Food City -Bristol partnership roots run deep
RELATED: Bristol quick facts " Full weekend schedule BRISTOL, Tenn. – It began with a promotion to help former series sponsor RJ Reynolds sell product. Today, 25 years later, the Food City sponsorship of Bristol Motor Speedway 's spring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event is as strong as ever. It is the second-longest race entitlement in NASCAR – trailing only the Coca-Cola sponsorship of the 600-mile May race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "We started in 1992, followed up the Valleydale 500 ," Steve Smith , Food City President and CEO, said Thursday at BMS. "That was back when it was still Winston Cup. We worked with RJ Reynolds on a promotion ... that was the whole genesis of us getting involved in racing." Initially, it wasn't a long-term deal, but by the time the next season had arrived, officials with the grocery chain were ready and willing to return. "We signed the (initial) agreement and we had a great first race," Smith said. "Alan Kulwicki actually won our first race in 1992; I remember that well. We were off and running." Kulwicki, an owner/driver, went on to win the series title that season. Tragically, the following year he was killed in a plane crash while en route to BMS to defend his Food City 500 title. Smith said his company, founded by his father Jack, became involved at the right time in the sport, when the fan base was on the upswing, TV coverage was gaining traction and sponsorship dollars were flowing. "What happened with Bristol was really indicative of what was happening with NASCAR, it was just growing and growing," he said. "Five years later Bruton (Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc. founder) bought the track and things just really started to escalate here with the amenities and the things that they did for the race fans. ... Folks love coming here, they love the racing environment, and they love, I think, the southern hospitality. "We try, as a sponsor, to do a lot of things to get them in here a little bit early, whether it's Food City Race Night or other events to really make it a full week of fun for the race fan." In addition to the Sprint Cup race sponsorship, the company also sponsors the August NASCAR XFINITY Series event at Bristol. While there have been times that spending money on race entitlement rights might have been questionable, Smith said "I don't think there's ever been a time when we really thought about dropping the race. "Now, we've negotiated pretty tough with Speedway Motorsports because obviously the fan base dropped a little bit, the viewership dropped a little bit, but when you've got folks like (former BMS General Manager) Jeff Byrd and (current GM) Jerry Caldwell that you know are going to do everything they can to give the race fan, our customers, that experience, it makes it pretty easy to continue to spend the dollars and continue to keep our associates that work in our stores involved in racing, and that's a big part of it, too." The return for Food City , he said, comes in many forms. No. 1 is name recognition. "We're a relatively small regional company -- we're in four states, 135 stores, 16,000 associates," Smith said. "It sounds like a lot but in the scheme of things compared to some of our competition, it's not. But it's a sense of pride for our associates, our customers who know we sponsor racing. "NASCAR fans are very loyal, they're loyal to the brands that are involved whether it's Food City or other consumer products sponsors. We think it helps us sell more products and bring more people in to our stores." In February of 2014, Food City and BMS officials announced a five-year extension for the naming rights of the track's spring Sprint Cup race. "At the end of the day, it's hard to put a financial statement together that proves that it's a great spend, but we've been doing good ever since we been sponsoring racing so we don't want to stop there," Smith said.
Best in-car audio from the Food City 500
From start to finish, the Food City 500 was filled with drama. Catch some of the best radio chatter as teams battle Bristol.
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Stewart embraced, supported by drivers in return
RELATED: Full Stewart coverage " Drivers react to Stewart's return RICHMOND, Va. -- The feeling around the NASCAR garage at Richmond International Raceway on Friday was both unanimous and magnanimous. Tony Stewart 's return to Sprint Cup Series competition this weekend was the big news of the week, possibly the year and he was greeted by welcome text messages, friendly pats on the back, and lots of smiles and goodwill. NASCAR legend Richard Petty, whose team's car was parked in the garage stall next to Stewart's, sought Stewart out and embraced him. By the time Stewart, 44, climbed into his No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Friday morning's opening practice, many of his competitors had stopped by to shake the three-time champ's hand or wish him well in his first racing weekend since the 2015 season finale. Doctors cleared Stewart to compete this weekend after an eight-race absence while his body healed from a broken back -- an injury he suffered during an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident just before the season began. RELATED: Stewart's return is the talk of the garage Stewart broke the news of his return himself on Twitter Thursday saying, "Well the long wait is over. I'll be back in my @Mobil1 Chevy this weekend at Richmond. I can't wait to race again." Then he added, "The Dr's said my scans ‘looked much better than they thought they would after 3 months.' So they cleared me." He will start Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 from the 18th-place on the grid -- his position in the only practice on a day shortened because of rain. But the weather was the only downer on a day dominated by a warm and enthusiastic welcome back for Stewart. "I don't know about from the NASCAR standpoint, but from a competitor's standpoint Tony is one of the fiercest competitors in the sport so to have him there and have someone to battle against is fun," Carl Edwards said. Stewart's Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick won the pole for Sunday's race thanks to a chart-topping run in Friday's only practice and it certainly sets the stage for a grand return of the team's namesake. Stewart's team confirmed their leader is re-energized and enjoying the positive reinforcement throughout the garage and in the grandstands. "It's been interesting just for the fact that I came to Stewart-Haas Racing to race with Tony, and obviously it's been an in-and-out of the car situation for the last two and a half years," Harvick said. "So, to see where he was from a personal standpoint over the time from when he got hurt and everything that happened, and see his interaction from the owner's standpoint over the last several weeks has been very interesting to me, just to see how engaged he was and how excited he was and how relaxed and into what was going on." And his fellow competitors want to see "Smoke" go out strong. "This is a retirement season for him and it was a little bit delayed, but he's now going to some of the these race tracks for the final time and I know just in general, Tony has been around and traveling each week to the race and tracks and been very hands on with his race team," Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin said Friday. "It's a great season and I would love to see him make a Chase push if he can and end on a good note."
Cain: Edwards' move is what racing's all about
RELATED: Re-watch Edwards' bump-and-run from Richmond Carl Edwards was still smiling when he walked into the Richmond International Raceway media center to talk about his thrilling Sprint Cup Series win an hour earlier Sunday afternoon. He surveyed the room of reporters and had a little small talk with his crew chief Dave Rogers and team owner Joe Gibbs. Then, to his credit, he got right to it. "First off, if my cat ever gets sick, I don't care how much it costs, I will take it to the Banfield Pet Hospital if that helps," Edwards said allowing a wide smile after immediately plugging his teammate Kyle Busch 's race sponsor even before his own, XFINITY . Earlier, Edwards landed his trademark victory back flip after the checkered flag. But what happened on the white flag lap with Busch may require some additional cordial contortions as well. And that's OK. That's racing. The kind that pumps hearts and generates excitement. Edwards' bump-and-run pass -- importantly not bump-and-wreck -- of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Busch on the last lap of Sunday's race capped off an intriguing day of competition and amazingly marked the first time in the Richmond track's long and storied history that a race was won with a final-lap pass. The crowd was thrilled with the finish. The media was abuzz with the drama. And somewhere in heaven, Dale Earnhardt was having a good "attaboy" moment too. Lug nuts, schmug nuts. There was no talk of that Sunday afternoon. The week's earlier dramatic obsession with pit stops was completely overshadowed by what makes this sport so good: actual close and dramatic racing on track. And daring last lap passes as Edwards had just executed. It probably wouldn't have mattered if it were Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski , Greg Biffle versus Ricky Stenhouse Jr . or Jimmie Johnson blowing by Dale Earnhardt Jr . -- well, OK maybe on that one. It was good stuff. The reason people like this sport. So, while Edwards was grinning after the race, his JGR teammate Busch was understandably not, his Toyota having been carefully rearranged by Edwards last charge for a victory. Busch, clearly and understandably unhappy with his "adjusted" finish went into a bit of the NFL' s Marshawn Lynch mode in the media center afterward – repeating the same answer to all the questions about the last lap contact with Edwards. It was the second time in the season's nine races that team owner, Joe Gibbs has had to address this kind of situation -- which, if you think about it, isn't a super bad thing. Denny Hamlin 's win in the season-opening Daytona 500 came on a last lap blow by of JGR teammate Matt Kenseth . Gibbs was honest when asked about the team dynamics after such dramatic finishes between teammates. "It's a tough thing because it's certainly painful for one side," Gibbs said. "You're on such a high with the other side. It's tough. You kind of know what we'll do is kind of go to work and work our way through it." Edwards said he and Busch did not speak after the race, but also anticipated some discussion before this week's stop at Talladega Superspeedway , which interestingly enough so often relies on drafting "partners." "I wish it was anybody but my teammate that we had to race like that with,'" Edwards said. "Big picture to me, we both got wins (already) and we're both in the Chase and it’s fun to race your teammate for the win.'" Edwards' crew chief Dave Rogers -- who is also Busch's former crew chief -- was direct with his assessment. And he said what most race fans feel. "If we look at the big picture, today was a great day for NASCAR," Rogers said, reiterating that he and Busch are still close friends. "Our fans don't want to see teammate orders. They don't deserve teammates to fall in line. They deserve good, hard racing. "So, I think today was a great day for the sport. It stinks that we had to move a teammate. I'm sure (Busch's crew chief) Adam (Stevens) and I will talk about it and Carl and Kyle will talk about it. "But I think it would be very disappointing to our fans if Joe imposed a team order and told us, 'Hey, have a parade instead of a race.'" If Edwards hadn't have made the move, we'd be having a whole different, much more difficult conversation. Instead, NASCAR has another shining example of what draws people to this sport: close racing, dramatic finishes and lots of "can-you-believe-that?" instances. Truly last lap passes are what people want to talk about. Not lug nuts, driver councils or pit road penalties. That's not where the authentic action is. Busch will have a chance to "equal the score." It's called intense competition. Would Busch have done the same thing on Sunday? Of course he would. Will he if some opportunity presents itself in the future? You bet. And Edwards knows its coming. And so do we. That's why people love this sport.
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SHR tweaks pit crews of No. 10, No. 14 teams
In an effort to improve pit stops, Stewart-Haas Racing has moved around several crew members between its teams. This past weekend's Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway saw different faces on different teams. So let's start with the easy stuff: The No. 4 ( Kevin Harvick ) and No. 41 ( Kurt Busch ) looked to be the same as at Daytona. Both teams have been performing at a top level for years, and we didn't see any changes as of Richmond. Now the fun stuff. The No. 10 car of Danica Patrick had a different front carrier, rear changer, and rear carrier. The team moved rear carrier Matt Holzbaur to the front and added rear changer Jonathan Sherman and rear carrier Jeremy Howard. Both Sherman and Howard came from the No. 38 team ( Landon Cassill ), which is pit supported by SHR. The No. 14 of Tony Stewart got a new front changer in Ryan Mulder. Mulder was moved from the rear of the No. 10 to the front of the No. 14. The No. 38 team got a new front changer, front carrier, rear changer and rear carrier. Bryan Jacobsen moved from the No. 14 is now on the front with Jeff Shoaf, who moved from the No. 10 team. Anchoring the rear are now Chris Jackson and Tyler Bullard, who previously had worked up front on the 38. From what we can tell, no new pit crew members were hired or fired, just a restructuring of crewmen. Sometimes it takes a shake up to get the best crews together and it looks like SHR is trying to find the best combinations for its teams. For more pit crew news, visit PitTalks.com .
Bayne honors Martin with Darlington throwback
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes " SHOP: Bayne gear Trevor Bayne and Roush Fenway Racing have unveiled the No. 6 AdvoCare Ford that will take the track at Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles' Southern 500 (Sept. 4, 6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) on Labor Day weekend. Bayne's car will carry the same red, white and blue design that Mark Martin 's Ford did during the 1996 and 1997 seasons in the sport's top series. Martin won four races with the look in the two years. "It's an honor any time you are mentioned alongside Mark Martin ," Bayne said in a team release. "He obviously contributed a lot to Roush Fenway and this organization, so to carry a paint scheme that he ran for the second year in a row is really cool. Our team has been working really hard and running well this season, so I'm hopeful that we can make Mark proud." Last year at Darlington, Bayne honored a different paint scheme that Martin drove in 1998. You can see that paint scheme here . "It's going to be really cool to see that car on the track again at Darlington," Martin said in a team release. "It's always been one of my favorite paint schemes and we had a lot of good times taking that car to Victory Lane and leading a lot of laps during that time. I look at it as a tribute to all the guys that put the hard work in on those cars and gave us the opportunity to go out and compete each week." Check out the original look driven by Martin below.
Junior's sandwich project raises nearly $160K total
Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s infamous banana-and-mayo sandwich turned into a $159,935.33 fundraising endeavor. The No. 88 driver announced on April 7 that JR Motorsports would be turning his favorite lunch sandwich into an opportunity to raise money for Blessings in a Backpack, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to help provide food for hungry elementary school-age children across America. After nearly three weeks of donations to the fundraiser's website DaleJrSandwich.com , Junior took to Twitter to announce the total amount raised. That banana sandwich raised $159,935.33 total. Thanks to all who donated. @BlessinBackpack @Hellmanns — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) April 26, 2016 This announcement comes on the heels of Earnhardt's XFINITY Series win at Richmond International Raceway , when he took the checkered flag driving the No. 88 Hellmann's Chevrolet. Earnhardt toasted the win in Victory Lane by chowing down on a banana-and-mayo sandwich. Donations to the Dale Junior Foundation will continue to be accepted at thedalejrfoundation.org . WATCH: Junior eats favorite sandwich in Victory Lane