguy -- the position was the realization of a childhood dream, which took root from years of attending races at the Bristol track, just 10 minutes from his hometown of Blountville, Tennessee. When Groseclose stumbled upon the job listing, the enthusiasm was palpable. "Tire engineer? What could be better?" he recalled telling his wife, Susan. "She said, 'if you don't apply for that job, I'm going to divorce you.' " It never came to that, Groseclose laughed. After an initial callback, Groseclose was on the phone with Bodine , leading to an interview with both him and Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR's senior vice president of innovation and racing development. RELATED: Go inside the NASCAR R&D Center "David was exactly what we wanted; he had a passion for the sport," Bodine said last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "As you know, to survive the work schedule and the workload of this sport, you've got to have a passion for it. You can't treat this like a 9-to-5 job. During the interview process, I realized that. That's what really made myself and Gene Stefanyshyn feel really good about hiring David." Plenty of Groseclose's passion stems from his long-running association with NASCAR as a fan, attending his first Bristol race at age 5 and -- as best as he can recall -- falling asleep by the halfway point, overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. He'll be back Wednesday, overseeing an open test for Sprint Cup teams on the .533-mile track but also taking time to savor the homecoming in the Tennessee hills. MORE: Teams get ready for Bristol test In a year and a half on the job, Groseclose's responsibilities have included scheduling and supervising all Goodyear tire tests, analyzing data and driver feedback to help fellow engineers make informed choices for selecting the right compound for a given track. Groseclose said he meets with Goodyear officials on a weekly basis, but that open communication with NASCAR's tire partner is a daily process. He is also responsible for all sections of the NASCAR Rule Book regarding wheels and tires. Groseclose's diverse background includes seven years in the U.S. Navy, studies in the field of nuclear power and time spent on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, but his current duties are a natural extension of his seven-year stint with Bridgestone, where he served as the lead development coordinator and engineer for street tires. "Actually a lot of it transfers. Even though it's a racing tire, the construction, the basics are the same," Groseclose said. "Every tire's got a bead, every tire's got body-ply, every tire's got some type of belt. Now, passenger tires are steel belts and here they're not. The tread's a lot thicker on passenger tires because they've got to last a lot longer, but you can't have that thick of a tread on a racing tire because it heats up too much. If it gets too hot, it'll start coming apart. "A lot of it's the same, but parts of it are different because of the extreme conditions that racing tires have to go through." In addition to his work experience, Groseclose continues to draw upon his upbringing as a NASCAR enthusiast in the R&D setting, with Stefanyshyn often asking him to put on his "fan hat" in discussions about improving competition. That role goes even further back; Groseclose's actual fan hat from his youth was one loaded with souvenir pins, proudly displaying his status as a card-carrying member of the Harry Gant Fan Club. Groseclose's father attended Bristol's second-ever race in its inaugural season with his father, watching Joe Weatherly edge Rex White in a battle of NASCAR Hall of Famers in the 1961 Southeastern 500. His parents remain season-ticket holders. Now Groseclose shares his love of the sport with the next generation, his three young boys -- ages 8, 5 and 3, with a fourth child on the way, due in December. The only difference is that now it's not just a pastime for Groseclose, it's part of his life's work. "I loved the job I had before. I worked with really good people and it was a great job," Groseclose said. "I had no inclination of changing jobs, but when your dream job comes up, you've got to do something, right?" FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Jimmie Johnson signs extension with Hendrick
RELATED: See who is in the Chase Officials with Hendrick Motorsports have announced two-year contract extensions for six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and primary team sponsor Lowe's. The extensions, which were announced today via press release, run through the 2017 season. Johnson, 39, is the No. 1 seed in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , which gets underway with Sunday's myAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). A four-time winner this season, Johnson is attempting to become only the third driver in series history to win seven premier series titles, joining Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. He is a 74-time race winner in the series and is only two victories short of tying Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time win list. Johnson is the only driver to capture five consecutive Sprint Cup championships (2006-10). He and crew chief Chad Knaus have been paired together at Hendrick since the 2002 season. "My relationship with Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports means so much," Johnson said in a team release. "To me, this just reinforces how committed Lowe's is to our sport and to our partnership. It says a lot to have one sponsor and one team for this amount of time. I couldn't be prouder to represent everyone at Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports . This is my home, and I'm looking forward to many more victories together as a team." Knaus, whose latest contract extension runs through 2018, won championships as a crewman with teammate Jeff Gordon in '95 and '97 prior to being named crew chief for Johnson. "The contributions Jimmie and Chad have made to Hendrick Motorsports can't be overstated," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "When Lowe's took a chance by sponsoring the No. 48 team back in 2001, we never could've envisioned the results. It's a championship combination and genuine partnership that we're proud to continue and committed to develop even further." RELATED: Johnson discusses his outlook heading into the Chase Lowe's, the North Carolina-based home improvement chain, has been the No. 48 team's primary sponsor since 2002. It also backed the team for three races in 2001. The company funded the efforts of drivers Brett Bodine ('95-96) and Mike Skinner ('97-01) before aligning with Hendrick. "Their dedication … not only to Hendrick Motorsports but to the NASCAR community and our fans, has been absolutely incredible," Hendrick said. "We're fortunate to work with a company that's truly passionate about our sport and shares many of our organization's core values." Hendrick teams have won 11 premier series titles and 237 races since debuting in NASCAR in 1984 as a single-car entity with driver Geoff Bodine . RELATED: Where will Johnson be for Chase Across North America? In addition to Johnson, HMS also fields NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries for drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Kasey Kahne . Gordon, a four-time series champion, will retire from driving at the end of 2015. He will be replaced by defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott . Earnhardt Jr. is signed through the 2017 season while Kahne's contract was renewed late last year and will keep the Enumclaw, Washington, native on board through 2018. Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. will join Johnson in this year's 16-team Chase field.
Earnhardt Jr., Busch question NASCAR clean-up efforts
RELATED: Full race results " Updated Chase Grid CONCORD, N.C. -- Two of NASCAR's top drivers were adamant that oil not cleaned up from a previous incident led to each of them hitting the wall in separate incidents during Sunday's Bank of America 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . Both Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Kyle Busch bounced off the outside wall shortly after Justin Allgaier had brought out the day's seventh caution flag. "We all hit the wall," Earnhardt Jr. said after the Hendrick Motorsports driver finished 28th in the opening race of the Contender Round of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . "I hit the wall, the 2 (of Brad Keselowski ) hit the wall, then we went another lap. I pitted, a bunch of other guys hit the wall. "There was oil down there. It wasn't speedy dry (used to absorb fluids put down on the racing surface). I've raced this (expletive) for 20 years, I know what oil and speedy dry is. We hit fluid, flew into the freaking wall hard. That's not speedy dry. There was oil up there." Earnhardt was already running outside the top 25 after an earlier incident had put his No. 88 Chevrolet in the wall. Allgaier's entry began slowing with smoke trailing out the rear of the No. 51 HScott Motorsports entry on Lap 182. Earnhardt said it might have been a "blown hose" that sprayed fluids across the track and that shadows cast by billboards ringing outside of the track could have made it difficult to see. "(Expletive), man, guys hit the fence, what do you want me to do?" Earnhardt said. "I hit the (expletive) wall. I know I hit oil. I hit it. I promise. I'll argue with (NASCAR) all day long because I know I'm right. They won't argue about it. ... They shouldn't want to argue about that. A lot of cars hit the wall down there." Busch's Toyota eventually slipped up and into the fence in the turn as well, continuing a day of misfortune for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. "You now, can't pass anybody -- single-lane race track and then you put oil on the top lane to try to make anything happen and then you put yourself in the fence, so thanks to NASCAR for cleaning that up," Busch said after finishing 20th. With two races remaining in the Contender Round, at Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway , Busch sits 10th and Earnhardt 11th in points. Only the top eight will advance to the three-race Eliminator Round (Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix), with a chance to be one of the final four to battle for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Brad Keselowski ( Team Penske ) finished ninth and holds the No. 8 points position, 10 points ahead of Busch and 19 ahead of Earnhardt. Richard Buck, NASCAR Managing Director of the Sprint Cup Series, said afterward that officials "listen to our drivers and our spotters; we get calls all day long. We've got spotters around the track, officials, clean-up and stuff and we'll make the rounds over the radio. "In that instance we actually had men on the ground walking that high groove and they couldn't see anything," he said. Caution car driver Brett Bodine and official Buster Auton were also evaluating the condition of the racing surface in the area in question. "So we got the reports and we looked everywhere," Buck said, "including putting people on the ground walking the area where they said the oil was, and there was no oil. "Sometimes, with some of these lubricants … there is some staining to the track. We'll go back and do a double-check on that just to make sure; we did that today and we feel absolutely confident that there was no oil up in that very top groove or down below." Race winner Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) said there was radio chatter among his crewmen about possible oil on the track, but that he had no issues. "I was warned," Logano said. "My spotter did a great job warning me that people were talking about it, so when someone comes over the radio and says 'Hey, they're talking about oil in the middle of the race track,' then you probably shouldn't run in the middle of the race track." Sunday's race was run a day later than originally scheduled due to rain that washed out all on-track activity on Saturday.
Jimmie Johnson's Darlington scheme revealed
See the throwback look for the HMS No. 48 for Labor Day weekend RELATED: Buy tickets for Darlington " SHOP: No. 48 gear Jimmie Johnson is the latest to reveal a throwback paint scheme for the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 6 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). The driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet will sport a Lowe's Home Improvement logo that was used throughout the 1940s and 50s, shortly after the company's founding in 1946 and during the time when Darlington Raceway opened (1950). RELATED: See another Darlington scheme Johnson has won at Darlington three times, with the most recent victory coming in 2012. He has 12 top-10 finishes in 16 starts at the track. Other drivers to carry the Lowe's colors include Brett Bodine and Mike Skinner before the logo found its home with Johnson's No. 48. MORE: Get your gear for Darlington https://t.co/td17FscWk0 — Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) August 15, 2015 FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Brotherly shove: Bodines reflect on Indy wreck
Geoff and Brett Bodine both had a shot to win the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, but a mid-race incident between the two ended Geoff's chances. NASCAR.com host Alan Cavanna sat down with the brothers to talk about that day and how it changed them.
1987 Winston: Where Are They Now?
RELATED: Elliott will 'never forget' Earnhardt move The starting grid for the 1987 Winston All-Star Race looked a lot like an exhibit befitting the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This was The All-Star Race for the ages. Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliott all competed. Greats such as Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Ricky Rudd, Buddy Baker, and Benny Parsons were on the 20-driver starting grid, too. A young Davey Allison and a new Daytona 500 winner Geoffrey Bodine lined up alongside these iconic names. The fast and famed Tim Richmond was on the grid, too, in what was his final season of NASCAR competition. And don't forget about Kyle Petty, Bobby Hillin Jr. and Greg Sacks. The only driver on that famed All-Star lineup still NASCAR racing today is Morgan Shepherd, who drove a car fielded by drag racing legend Kenny Bernstein -- and his seventh-place finish that day in his first All-Star Race remains his best showing. That starting lineup was a true convergence of NASCAR's best -- sentimental favorites, crusty veterans, future Hall of Famers and young stars out to make their big names. It had personality. It had top-line credentials. In only its third running, the 1987 race showed exactly the pizzazz that would help forge the All-Star Race into the can't-miss annual event that will be on full display Saturday in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . For all its historical allure, amazingly in that famed 1987 race only four drivers even led a lap -- the winner Earnhardt (10), the day's dominant driver Elliott (121), Bodine (3) and Kyle Petty (1). The great seven-time Cup champ Richard Petty crashed with the late superstar Neil Bonnett on Lap 66. As dominant and successful as Petty was, it's easy to forget he never won an All-Star Race. Among the most memorable aspects of this race will undoubtedly be the day's winner Earnhardt's "Pass in the Grass" of Elliott. It wasn't actually a pass at all, but Earnhardt maneuvering to hold onto his late race lead over Elliott in the day's most dominant car. It was the first of three All-Star wins for Earnhardt. And the gritty, hard-nosed final laps racing launched this -- then still young -- event into a bona fide can't-miss rite of spring. The above photo itself has become quite a piece of NASCAR lore. When this group of 20 drivers came together for this indelible image, these are the numbers they would leave behind: 812 premier series victories, 26 premier series championships, 11 All-Star Race wins ... and one urban legend.
1987 Winston: Elliott will 'never forget' Earnhardt's all-star move
Editor's note: This week we're looking back at the 1987 Winston All-Star Race, one of the most historic races in NASCAR history. RELATED: The 1987 Winston: Where Are They Now? Nearly 30 years later NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott still says he has never been more frustrated in a race car than he was with the ending of the 1987 running of The Winston All-Star Race. He led a dominating 121 of the 135 laps but came out on the wrong end of a hard-nosed door-to-door battle for the win with the "Intimidator" Dale Earnhardt in the final 10-lap segment. The close-quarter, late-lap racing in The Winston between the season's top two championship contenders famously resulted in Earnhardt's "pass in the grass" -- even though in reality it was much closer to a maintain-in-the-terrain, but it still became racing lore. The race itself is a legitimately legendary story starring Elliott and Earnhardt with perhaps the most famous NASCAR driver lineups of all-time essentially playing supporting roles. Hall of Famers such as Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip raced that day, joining many of the sport's all-time most popular racers such as Neil Bonnett, Geoffrey Bodine and Tim Richmond. As NASCAR prepares for the modern-day version of this event, the Sprint All-Star Race this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway , it's a good stock-car history lesson to relive the 1987 event. Many consider this the most famous All-Star running -- a hard-nosed, win-at-all-costs race that raised the sport's profile and its expectations. In particular, the late-lap duel between Elliott and Earnhardt is considered required folklore for NASCAR fans, as it was the first instance of the All-Star Race having a 10-lap shootout to the finish. Even today Elliott is still miffed about his missed opportunity, he told NASCAR.com "That was probably the maddest I've ever been, but you just have to deal with it and go on,’’ said Elliott, who after being passed by Earnhardt had to pit in the waning laps to change out a flat tire, ultimately finishing 14th.
Veteran Crafton plays mentor role to up-and-coming rookies
CONCORD, N.C. -- Being a two-time champion in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has its share of perks for Matt Crafton . But besides the laurels, there's also a certain amount of responsibility, one that involves helping the next generation of drivers learn their way. For the third straight season, Crafton has helped preside over the series' rookie orientation meetings, joining series director Elton Sawyer in providing insights for the truck tour's new crop of talent. In recent years, the duty has fallen to the reigning series champion, which Crafton achieved with consecutive titles in 2013 and 2014. But with last year's champ, Erik Jones , shifting to the NASCAR XFINITY Series full-time this season, Crafton was asked back. "If it's something where I feel I can help the rookies and possibly make it better racing, that's what it's all about," said Crafton, who's back on top as the series' points leader after last weekend's victory at Dover International Speedway . "I remember being a rookie and going to some of these places and not having a damn clue what I was doing or what to expect on some new race tracks, so if you can give them a little bit of insight as a group and then I always tell them at the end, if you ever have any questions, they're always free to ask me whatever they need to ask me in the trailer afterward. It's part of it." It's been 15 years since the 39-year-old Crafton was a truck series newbie, almost as long as the lifespan of some members of this year's rookie crop. When Crafton was on the other side of the first-year drivers' orientation, he learned from a rotation of the series' pioneers -- Ron Hornaday Jr ., Mike Skinner, Todd Bodine . Times may have changed over the course of Crafton's career, with the driver roster seemingly skewing younger. But it's also tilted to an even more ambitious and talented class in one of NASCAR's most competitive divisions. "Just to think they're racing in the Camping World Truck Series at 16 years old like they can do, it's nuts," Crafton says. "It's just crazy the amount of pressure that's on these kids. The thing is, they're in great, great equipment. I can honestly say, everybody always says each and every week that, 'oh, there's such a great group of rookies out there.' There's been a great group of rookies a lot of years in the Camping World Truck Series since I've been here, but not all of them have always been in great equipment." On this damp Thursday morning, Sawyer and Crafton hold court in the suites over Charlotte Motor Speedway 's pit road. A group of 15 young drivers -- some true rookies and some who were preparing for their first start on the 1.5-mile track -- circled around, awaiting direction over the racket of the Air Titans drying the pavement. Before diving into a discussion about race procedure, Sawyer singled out John Hunter Nemechek , attending his last required rookie meeting at Charlotte -- the last track missing from his truck series portfolio. "I thought Elton was going to bring me a cake this week, a certificate or something for graduating," the 18-year-old Nemechek joked later. "He said he forgot, so I may have to get a cake in to him that says 'Race Director' or something on it." Sawyer emphasized the high notes from the crew chief's handout, providing watch-outs about gamesmanship on restarts and other procedures. But he also ceded plenty of time to Crafton, who answered a question from ThorSport Racing teammate Rico Abreu about the blend zone off pit road and how hard he could hustle back onto the race track. The inquiry led to a detailed description from Crafton about one of the most finicky tracks on the circuit. In vivid terms, Crafton explained the speedway's character, how much the groove widens in time, how delicate side-by-side racing can be, and what he called the "gnarliest" transition as trucks dive into the Turn 1 banking. "When we go to a new race track, it's just learning the basics of the things that we need to look out for, especially here," says 18-year-old rookie William Byron, who became the series' newest first-time winner two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway . "He's talking about the transitions and just things to watch out for in the race. It's good to have a broad perspective of what it's going to be like racing here. It gets you a little bit more comfortable." Even Nemechek, already a two-time truck series winner on intermediate-sized tracks, has seen the benefits. "It was a good experience. They all helped every time you went," Nemechek says. "… Any veteran that you can get and talk to and listen to that you know is going to shoot you somewhat straight when you come to a new place, it can only help you -- from race trends to how to get on and off pit road to the characteristics of the race track." Crafton's 366 career starts -- an all-time series best -- count as an encyclopedic amount of experience, and the back-to-back titles speak to his success. But the longtime veteran says he still finds time to pick up on things from the cub drivers with single-digit starts on their record. What does he learn? "Some of these kids nowadays, they just know more than we do," Crafton says with a playfully satirical grin. "I have a daughter who's 3 and she already knows more than me."