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Cain: Bigger and more memorable at Texas
RELATED: Gallery of memorable moments at Texas " Full weekend schedule FORT WORTH -- From track "weepers" and multicar inaugural-lap pileups to a winner's circle confrontation between two Indianapolis 500 champs, Texas Motor Speedway has been the site of some of the most remarkable, memorable and bizarre story lines of any circuit on the NASCAR circuit. The 1.5-mile oval outside Fort Worth celebrates its 20th year hosting a NASCAR race this week with Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.) And for those of us around at the very beginning, it seems a fitting time to reminisce a bit about the facility's famously storied early history. As they like to remind you in Texas, everything is "bigger" there. And it has been. The track's early trials and tribulations have only contributed to its great character and esteem. In my 25 years of sports journalism, the opening races at Texas Motor Speedway still remain among the most unforgettable times of my career. Never before and never since have I covered a specific beat that provided as much sensation, controversy and must-see-TV as TMS in the early years. Two decades later, the track located at the intersection of an interstate and two major Texas highways has evolved into one of the sport's most prestigious venues. It boasts the largest HD screen, named "Big Hoss," fantastic spectator seating and the most condominiums of any track on the circuit. Plus really great racing. Nearly 195,000 people showed up for the inaugural Texas race in 1997 and most of those who were ticket holders then still are, two decades later proving they are as faithful and optimistic as they were devoted. It turns out those have been good traits for this endeavor. MORE: Paint scheme preview for Texas I had just started work at The Dallas Morning News newspaper in the spring of 1997 a few weeks after Jeff Burton took the checkered flag for NASCAR's first Cup series race at Texas in April. The new facility was considered the "home track" to cover. After reporting on the Indianapolis 500 in May, I was immediately back home in Dallas, ready for the Indy Racing League's night-time debut at TMS the next week. There, a 26-year old future three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart put on an open-wheel show for the ages, racing wheel-to-wheel lap-after-lap with Buddy Lazier. Stewart -- who went on to win two Cup races at Texas (2006 and 2011) -- led a race-high 100 of the 208 laps only to suffer an engine failure that night. But toward the end of the race there were questions regarding the scoring shown on the monitor in the press box. And soon after making my way down to the infield to prepare for a super-tight Saturday night newspaper deadline, the real craziness began. While trying to get post-race quotes from the apparent first-time winner Billy Boat ( XFINITY Series driver Chad's dad) and Boat's team owner, Texan A.J. Foyt, I was standing a few feet away when driver Arie Luyendyk confronted Foyt in Victory Lane. After questioning the results, challenging Foyt and suggesting he was actually the legitimate race winner, Luyendyk tumbled into the victory flowers. Boat and Foyt hoisted the trophy. It was surreal. I was on a crazy tight deadline. But the next day in a hastily called press conference, Luyendyk was declared the winner after USAC conceded a scoring error. After USAC officials suggested problems with the track's scoring system, TMS President Eddie Gossage took the press conference podium and strongly reminded that the speedway wasn't responsible for the scoring. "I got home at 3 in the morning knowing we gave the trophy to the wrong winner and had a press conference for 8 in the morning," said Gossage. "I go in to the press conference with two hours of sleep and I'm sitting in the back row and the head scorer for USAC says that the speedway's timing and scoring equipment didn't work. "He says it again and then a third time so I just walked up on stage and stepped up to the podium and eased him to the side and said, " Texas Motor Speedway doesn't own a stop watch. ... People have a right to know when they leave the race track who the winner is and we all didn't get what we paid for." Then after a dramatic exit and door slam, Gossage recalls, "My dad called from Tennessee and said, 'You were raised better, acting like an idiot on television for all the world to see, embarrassing me and your mom.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'You didn't know it was live on ESPN?' "I didn't. And then I was like, 'You're right, sir. I'm sorry. I know better.' " Gossage has a good laugh recalling the whole ordeal now. Foyt, who still disputes the result, kept the trophy and Luyendyk was given another one. A year later, Boat recalled of the evening, "We went into Victory Circle knowing nothing about a scoring error, only that someone was talking derogatory about our race team. You don't do that in a big Texan's Victory Circle." Luyendyk, of Holland, said the incident -- replayed repeatedly all over the world at the time -- actually made him and the Texas Motor Speedway more famous overseas. MORE: Gossage and drivers try to draw state of Texas And then in 1998 came NASCAR's second Cup try. After two multi-car accidents in the inaugural race, conventional wisdom promised this one just had to go down more smoothly. NASCAR's biggest stars such as Rusty Wallace, Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin were among those who crashed in the opening race. Darrell Waltrip finished last after being involved in a 13-car wreck on the very first turn of the very first lap of Cup competition there. And Burton ended up winning by 4 seconds. Surely, everyone figured, the second race would be smoother. It wasn't. "Weepers" became a familiar word. The water seeping through the track caused qualifying to be completed a day late. And of all things, there was a huge 10-car accident on the second lap of the race. Jeff Gordon and yes, Waltrip, were collected in that melee. Mark Martin won the race by a half-second over Chad Little and Robert Pressley. Shortly after, TMS went through a re-paving and re-fitting, track owner Bruton Smith and Gossage committed to correction. "The first year it was just terrible and everything seemed to go wrong," Gossage conceded this week. "And the second year, obviously you try to improve so all of a sudden here's these weepers that came through. "I remember driving into the infield and in the rearview mirror saw Lake Speed knock the wall down in Turn 1 in qualifying. I thought, 'Oh no.' "I'm always the worst critic," Gossage said, logging the long hours readying for the weekend's big events. "There are things other people might not have noticed but I did. For some reason things worked really well in 1999 when Terry Labonte won and it's been better since then. That's the way a race weekend was supposed to go." Not only has it been better, it's typically a discussion point in every season review. In 2005, Texas finally got the second date it had longed for since I worked at the Dallas paper nearly a decade earlier. And the facility -- big enough to fit every Texas sporting stadium in its infield -- is also a big-time player in the Chase for the Sprint Cup . It's still providing those jaw-dropping, television highlight moments seemingly born with the track. Dale Earnhardt Jr . scored his first Cup win at TMS in April 2000. And Chase Elliott got his first XFINITY Series win here in 2014 driving for Junior at JR Motorsports. Gordon, who won this race in 2009, has starred in a couple TMS highlight reels, too. He was involved in a pair of high profile skirmishes from taking on Burton on-track after a wreck in 2010 to a crazy pit road scuffle with Brad Keselowski in 2014. "You have to be honest," Gossage said. "And looking back, it's just how things occurred. I wouldn't trade any of it, if it is what got us where we are. I'll take where we stand in our success as the most successful major market speedway in the history of this sport. I'll take that. "I won't trade my job with the guy running any other race track because I'm just so proud of what's been accomplished here."
Coming home: Wile prepares for new role as Daytona president
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Chip Wile has flown into the Daytona Beach, Florida, airport dozens of times during his nearly two decades in NASCAR, working in racing public relations or for Motor Racing Network or more recently as the president of Darlington Raceway . But NASCAR's most famous track -- Daytona International Speedway -- looked different to Wile this past weekend as he landed at the airport next door. It's home now. "The 'aha moment' for me was flying in from Talladega Sunday night and landing right alongside the race track," said Wile, who started his tenure as Daytona International Speedway president on Monday. "I've flown in 50 times over the past 15 years but it felt different this time. You fly in and look over and get excited because you're going to Daytona, but knowing I have a different role now here and this is now my home was the 'aha moment.' "I'm trying to take a deep breath and really appreciate this opportunity. This is a game-changer for me and for my family. I understand how important (Daytona) is and what it means to our sport, and I'm looking forward to the challenge." For sure, the 36-year-old Wile knows a little something about challenges. For the past three years he has led the iconic Darlington Raceway into a modern era, ironically, by celebrating its storied past. Under his leadership, the "throwback" theme he created for Darlington's Southern 500 has been something praised and celebrated by fans, media and drivers alike. One of the most historic weekends of competition has also positioned itself as one of the most popular weekends in NASCAR -- a feat not lost by those International Speedway Corporation executives who tabbed Wile to run the facility as Joie Chitwood III takes a new role as ISC's Chief Operating Officer. Chitwood oversaw the recently completed $400 million Daytona Rising project that has propelled the speedway into one of sport's greatest modern facilities. And now Wile will shepherd the project and expand the opportunities. The Darlington experience is all fantastic background for Wile, who follows Chitwood in a place Chitwood aptly steered into the top level of innovation. "When I got the opportunity to go work at Darlington, I knew how important Darlington was to NASCAR and what it meant to lead that team," Wile said. "The obligation to hold people to a high standard because of its history and nostalgia, and certainly over the past three years, we've been able to do that with the community. Making sure we hold the Bojangles' Southern 500 to a high standard and make it a unique event with the throwback. So, that certainly is something I'm really proud of. "This is an even more prestigious brand. The Daytona 500 , I would argue, is the most prestigious brand in our sport and we have to hold it to a higher standard. And this race track, and what it means to our community and our sport, transcends really anything else that is out there." That race in particular has always held a special place in Wile's heart. He remembers working at Penske Racing, where he was reminded of the iconic Daytona track on a near daily basis. "I remember Roger Penske, who I worked for, he won 16 Indy 500s, but when you walk into his shop, the first trophy you see is that 50th running of the Daytona 500 trophy," Wile recalled. "And he's won just about everything you can win, but I'd argue that was, at the time, the biggest win in his motorsports career." Wile's extensive background working in so many facets of the sport will undoubtedly be useful for him. He spent almost a decade working with teams such as Bill Davis Racing and Penske Racing before joining ISC as director of business development with its radio network, MRN. He served as a liaison between the network and the tracks in that role before moving to Darlington. All of that is why he was the logical choice for the Daytona position and why he is confident and excited in leading the charge. "I think certainly what I bring is relationships," Wile said. "The only jobs I've ever had are in this sport. And I've been fortunate over the years. People have taken a vested interest in me and helped me be successful. I feel like I have relationships in the garage and with people that are true. I value those relationships and those are the reasons I'm getting the opportunity to come here and lead this team in Daytona. "Understanding how NASCAR works and how the race teams operate and certainly on the media side with my short time with MRN, I know what makes them tick, how their business runs and now, obviously, on the race track side. "It does give you a little bit of perspective on how you view things and look at things. I think that has helped me be successful so far. And certainly the relationships, in my opinion, are the most important thing in the sport and I will continue to lean on those."
Dale Jr.: 'I didn't check' steering wheel at 'Dega
RELATED: Junior explains steering wheel mistake MOORESVILLE -- Barely 50 laps had been completed when Dale Earnhardt Jr ., his team and his No. 88 Chevrolet were found in the garage Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway . Repairs to fix the damaged entry, which had unexpectedly swung around and collected Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne , took time. Rain was threatening to shorten the 188-lap GEICO 500 , which was nearing the halfway point when the car was deemed ready to return to action. But in a rush to get back out on the track and avoid a potential DNF (Did Not Finish), the series' Most Popular driver didn't notice that his steering wheel was not fully engaged as he rolled back out onto the 2.66-mile track. Until it came off in his hands. "I put the wheel on and never grabbed the coupler and made sure it was locked," Earnhardt said Tuesday. "… You're out of your element because you've crashed, you're in the garage, they're fixing the car, it's starting to rain, the caution's coming out, you're going to climb back in." Before the race went back green, crew chief Greg Ives asked his driver to check his safety belts and steering wheel. When Earnhardt pulled back on the wheel, it came off the column. Earnhardt quickly grabbed the column to momentarily steer the car before reattaching the steering wheel. "I was out of my element," he said. "Just scrambling, trying to get going and I didn't check it. We always put the wheel on and pull it and I didn't do it." RELATED: What grade did Junior get for the day? While his chances at victory were non-existent, to be still running whenever the race ended was important. "There are these little things that people don't think about that are a source of pride for drivers, teams, crew chiefs," Earnhardt said. "You don't want a DNF. Even if that means get back out and run the last lap. That counts; you finished. … "Anytime you crash a car, you load it up and you know you might, could have fixed it, it's a feeling you just can't get over. Because you didn't do everything you could have. And if you take that home with you, it's just an empty feeling. "You go there to run all the laps. When you get kicked and beat down and knocked off the top or you're having a bad day … the best thing you can do to go home with a clear conscience is to work as hard as you can to do everything you can before the checkered flag. You run every lap you can run, even if it's pointless." This time, it was just that as the Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards collected Earnhardt just a short time after his return. "Literally, it was pointless for us to be back out there," Earnhardt said. "We might have gotten one point. "That's what you do. You get out there and you fix it. You've got all that crash-cart (equipment) there for a reason. You make your guys go through the process of fixing the car because next time they fix it, they might do it 15 minutes quicker because they find some shortcuts and that might be important in the Chase." The car, now-famously nicknamed "Amelia" by Earnhardt won't be making any more starts. The combination of damage from the two incidents was too severe. Instead, it'll eventually be added to Earnhardt's "graveyard" of crashed vehicles on his private property. "I'll put it in the dirt, in the woods, and let the weeds take it," he said. "We'll build a new one and it will be good at Daytona. "I hate that that car ran those two races and had those two awful finishes because it did have such a good 2015. We should have parked it and built a new one and said that's the end of the deal with that one." Earnhardt drove the car to victory last season at both Daytona (in July) and Talladega (in May), and finished second (at Talladega in fall Chase race) and third ( Daytona 500 ) in '15 as well. RELATED: Edwards finishes off Junior's bad day This year, he crashed at Daytona and the car was repaired in time for Talladega. But there'll be no more fixing for this one. "We need to build a new car and we probably should have done that in the offseason," he said. "We got attached to this thing and really liked what it did last year. We were hoping we could keep having success with it; it was still a pretty good car."
As executive producer, Dale Jr. excited about new series
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- When Dale Earnhardt Jr . previewed the first installment of the upcoming three-part series "NASCAR: The Rise of American Speed," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said he was amazed at what he witnessed. "The first part I watched like a kid at Christmas," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said Tuesday, adding that he kept thinking, "This is cool; I love what I'm seeing. I didn't know it was like this; this is awesome." Earnhardt is an executive producer for the series, which debuts this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CMT. "You know about Red Byron (NASCAR's first premier series champion) and guys like that and what they've done but you've never actually had a window into what they might have been like," he said. "So that was really, really neat. "Watching that first episode, it's completely different from watching the other two. The other two I was there, or I remember it as a kid. You immediately go to sort of picking it apart and (asking) does it live up to the standard?" The series (episodes 2 and 3 will air on consecutive Sundays, May 15 and May 22) uses archival footage as well as reenactments and interviews to document the history of NASCAR from its beginning to modern day. Among those contributing on-air to the project were stars such as Jeff Gordon , Kevin Harvick , Tony Stewart and Darrell Waltrip. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer of International Speedway Corp., provide additional insights. NASCAR founder William Henry Getty France was their grandfather, Bill France Jr. their father. Episode 1 details stock car racing's rough, raw beginnings and the senior France's desire to pursue his dream of bringing acceptability and professionalism to the sport. Episode 2 features the continued rise of the sport and France's many battles to bring NASCAR to mainstream America. Episode 3 begins with the '79 Daytona 500 , a watershed moment for NASCAR, and focuses heavily on the career of France's son, Bill Jr., and seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt before closing with where NASCAR sits in today's sports landscape. But it was that first episode that Earnhardt Jr. said, "Intrigues me the most. "Because I wasn't there and didn't know much about that time," he said. "You know people's names and you match that name with an accomplishment. But you never really knew their personalities much. "I believe in this kind of film you're able to see maybe what this guy's attitude or personality was like. You see when Big Bill is trying to form NASCAR, some of the drivers are kind of grinding against the gears and pushing back a little bit. "We really don't know a lot about that and there aren't a lot of stories telling that part of it, that side of it. So that was real interesting."
Jesse Little looks ahead to Truck debut
NASCAR Next driver set to take on Monster Mile DOVER, Del. -- Sporting a grin from ear to ear, Jesse Little walked into the media center on Thursday at Dover International Speedway ready to take on the weekend. Piloting the No. 97 Carolina Nut Company Toyota for ThorSport Racing, the 18-year-old K&N Pro Series East regular and NASCAR Next driver will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at the Monster Mile on Friday. "I've been looking forward to this weekend for a long time," Little said. "I know this is a family-owned team and we've put a lot of hard work and preparation into this weekend and I think my Camping World Truck Series start at Dover is something that still hasn't hit me yet. But I'm certainly excited and I love coming to this place. I enjoy it very much and I'm looking forward to a great weekend." Sitting side-by-side to Little during the press conference were two of the Truck Series' youngest drivers, 17-year-olds Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek . With just a total of 23 starts shared between the two drivers, they offered Little any bit of advice they could give for his first Truck start. "I'd say take it easy, especially the first lap of the race," Custer advised Little . "It's amazing how much the air affects these things. I was honestly scared for my life the first time I did it." In Custer's first start at Dover last season he finished 14th. "Just finish the race," Nemechek told Little with a chuckle. "Run as many laps as you can to get the experience." In Nemechek's first start at Dover last season he finished sixth. Little , Custer and Nemechek are all on this season's NASCAR Next roster and agree that the program has brought the young drivers together. "It makes it enjoyable for us as drivers when we know we have someone we can go to and talk to and they'll understand," Little said. "It makes it easier and at the same time it makes it fun." Manning Little's pit box is another familiar face to the young driver. Harold Holly, a 19-time winning crew chief in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and former pit boss for Little's father, Chad , who is currently NASCAR's managing director, technical inspection/officiating. Holly will be calling the shots during Friday's Lucas Oil 200 (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). "Harold and I go way back ... He's always been a great family friend," Little said" "Him and I have great chemistry and that goes the same for the ThorSport guys. It's been great to have their help. I have the ability to lean on (ThorSport teammates) Matt (Crafton) and Johnny (Sauter) and those guys and their knowledge is amazing and I'm definitely going to use that for my advantage and lean on those guys quite a bit this weekend." Lucky for Little , ThorSport Racing teammate Crafton just so happens to be a two-time Camping World Truck Series champion. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
With a little help, Keselowski takes 'Dega
Brad Keselowski emerges victorious from Talladega Superspeedway with some help from Chase Elliott in the GEICO 500 for his second win of the season. Check out NASCAR Race Hub weekdays at 5pm ET on FS1.
Getting by with a little help from our friends
After taking inspiration from Tony Stewart and Ty Dillon, NASCAR.com's Chuck Bush describes a new way to promote teamwork at the track.
Patrick: 'Chad Knaus would've killed me'
Host shares story of his last NASCAR experience Chatting with Kansas winner Joey Logano on his NBCSN simulcasted talk show, "The Dan Patrick Show" on Monday morning, host Dan Patrick shared a funny little story about the last time he was at a NASCAR race -- and why he might not be welcome back. "I was in Chicago a couple of years ago and I almost leaned on Jimmie Johnson 's spoiler, pre-race," Patrick said. Uh oh. " Chad Knaus, I think, would've killed me. I was talking to Jimmie right before the race and I almost leaned on his spoiler." Logano, quick on his feet, noted that if he bent it the right way, Knaus may have even thanked him. "If you were pulling it back, or something, ( Chad ) might've been okay with it." Not that he would know anything about those sort of hijinks. RELATED: NASCAR to police flared skirts in 2015 Still, Logano wants the host to come out to a race to cheer him on – well, maybe. "I don't know if you want me out there, Joey," Patrick said. "Because then I'm going to want to get in your pits and I'm going to want to work the pits." Logano, entrenched in a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup run, can't take any risks and responded appropriately. "Then just don't come."
With Cup drivers watching, Little seizes Loudon K&N win
First K&N Pro Series East victory for NASCAR Next driver comes in front of influential eyes
Pit Road Officiating: From 'what-ifs' to Year 2
NASCAR's warm embrace of innovation was about to send out a pivotal trial balloon. The snazzy new Pit Road Officiating (PRO) system had been thoroughly tested and troubleshot, closing in on its goal of implementing technology to make officials' jobs more efficient and safer and to better enforce pit-road penalties. Still, there was a natural anxiety among the sanctioning body's competition officials ahead of its grand debut. "Just a common, normal apprehension," Chad Little explained, adding with understatement, "and just a little thing called the Daytona 500 ." Little , named to the new role of NASCAR's managing director in charge of technical inspection and officiating just 20 days ahead of last year's season-opening Great American Race, wasn't alone in sharing some mild anxiety. Media were given a tour of the then-nondescript trailer in the offseason, complete with a demonstration of the eight workstations where officials would cycle through double-time video footage to verify potential penalties against laser-mapped telemetry -- all in close to real time. There weren't vocal doubters, but uncertainty remained about how the system would work in real race conditions. RELATED: See photos from that tour Each event has its own importance, but with the maiden voyage taking place in stock-car racing's Super Bowl, the stakes were plenty high. "We're going into Daytona every year for our biggest race with not necessarily on pins and needles, but we're geared up, we know that we can do the job, but we're always thinking about the 'what-ifs,' and I'd be lying if that wasn't the case going into last year with the PRO system," said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations. "But we had redundancies, we had a plan in place … for every scenario that we can imagine, but at the same time we know there's also the unknown. "Sometimes what we're the best at is dealing with things as they come along. In that case, fortunately, we enjoyed the fruits of it and it was more fine-tuning than dealing with any major issues, which is a credit to everybody involved." The PRO technology, which returns for its second year with a much higher comfort level entering next month's Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway , was on display earlier this week at the NASCAR Summit, the industry's annual preseason convention for track services, medical, safety and security workers. The record number of almost 900 attendees for the Summit's 15th year had the opportunity to tour the PRO trailer firsthand and learn about its intricacies. It turns out that many of those worries heading into 2015 were unfounded. All of the system's fail-safes performed as expected, and fears that the Pit Road Officiating trailer would be especially nitpicky in identifying infractions never materialized: Last year's Daytona 500 tallied 29 pit-road violations, compared to 31 for the previous season and 28 in the year before that. The races that followed took a similar pattern. "We were pretty much really comfortable with everything, but going into Daytona, we were concerned that what if we have 100 penalties," Little said. "We don't want to bog down the race with a bunch of travelling calls. We were real mindful of that, but we didn't know exactly what we had because it's a brand-new system. Those things develop throughout the year, but thank gosh we didn't have any stumbling blocks at Daytona." WATCH SYSTEM IN ACTION: Footage of over-the-wall penalty for No. 88 Learning logistics Attendees at Monday's sessions at the NASCAR Summit received guidelines about how to best prepare their tracks for year two of the Pit Road Officiating structure. The seminar stressed the importance of uniformity in painting the bordering lines to pit boxes and the need to coordinate with NASCAR officials when mounting the 50 cameras that capture pit stop footage during the course of a race. Adhering to those instructions tends to make life easier for George Grippo, NASCAR's managing director of technology field and media operations. Beyond the PRO system, his responsibilities include the logistics of the trackside TV compound, timing and scoring, user support and maintenance and all the wiring, cables and power needed to make the technology go. The biggest learnings from PRO's first season, Grippo said, were that camera placement is paramount and that every track presents its own set of obstacles. Bristol Motor Speedway , for instance, had an accommodating roofline but cameras were mounted at much higher angles than a larger track such as Michigan International Speedway , where cameras were placed over the top row at the back of the grandstands at a greater distance. At Sonoma Raceway, cameras were located on a makeshift mount on heavy scissor-lift equipment aimed at pit road. In each instance, working with tracks became imperative. "Every time we went to a new place, it was a challenge," Grippo says. "I think now we've kind of gotten that stuff dialed in, but first-year growing pains were all around, trying to figure it out on the fly -- and you don't have a lot of time."