France: Collaboration with drivers , council 'better than ever'
NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France has gone from Talladega, Alabama, to Los Angeles over the past several days, taking in and sending out a wide view of the sport in the process. France kicked off a Drivers Council meeting at Talladega on Friday, then served on a prestigious speaking panel for sports business leaders in L.A. on Monday The initial stop was well-received by both the drivers and France himself -- the NASCAR Chairman & CEO kicked off the meeting with remarks, and listened to driver discussion on a variety of topics. France also met privately for a one-on-one discussion with driver Tony Stewart , a three-time premier series champion. "The Drivers Council meeting in Talladega was very productive," France told NASCAR.com. "Tony and I also met one-on-one, and it was great to hear his thoughts. I think the key is to build trust with the drivers , and we structured the Council in a way that lets them express their views in a free-flowing manner. "We want them to know that we are listening, trying to understand their issues and that it is important for us to get it right. I think the level of collaboration between us is better than ever." The drivers agree. "It was great Brian came (to the meeting)," Dale Earnhardt Jr . told reporters at Talladega. " … It was just a good, positive meeting, a lot of good things moving in a good direction. ... I think what we are doing is pretty amazing." Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson were all on the Drivers Council when it was formed last year, and remain members in 2016. Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch are three new members this year, bringing the total council to nine drivers . The sanctioning body strategically shaped criteria for the Drivers Council so a variety of drivers are included. Four spots are automatically filled by performance the previous season -- the top-finishing driver for Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford, plus the top-finishing driver with less than three seasons of experience. The remaining slots are filled by driver votes from the following categories: Two drivers from the top 10 in points from the previous season; one driver from positions 11-20 in points from the previous season; one driver from positions 21-30 in points the previous season; and one driver with the most votes who doesn't fit into the previous categories. A team can have a maximum of two drivers on the Drivers Council. "The meeting on Friday was terrific," NASCAR Executive Vice President and Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell reiterated on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "It was scheduled for an hour and a half and almost went three hours. Brian was there and talked about where we see the sport going, answering a number of questions that the drivers had, and then we had some great exchanges about what we think of the current rules package, some things we may look at in the future. All in all, my perspective, … but I really believe in the process and think it's paying huge benefits for the sport and ultimately the race fans." The Drivers Council is the latest group to be formed within the industry, joining the NASCAR OEM Council, Tracks Council and the Teams Council. The intent of council creation is for better collaboration across the sport, with the manufacturers and teams -- and now, the drivers -- having an avenue for discussion and a process to elevate those discussions to industry leadership. At the Milken Conference days later, France was on a five-person panel for a session called "Stewards of the Game: The Business Leaders Behind Major Sports" that also included former NBA Commissioner David Stern and New England Patriots team owner Robert Kraft. The NASCAR Chairman & CEO answered broad-ranging questions on his family legacy, the successful Daytona Rising project and the importance of digital and social media to reach and engage new fans.
Stats advance: Analyzing the Coke Zero 400
A statistical look ahead to the 17th race of the Sprint Cup season DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 29, 2015) – Below is a look at some of the top statistical performers at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida going into the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola on July 5 (7:45 p.m. ET on NBC). DAYTONA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS Greg Biffle (No. 16 CHEEZ-IT Ford) · One win, three top fives, eight top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 19.2 · Average Running Position of 17.1, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 81.8, 12th-best · 85 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 4,132 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 190.161 mph, sixth-fastest · 1,978 Laps in the Top 15 (52.7%), ninth-most · 2,382 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), 12th-most Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota) · Three top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 15.5 · Average Running Position of 17.5, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 84.0, 10th-best · 82 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 3,939 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 190.212 mph, second-fastest Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · 11 top fives, 14 top 10s · Average finish of 17.5 · Average Running Position of 15.8, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 90.5, third-best · 71 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most · 3,864 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · 2,161 Laps in the Top 15 (60.9%), sixth-most · 2,724 Quality Passes, seventh-most Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) · One win, five top fives, six top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 19.1 · Series-best Average Running Position of 12.8 · Series-best Driver Rating of 96.2 · 85 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 4,023 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 190.207 mph, third-fastest · Series-high 2,488 Laps in the Top 15 (70.1%) · 2,869 Quality Passes, fourth-most Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet) · Three wins, 12 top fives, 18 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.1 · Average Running Position of 14.1, second-best · Driver Rating of 91.9, second-best · 89 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · 4,353 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 190.086 mph, 10th-fastest · 2,475 Laps in the Top 15 (66.0%), second-most · 2,968 Quality Passes, second-most Jeff Gordon (No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet) · Six wins, 13 top fives, 20 top 10s; four poles · Average finish of 16.6 · Average Running Position of 14.3, third-best · Driver Rating of 88.0, fifth-best · 4,157 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · 2,274 Laps in the Top 15 (60.6%), fifth-most · 2,709 Quality Passes, eighth-most Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) · Four top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 18.7 · Average Running Position of 15.4, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 87.7, seventh-best · 82 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 4,018 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 190.154 mph, seventh-fastest · 1,901 Laps in the Top 15 (56.1%), 12th-most · 2,444 Quality Passes, 11th-most Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Patriotic Chevrolet) · Three wins, 10 top fives, 13 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 17.5 · Average Running Position of 14.6, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 87.9, sixth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 190.067 mph, 12th-fastest · 2,378 Laps in the Top 15 (63.4%), third-most · 2,753 Quality Passes, sixth-most Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Great Clips-Shark Week Chevrolet) · Two top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 19.4 · Average Running Position of 16.6, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 83.3, 11th-best · 71 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most · 4,572 Green Flag Passes, second-most · 2,001 Laps in the Top 15 (53.3%), seventh-most · 2,825 Quality Passes, fifth-most Matt Kenseth (No. 20 DeWalt Made In The USA Toyota) · Two wins, six top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.8 · Average Running Position of 15.3, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 89.9, fourth-best · 80 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most · 2,277 Laps in the Top 15 (60.7%), fourth-most · 2,556 Quality Passes, ninth-most Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · One win, three top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 18.3 · Average Running Position of 16.5, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 85.8, ninth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 190.144 mph, eighth-fastest Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) · Four wins, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 18.5 · Driver Rating of 86.6, eighth-best · 76 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most · 1,958 Laps in the Top 15 (52.2%), 10th-most The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2015 Top 10 at Daytona International Speedway Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Kevin Harvick 28 1 2 7 12 3 16.2 81.6 2 Martin Truex Jr. 20 1 0 0 2 4 22.5 76.7 3 Joey Logano 13 0 1 3 4 2 18.3 85.8 4 Jimmie Johnson 27 2 3 10 13 6 17.5 87.9 5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 31 1 3 12 18 3 13.1 91.9 6 Brad Keselowski 12 0 0 2 3 4 21.8 75.5 7 Jamie McMurray 25 0 2 3 5 8 23.7 79.5 8 Kasey Kahne 23 0 0 2 8 5 19.4 83.3 9 Matt Kenseth 31 1 2 6 14 5 17.8 89.9 10 Kurt Busch 28 0 0 11 14 1 17.5 90.5 * – Based on last 21 races at Daytona International Speedway. Daytona International Speedway Data Season Race #: 17 of 36 (07-05-15) Track Size : 2.5-mile Banking/Turns 1 & 2 : 31 degrees Banking/Turns 3 & 4 : 31 degrees Banking/Straights : 3 degrees Banking/Tri-Oval : 18 degrees Frontstretch Length : 3,800 feet Backstretch Length : 3,000 feet Race Length : 160 laps / 400 miles Top 10 Driver Ratings at Daytona Kyle Busch ................................. 96.2 Dale Earnhardt Jr ........................ 91.9 Kurt Busch. ................................. 90.5 Matt Kenseth .............................. 89.9 Jeff Gordon ................................ 88.0 Jimmie Johnson .......................... 87.9 Denny Hamlin ............................. 87.7 Tony Stewart ............................... 86.6 Joey Logano .............................. 85.8 Clint Bowyer ............................... 84.0 Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2015 races (21 total) among active drivers at Daytona International Speedway. Qualifying/Race Data 2014 pole winner : David Gilliland, Ford 199.322 mph, 45.153 secs 07-04-14 2014 race winner : Aric Almirola, Ford 130.014 mph, (02:09:13), 07-06-14 Track qualifying record (July race): Cale Yarborough, Ford 203.519 mph, 44.222 secs 07-02-86 Track race record (July race): Bobby Allison, Mercury 173.473 mph, (02:18:21), 07-04-80 AT DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY: History · Groundbreaking for Daytona International Speedway was Nov. 25, 1957. The soil underneath the banked corners was dug from the infield of the track and the hole filled with water. It is now known as Lake Lloyd. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona was a 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20, 1959 – won by Bob Welborn . · The first summer race at Daytona International Speedway was held on July 4, 1959 – won by Fireball Roberts (140.581 mph). · NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty won his 200th career race on July 4, 1984 at Daytona. · Lights were installed in the spring of 1998. However, the July race was delayed until October that year due to thick smoke from wildfires. The second Daytona race has been held under the lights ever since. · The track underwent a repave in 2010. Starts · There have been 136 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona International Speedway since the track hosted its first race in 1959: 57 have been 500 miles, 52 were 400 miles and four 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifier races that were point races. · 445 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series July race at Daytona International Speedway; 277 in more than one. · Richard Petty leads the series in July race starts at Daytona with 32. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 22 starts – this weekend will be Gordon’s final start at Daytona. · Four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series active drivers have made their first career start at Daytona International Speedway, though none were during the July race: Tony Stewart (2/14/99), Casey Mears (2/16/03), Kasey Kahne (2/15/04), Brendan Gaughan (2/15/04) Danica Patrick (2/27/12), Alex Bowman (2/23/14), Michael Annett (2/23/14). Poles · Fireball Roberts won the inaugural Coors Light pole for the July race at Daytona in 1959 with a speed of 144.997 mph. · 38 drivers have Coors Light poles at Daytona for the July event, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough with eight. · Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in Daytona July race poles, with two. Gordon started first in 2007 due to qualifying being cancelled as well. · Three drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles for the July race at Daytona: Cale Yarborough (1970-’71; 1980-’81, 1983-’84), Sterling Marlin (1991-’92) and Dale Earnhardt (1994-’95). · Youngest Daytona July race pole winner: Jeff Gordon (07/06/1996 - 24 years, 11 months, 2 days); all-time track record belongs to Austin Dillon (02/23/2014 – 23 years, 9 months, 27 days). · Oldest Daytona pole winner: Mark Martin (07/02/2011 – 52 years, 5 months, 23 days). · Six active drivers have posted their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at Daytona International Speedway: Greg Biffle (2/15/04), Kevin Harvick (7/6/02), Jimmie Johnson (2/17/02), Paul Menard (7/5/08), Danica Patrick (2/24/13) and Austin Dillon (2/23/2014). Wins Drivers who have swept both races (Daytona 500 and the July race) at Daytona: Fireball Roberts – 1962 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 250) Cale Yarborough – 1968 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400) LeeRoy Yarborough – 1969 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400) Bobbie Allison – 1982 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400) Jimmie Johnson – 2013 (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola) 35 different drivers have won the July race at Daytona International Speedway, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson with five wins. Tony Stewart leads all active drivers with four; followed by Jeff Gordon with three. · Five drivers have posted consecutive wins in the July race at Daytona International Speedway, including three consecutive by David Pearson (1972 - 1974). · Tony Stewart (2005-’06) is the only active driver to win consecutive July races at Daytona. · Youngest Daytona July race winner: Kyle Busch (07/01/2008 – 23 years, 2 months, 3 days); all-time track record - Trevor Bayne (02/20/2011 – 20 years, 0 months, 1 day). · Oldest Daytona July race winner: Bobby Allison (07/04/1987 – 49 years, 7 months, 1 day); all-time track record - Bobby Allison (02/14/1988 – 50 years, 5 months, 23 days). · The Wood Brothers have the most wins at Daytona in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 15; followed by Hendrick Motorsports with 13. · Seven different manufacturers have won the July NSCS race at Daytona: Manufacturer Daytona July Race Wins Chevrolet 18 Ford 17 Mercury 7 Dodge 5 Pontiac 5 Buick 3 Toyota 1 Eight of the 56 (14.2%) July NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Kevin Harvick in 2010. · The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (eight) than any other starting position in the July race at Daytona International Speedway. · 15 of the 56 (26.7%) July NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona have been won from the front row: eight from the pole and seven from second-place. · 41 of the 56 (73.2%) July NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Daytona have been won from a top-10 starting position. · Four of the 56 (7.1%) July NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Daytona is 42nd, by Tony Stewart in the 2012 July race. · Four active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career win at Daytona International Speedway; two were during the July race: Trevor Bayne (2/20/11), Greg Biffle (7/5/03), David Ragan (7/2/11) and Michael Waltrip (2/18/01). · Greg Biffle won the July race at Daytona in his first appearance. · Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Daytona with 710 laps led in 45 starts. · Tony Stewart leads the series among active drivers in laps led in the July race at Daytona with 369; followed by Jeff Gordon with 318 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 243. · Fewest laps led by a July race winner at Daytona are one lap led by Jimmy Spencer in 1994. The fewest laps led by an active July race winner at Daytona are three laps led by Jamie McMurray in 2007. Additional Finishing Position Stats · Buddy Baker leads the series in runner-up finishes in the July race at Daytona with five; followed by Richard Petty and Sterling Marlin with four. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch lead all active drivers with two each. · NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads the series in top-five finishes in the July race at Daytona with 13; followed by Richard Petty with 12. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven. Additional Finishing Position Stats · David Pearson leads the series in top-10 finishes in the July race at Daytona with 19; followed by Dale Earnhardt with 18. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 11. · Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Daytona with a 9.926. · Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Daytona with a 13.065. · Kurt Busch leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Daytona without visiting Victory Lane at 28. Female Competitor Stats · Five female drivers have competed in the July event at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Christine Beckers, Lella Lombardi, Patty Moise and Shawna Robinson. Below they are ordered by best finish: Driver Starting Position Finishing Position Date Danica Patrick 29 8 7/6/2014 Danica Patrick 11 14 7/6/2013 Shawna Robinson 27 40 7/6/2002 Patty Moise 35 39 7/1/1989 Patty Moise 33 26 7/2/1988 Janet Guthrie 36 11 7/4/1978 Christine Beckers 37 37 7/4/1977 Janet Guthrie 20 40 7/4/1977 Lella Lombardi 29 31 7/4/1977 Janet Guthrie 33 15 7/4/1976 Track Event Stats · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway for the July race was the July 7, 2007 race won by Jamie McMurray over
Mike Helton warns drivers about blocking
Vice Chairman: XFINITY race 'example of unintended consequences' NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton warned drivers about blocking in Sunday's Coke Zero 400 (7:45 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM), addressing the 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pilots during the drivers' meeting at Daytona International Speedway. Following a video highlighting the rules for the 160-lap, 400-mile race, Helton discussed the evolution of the double yellow stripe, which is in place at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway. "The rationale behind that came from the evolution of actions and the equipment on the race track gave you the ability to move around," Helton said. "It got to a point where the drivers , you, were comfortable enough to make moves that ended up putting the rest of the field or many other cars in jeopardy. "So those actions, over time, we tried to figure out how NASCAR would respond to that, and we created that double yellow line that's only in Daytona and Talladega. "And I point to that because blocking is kind of creeping that way here and in Talladega. Last night's race, I think, was an example of the unintended consequences that can come from a blocking move." Late in Saturday's Subway Firecracker 250 , leader Brian Scott moved down the track to block Elliott Sadler , sending both cars into the outside wall on the backstretch and leading to a 10-car pileup. "We were definitely in the catbird seat there going down the back straightaway there; we had Joey Logano pushing us and had a lot of momentum coming off Turn 2 and were making our way to the front," Sadler said. "I think either Brian or his spotter made the block too late; I was already up to his right rear tire. He made the block to late and wrecked us. It was nothing intentional, it's just racing." RELATED: Scott blocks Sadler in Saturday's race Ryan Newman asked Sprint Cup Series Managing Director Richard Buck what constituted going below the double yellow line, and Buck responded left-side tires on the inside of the inside line. Helton noted he was "not telling you how to drive the race cars ... but drivers , be conscious about the moves that you're making on the race track, particularly when it comes to what we call blocking. So just think about that tonight in the race." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Ben Rhodes: Chasing dreams on-track and on-camera
Ask some of the people who work most closely with Ben Rhodes about him and you'll get the same sense -- that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie isn't an ordinary 19-year-old. Ask his crew chief. "I've known this kid since he was 15 years old and he was always very mature, very respectful and acts older than he is," Kevin Bellicourt says. "I mean, the way he has shown maturity in the race car and everything around that, I do forget that he is 19 years old." Ask the sports director who co-hosts Rhodes' TV show -- yes, his own TV show -- in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. "I'll look at him sometimes and I'll just be like, 'Look, stop it. Just be a kid.' But he's not," Kent Spencer says. "He's definitely wise beyond his years." The wisdom has served Rhodes well in all facets of his budding NASCAR career, which carried him to the K&N Pro Series East championship in 2014 and a stint with the NASCAR Next youth initiative that identifies the sport's up-and-coming stars. The next step is a full-season campaign this year with powerhouse ThorSport Racing in the Truck Series, which makes its next stop Friday night at Kansas Speedway . Even in casual conversation, Rhodes' composure comes through in a calm that belies his age, less than one year removed from receiving a high school diploma. It's a collected nature that helps him feel just as at home in front of a TV camera's lens as he does behind the wheel. Rhodes doesn't have to balance a racing career with schoolwork any more, but his focus is far from singular. "It's full-time racing now, and it's full-time everything that has to do with racing, not just being on the track or working on the cars, but sponsors, events, fans -- which is cool," Rhodes says. "I really like that aspect of it. You can't be on the track without that." The story of how Rhodes came to be on the track isn't unlike the tale of other youngsters with a dream and a heavy right foot. But it's the unique wrinkles of his narrative that make Rhodes' story ready for prime time. Early beginnings Around their home state, where the term "racing" is most commonly associated with Thoroughbreds, it's fitting that Rhodes' career choice was galvanized by figuratively getting back on the horse. Rhodes had barely entered grade school when the itch for speed struck him. He recalls helping his older brother, Chris, try to emulate his father's practice of removing the governor from their go-karts, much to their mother's dismay. The recreational -- and occasionally unrestricted -- karting soon led to competition. "We were having a blast around the house," Rhodes says, "but when we hit the race track, it didn't really click at first and it took awhile before I got in a wreck to figure it out." Rhodes recalls crashing his first time out -- the leader coming around to lap him, clipping one of his back wheels and landing on top of his kart. The wreck naturally made him gun-shy, but it took another altercation to set his course toward making racing a lifelong pursuit. Rhodes' family vividly recalls that incident at the Clark County, Indiana, 4-H Fairgrounds, where the 7-year-old driver was on the receiving end of an intentional wreck for the first time. His family worked to repair his kart while the youngster seethed, intent on retaliation. But as Rhodes began to furiously charge back through the pack, something changed in his demeanor. "Once I passed the other guy, I didn't even think about wanting revenge or whatever, I just started having a blast," Rhodes says. "Passing cars was a lot more fun than getting passed, and that's when it all started clicking for me. We started working on set-ups and had just an awesome time doing it. It was an awesome family experience." Into NASCAR Those first forays led to progression and an eventual place in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at age 16. After a partial first season, his first full campaign in 2014 netted a remarkable five victories and six pole positions, with Bellicourt serving as his car chief. The performance drew the interest of JR Motorsports, which fielded Rhodes in a 10-race slate in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015. After a seventh-place series debut at Iowa Speedway in May, Rhodes endured largely uneven results in the JRM No. 88, despite help from the team's fleet of Sprint Cup drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kevin Harvick , Chase Elliott and Regan Smith . "I learned so much from them, but the problem is it was hard to apply it," Rhodes says of his sporadic schedule. "You have to be in the car feeling it. I had a month between times (in the car) more than once before I could actually feel what they were talking about or actually apply it. All the momentum that you had was lost. It was just really hard for me to get adjusted to and just hard to keep the learning going, but the jump, I felt like if I ran the whole season, the jump maybe wouldn't have been that bad." An offseason to regroup also led to a new opportunity, as one of the newest faces at ThorSport Racing, a championship-caliber team with an evolving driver roster. In the offseason, Rhodes joined two-time Truck Series champ Matt Crafton , second-year driver Cameron Hayley and fellow rookie Rico Abreu under the watch of team owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson. The team's drivers have perennially lauded the resources that the Thorsons provide to compete at a high level. Rhodes found this out early on, when they sought his input to hire a crew chief for his No. 41 Toyota. He immediately thought of Bellicourt, who had just finished helping William Byron as crew chief for his K&N East championship run in 2015. In some respects, the job was a tougher sell than most, requiring Bellicourt to move from North Carolina to within reach of ThorSport's Sandusky, Ohio, shop. But it was also a commitment for his wife, his 11-month-old daughter and the baby the couple are expecting in early June. But the opportunity to move from the regional and touring level to a NASCAR national series was too good to pass up. After taking the leap, the driver-crew chief reunion went seamlessly. "The communication is back to where it was and it's like we never even left off," Rhodes says. "I remember the first time that he was up at ThorSport and I was there and we were having such a good time. None of the guys up there had seen us run before or work together, so when we came up there, they were like, 'We've got a feeling that you just brought your best friend in to work on these race cars.' That was kind of cool that we hit it off right away once again." Says Bellicourt: "We just have a good time. I understand what he's saying when he's talking about the truck, and he understands when I'm trying to make a point with him. His understanding of the race car has just come a long way since I first met him when he was 15. He understands that a lot, and all the set-up stuff. That just helps a lot, too, with the driver having that knowledge. We've just been able to roll with it so far this season." Rolling with it has meant gradual gains in the early stages of the year, but one accomplishment stands out -- winning the pole position last month at Martinsville Speedway . Though a late-race wreck saddled Rhodes with a midpack 16th-place result, the speed shown in qualifying and out front for 42 laps made a solid impression. "It felt really good to get the pole because it validates what we know that we have," Rhodes says. "We're trying to show others what my crew chief and I know. We have an awesome relationship and we know how to set up the race cars, we know how to get speed, it's just a matter of getting the experience together now. It just validates that." The fact that Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch was among the competitive field in qualifying that day didn't hurt the team's confidence, Bellicourt says. "You look at that and say there's no reason we can't run with any of these guys," Bellicourt says. "Now Ben knows it. We knew it before, but you always want to make it happen and then you just get that extra confidence. I know it, the guys know it, Ben knows it, and hopefully now everybody else sees what we're capable of. "We're looking to continue to do more of that to show that it wasn't just a flash-in-the-pan, one-time thing. We're going to try to do it at Kansas again." On the mic Rhodes has visions of keeping his racing aspirations going, climbing the ladder, chasing victories. But if his NASCAR dream somehow ended tomorrow, he has an entertaining backup plan -- in television. The 19-year-old is in his fifth season as co-host of "On Track with Ben Rhodes ," a 30-minute weekly show that chronicles his racing career and allows him to meet and interview personalities in the Louisville area. Kent Spencer -- the sports director at WHAS-11, an ABC affiliate in Louisville -- has served as the show's other co-host since its inception. "I'd met Ben before, but in kind of a different realm," Spencer says. "He was a young man trying to come up, went to a local high school, trying to make it in NASCAR, so we interviewed a few times there. This was obviously a different beast. He and I have a really good rapport together, we like to be around each other, so we kind of knew early on that this was going to work." The experience has allowed Rhodes to interact with community leaders from all walks of life. This season, Rhodes and Spencer have taken their show on the road, spending time with charitable organizations, returning to Holy Cross High School (the driver's alma mater), and paying visits to Churchill Downs, site of Saturday's 142nd Kentucky Derby. Rhodes' comfort on camera has grown not only in his hometown, but also during media sessions in the garage on race weekends. "I get to see and build new relationships with people, but it's also trained me to talk to the media and how to talk on camera," he says. "Before the show, I was really, really bad. Now that I've done the show for a couple seasons, I've done a lot better and it makes the job at the race track a lot easier for me." Even Bellicourt has noticed. "You give that kid a microphone and you're going to have to rip it out of his hand before he quits talking," he says with a laugh. "He's very outgoing and does a good job with that. He's kind of a total-package guy. He's got the marketing side, he's really good in front of the camera and obviously has performed on the race track great, so he's got an enormous amount of talent." It all circles back to the versatility and composure that extends beyond Rhodes' years. "I got that feeling from him back when he was 17," Spencer says. "You could definitely tell he's not a normal high school junior, not a normal high school senior. It's just the way he goes about things and the way he can communicate, and I think a large part of that is because the way that his mom and dad make him do a lot on his own. "If you want this dream, it's not easy. You're going to have to work for it. Every week, we get done taping the show and Ben helps tear down the set. He does a lot setting up his own schedule. He's out there and he's doing it, getting the job done, but there's a lot of times where it just blows me away." Several drivers with successful NASCAR credentials have made smooth transitions to the broadcasting booth for second careers after their driving days are done. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon added his name to the list this season, joining FOX Sports for its coverage of the sport. Rhodes says he'd love to see a similar trajectory for his career, but right now he's one-upping it -- by taking on both jobs at once. "Hopefully my racing career goes on for a long time and I can build up a great reputation and go out on TV broadcasting," he says. "I think it's really cool that drivers do that once they're done, and they're able to go up in the broadcast booth and shine new light on the subject and able to give fans kind of the inside scoop on things. As things change and progress, maybe some of the other broadcasters might not be aware of it. "New drivers like Jeff Gordon and the guys that are fresh out of the race car can show them and talk about what's changing in the sport. I think that's really cool that drivers can do that." Spoken like a kid who is wise beyond his years.
Sprint All-Star format puts emphasis on tires, intrigue
RELATED: Vote now in Sprint Fan Vote Rules outlining the 2016 versions of the Sprint All-Star Race and Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway were announced Friday, and NASCAR's annual All-Star Race will once again include a dramatic final segment to determine a $1 million prize winner. There are three segments in this year's Sprint All-Star Race -- a 50-lap opening segment, a 50-lap second segment and a 13-lap final dash to the finish with a unique rule. For the first time in the event's history, the starting order for the final segment will be determined following a random draw that decides if the top running nine, 10 or 11 cars have to pit for a mandatory four-tire stop between Segment 2 and Segment 3. Pit road will be closed for all other cars, and those for which pit stops were mandated must resume position for the final sprint, lining up behind the cars that did not pit -- creating an unpredictable, no-holds-barred rush to the checkered flag and All-Star history. Former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski said Friday at Kansas Speedway that the track reached out to several drivers for ideas on how to alter the format. His theories apparently resonated, he said. "I just wanted to see the race something that I would want to watch if I was a fan, and something that I would want to be proud of if I was the driver that won it," Keselowski said. "Quite honestly, I didn't feel like the formats of the past few years were that way. So when sitting down and kind of going over it all, I kind of had this over-arching theme that I think our sport is best when at the end of the day we have what I call common winds, where everybody is happy. Those are easy to say, hard to do, but I think they're out there." The All-Star Race (May 21, 7 p.m., FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) features drivers who have won a race in the current or preceding year, past NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winners and past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions. Winners of the three segments in the Sprint Showdown (May 20, 7 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will also line up for the All-Star Race. RELATED: See the list of eligible drivers Fans will again have the opportunity to select at least one driver through the popular Sprint Fan Vote, which will fill any remaining starting spots until the field reaches a minimum of 20 cars. "We worked with NASCAR and talked to several drivers to gather feedback for what they thought would make the very best race for the fans," Charlotte Motor Speedway President and General Manager Marcus Smith said. "The drivers don't all agree on the perfect strategy, which means some drivers will be fighting on race-worn tires to stay up front at the end, while others will be charging through the field on new tires after the final pit stop. "At the end of the final shootout, one driver will have a million reasons why '13' is a lucky number." Carl Edwards , the 2011 winner of the All-Star Race, weighed in on the changes during a Friday media availability at Kansas Speedway . He said that new tires and how beneficial they might be will play a significant factor in how the three-segment race unfolds. "The one thing that will be interesting is through that night if you have to pit that much and get tires, you have a really good database to go off of to know what you want to do and know where you stand," Edwards said. "It could be complete chaos, which is probably going to be fun." Keselowski, who lauded the collaborative effort to reach the final 2016 format, said that he had fielded plenty of questions about why the final segment was scheduled for a specific 13-lap distance. He said that the segment length achieved a proper balance, making drivers on new tires work through the pack or drivers on old tires hang on with little time to spare. "It's not like some devil-worshiping thing, I can promise you that," he said, "but when we looked at the number it would take for the driver to drive through the field in the scenarios that we played out, on average it was 8-12 laps. If you make a mistake, it could take as much as 15 laps, so I think that's kind of where the number came from was trying to fit in between that 10-15 lap range and that was a unique number that hit it and could generate some interest." Additional rules are as follows: • Starting order for the opening 50-lap segment for the All-Star Race will be determined by qualifying, and includes a mandatory green flag pit stop with a minimum of two tires. • A break between Segment 1 and Segment 2 includes a mandatory pit stop with a minimum of two tires. The exit off pit road following that stop sets the starting order for Segment 2. • During the 50-lap second segment, cars must make a green-flag pit stop and change a minimum of two tires prior to Lap 85. The Sprint Showdown includes three total segments of 20 laps, 20 laps and 10 laps. The winner of each of those sprints earns a start in the All-Star Race. Additional rules for the Sprint Showdown: • Starting order for the first 20-lapper will be set by practice speeds, and the winner advances to the All-Star Race (and sits out Segments 2 and 3 of the Showdown). • The second 20-lap segment starting order will be set according to pit road order after a mandatory pit stop for a minimum of two tires. Again, the winner of that segment will automatically advance to the All-Star Race and sit out the final segment. • The winner of the final 10-lapper will also advance to the All-Star Race, with the starting order if this segment again set by pit road order following a mandatory pit stop for a minimum of two tires. Contributing: Staff reports
Truex tames Kansas for Coors Light Pole Award
RELATED: Qualifying results Martin Truex Jr . launched to the Coors Light Pole Award in Friday's NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying at Kansas Speedway . Truex, who was also fastest in final practice, powered the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota to a pole-winning lap of 190.921 mph in the third and final round of qualifying. He'll start first in Saturday night's GoBowling 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the 11th of the series' 36 races this season. The pole position was Truex's first of the season, his first at the 1.5-mile Kansas City track and the eighth of his Sprint Cup career. He led a 1-2-3 sweep of drivers affiliated with Joe Gibbs Racing . Matt Kenseth will start alongside Truex in Saturday's 400.5-mile race after posting the second-fastest lap, 190.564 mph in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota. Kenseth was fastest in the first two rounds of qualifying, but failed to replicate the chart-topping speed in the final five-minute session. Denny Hamlin , Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski -- last week's winner at Talladega Superspeedway -- completed the top five. Joey Logano , the most recent Kansas Speedway winner, was 14th-fastest in the Team Penske No. 22 Ford. Jimmie Johnson , the defending race winner, shook off the engine trouble he experienced in Friday's final practice and will start 15th in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet. Kevin Harvick , a three-time pole winner at Kansas, was a surprising omission from the final two rounds of qualifying. His Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet managed only the 26th-fastest lap in the opening 20-minute session, failing to advance past the first elimination round. Tony Stewart , Harvick's boss, was the last of 24 drivers to make the first cut in knockout-style qualifying. He edged rookie Chris Buescher by just .016 seconds to advance. Stewart landed the 16th spot as he makes his third Sprint Cup start of the season after suffering a broken back in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. This story will be updated.
Sprint Fan Vote: Current top 10 revealed
RELATED: Cast your vote now The Sprint Fan Vote is underway, and now, we have updates on (perhaps) your favorite driver. There's still plenty of time left to vote but, so far, the top-10 vote-getters are as follows, in alphabetical order: AJ Allmendinger , Trevor Bayne , Ryan Blaney , Clint Bowyer , Matt DiBenedetto , Chase Elliott , Kyle Larson , Casey Mears , Danica Patrick and Brian Vickers . Patrick, who won the Sprint Fan Vote last year and in 2013, is the first two-time Sprint Fan Vote winner. Elliott and Blaney are the current leaders in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year competition. Fans are able to vote daily by downloading the NASCAR Mobile App or visiting www.nascar.com/SprintFanVote. Votes that are shared on Facebook or Twitter will count for double, so make sure to post on your social media channels. So if you're voting for one of the 10 drivers above, get to it! If your driver isn't on the list, don't worry -- there's still plenty of time to help him or her catch up. Fans have until 5 p.m. ET May 20 to cast their votes. NASCAR will announce the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote in Victory Lane after the Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday, May 20 (7 p.m. ET, FS1/MRN/Sirius XM NASCAR Radio). The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is scheduled for May 21. If any of the Sprint Fan Vote candidates wins in the races leading up to the Sprint All-Star Race, he or she will automatically earn a spot in the race and their name will be removed from the Sprint Fan Vote ballot. To purchase ticket packages for the Sprint All-Star Race weekend -- which includes the Sprint Showdown, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series N.C. Education Lottery 200, Andy Grammer pre-race concert powered by Rayovac and the Sprint All-Star Race and qualifying -- call Charlotte Motor Speedway at 1-800-455-FANS or visit CharlotteMotorSpeedway.com . Fans wishing to engage in the #SprintAllStar Race conversation through the #SprintFanVote window are encouraged to follow @MissSprintCup, @CLTMotorSpdwy and @NASCAR on Twitter.
Who is eligible for Sprint All-Star Race?
The Sprint All-Star Race is scheduled for May 21 at 7 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Charlotte Motor Speedway , and drivers can qualify in a variety of ways. Drivers who won a race in 2015 or so far in 2016 are in the event. So, too, are former premier series champions and former All-Star Race winners. Three drivers will be added to the field by winning one of three Sprint Showdown segments, and the Sprint Fan Vote will also add a driver into the field. If there aren't a minimum of 20 cars in the field by that point, the next highest vote-getter in the Sprint Fan Vote would be added to the field. Below is a list of drivers who meet the above criteria, according to NASCAR. Editor's note: Jeff Gordon is qualified for the event, according to NASCAR. He retired from full-time competition following the 2015 season.
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."
Allmendinger's Darlington look to honor 1975 Rookie of the Year
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes " SHOP: 'Dinger gear AJ Allmendinger ’s Darlington throwback paint scheme will honor Kansas native Bruce Hill's 1970s-era No. 47 with a Kroger/Kingsford red, white and blue theme, JTG Daugherty Racing announced today. Allmendinger will drive the car in the Bojangles' Southern 500 on Sept. 4 (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Allmendinger and Hill, the 1975 Cup series Rookie of the Year, will meet for the first time on Friday at Kansas Speedway . "It is an honor, quite honestly," Hill said in a release. "Being remembered for something is always an honor, especially as big as the sport has gotten." Hill made starts in NASCAR's premier series in eight seasons with his best coming in his rookie year, 1975. He earned three top fives and 11 top 10s on his way to finishing 16th in driver points. He continued racing in the then-Winston Cup series through 1981. Hill now lives in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, where he raises show horses on a ranch. "I'm really looking forward to meeting Bruce on Friday," Allmendinger said in the release. "I think what Darlington Raceway does to recognize former NASCAR drivers and the heritage of the sport is unprecedented. It's a great way to celebrate our sport and the people who made it what it is today. It's pretty neat to see all the sponsors and teams really get into it."