Schrader wins first heat, will start on Pole
Ken Schrader wins the first heat race and will start on the Pole at Eldora Speedway.
Schrader won't let age slow his racing days
The 59-year-old has run 14 races in just 23 days
Member of the Month: May
Name: John Current City: Somerset, New Jersey Member since: 2011 Getting to know John : Q. Why did you join the Official NASCAR Fan Council? "I joined the Fan Council to make sure fans have a strong voice in NASCAR. I want the sport I love to continue on with the traditions that have made it what it is today." Q. How did you first become interested in NASCAR? "When I was a young child vacationing in Daytona Beach during the summer, I would go by the track and was curious what it was all about. One year, we happened to be there when the race was on and I talked my dad into going. Well, that was it! The sites, the sounds - I was hooked from that point on!" Q. What makes NASCAR special for you? "There are many items that make NASCAR special. First, they build everything around family and being family-friendly. I love that you can see multiple generations at every event. Second, they support the military and all the brave men and women who have served and are currently serving this great country. Without them, none of this would be possible and we must never forget that or them. The other thing special to me is that before each race, God is mentioned! In this current society we live in where everyone has to be politically correct all the time, I love that we still have the national anthem and a prayer before the race. These are the core values this country was built on and we should be proud of that! And NASCAR still is! And we can't forget the loud cars, the speed, the drivers, the crews and the rest of the sights and sounds that envelope you with this great sport." Q: Do you have any favorite NASCAR memories or traditions? "I have two favorite NASCAR memories. The first is watching Dale Earnhardt race in person for the first and only time at my home track, Martinsville Speedway, in the early 90's. He finished second to Jeff Gordon that day. My second favorite NASCAR memory is watching Dale Jr. win at Martinsville. It's the only race I have seen him win in person and it was AWESOME!" Q: Do you have a favorite in any of the following categories? Driver: "Davey Allison." Track: "Talladega." Memorabilia: I have a lot of autographed die casts from Harry Gant, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Craven, Ken Schrader , Terry Labonte and others. Q: If you could go to any NASCAR race/track, where would you go? "Talladega." Q: What do you like to do in your free time? "I like to spend time outside with my son doing all different types of things, ride and race dirt bikes, ride my Ducati, head to the beach, hang with friends and of course, go to the races with my son & my friends!" Q: Tell us about your family. Do you have children and/or pets? "I am a single dad with one son and one dog." Q: What's your dream car? "1969 Camaro ZL-1." Q: If you could go anywhere in the world on a dream vacation, where would you want to go? "I would have to say an oceanfront Villa at a 5-star Caribbean resort - nothing like crystal clear water, warm breezes and laid back people to make you smile!" From all of us at NASCAR, we thank John for his continued support and look forward to hearing from him in 2017.
Poole seeks redemption for Talladega near-win
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Talladega TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Around this time last year at Talladega Superspeedway, Brennan Poole experienced the thrill of winning, followed by the sinking feeling of third-place disappointment in a matter of minutes. This weekend's Sparks Energy 300 marks the XFINITY Series' first stop at the Alabama superspeedway since that day -- which brings some unfinished business for the No. 48 team. "Our guys have been calling it 'redemption weekend' this week," Poole said Friday at the Talladega Media Center with a slight smile. Poole's No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was running third in the final overtime lap of the April 30, 2016 XFINITY Series event at Talladega, when the seas – the seas being leader Joey Logano and second-place driver Elliott Sadler -- seemed to part with a hard wreck triggered by the pair on the final turn. Poole shot through the middle, cheering inside the car for what he and NASCAR announcers thought was his first career XFINITY Series win. However, after further review, NASCAR officials ruled that Sadler's No. 1 Chevrolet was ahead when the caution flag waved -- which freezes the field per NASCAR overtime rules -- thus awarding the victory to Sadler's JR Motorsports camp. RELATED: Poole wins fans after losing in Talladega Saturday's 300-miler is a chance for Poole to finally nab that first career win in the series that has eluded him for 58 races. "Last year, this is where we were the closest (to a win)," Poole said. "It seems like for whatever reason I can just finish third -- I've got several thirds, I need to break the plane a little bit and get up to battle for some of these wins and lead some laps and just be a little bit more in contention." But that third-place run at Talladega a year ago seemed to spark something for Poole's No. 48 team; more than 77 percent of his 22 top-10 finishes have come since that day, most recently a trio of eighth-place results at Phoenix, Fontana and Bristol this season. "We definitely have a lot of confidence coming into this weekend," Poole said. "But really, even last week, these next string of races are really good tracks for me. Richmond, we were really fast and qualified really well, we just didn't have the race go the way that we wanted it to … Then going to Charlotte, last year, we ran in the top five both races and had a parts failure that kept us from moving on in the playoffs. "I'm excited about these next several weeks and feel like we have just as good of an opportunity as anybody." One of the beauties of Talladega and all of its restrictor-plate glory is that its Alabama asphalt is practically breeding ground for first-time winners and surprise visitors to Victory Lane. Think Brad Keselowski (2009), Ken Schrader (1988), Dick Brooks (1973). This -- along with fast cars and a 10th-place spot in the series standings -- gives Poole confidence heading into race weekend. "All the cars handle so good here that there's so many people that have an opportunity to win a race, that literally it could be anybody," Poole said. "So, it's really just about putting yourself in that position to be able to make it happen. "I feel like we've got a good team and a fast car where we feel like we could be up there and be in position to win tomorrow." </p>
Larson believes in keeping in touch with grassroots racing
R ELATED: Starting lineup for Sunday MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Kyle Larson, the most recent winner and the points leader in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, said Friday he believes competing in local weekly shows is good for NASCAR and that others should be encouraged to compete outside of NASCAR as well. Larson, 24, has one win and three second-place finishes in this season's first five races. His fast start hasn't led Chip Ganassi Racing officials to ask him to cut back on his extracurricular efforts and focus on his No. 42 Chevrolet team. "I've got a deal with Chip where I can run 25 races, so I'm going to fill all 25 of those up this year," Larson said prior to practice at Martinsville Speedway. "I enjoy doing it and I had a lot of fun racing this week." Three days after his second career win in the Monster Energy Series, Larson was back behind the wheel of a World of Outlaws entry, competing in the Placerville Short Track Showdown in Placerville, California. RELATED: Larson breaks runner-up streak with win at Auto Club Larson said he's often asked "when are they going to shut you down?" and curb his outside racing interests. "But I feel like everybody needs to encourage me and others to go race at your local short track and all that because I feel we've lost touch with our grassroots race fans," he said. "And I really think with me going back and doing that stuff and Kyle Busch running Late Model races throughout the year, it really kind of gets the local fans back excited about NASCAR." Bobby Allison, the 1983 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, often raced several times throughout the week in between his Cup starts; Ken Schrader would race as many as 90-100 times each season while competing full time in Cup. Others also raced local shows on occasion. "I would usually race on the short tracks before the Cup events as many as five times per week," Allison said. "Aside from my Cup efforts, I was really obsessed with running the short tracks as much as I could." Many fans at local tracks weren't close enough to tracks hosting NASCAR events and only got the opportunity to see NASCAR stars compete when those drivers showed up for mid-week shows. "I ran the Modifieds for many years in the early 1960s," Allison said. "I also ran the Late Model Modifieds and many, many regular Late Model events. I would either take my own cars from Alabama or I would go to race tracks when asked to do so by promotors and would drive a car by local team owners." RELATED: Harvick calls Larson 'best driver to come along since Gordon' Larson is in his fourth full season at NASCAR's top level and won his first race last year, at Michigan. He'll carry a 29-point lead into Sunday's STP 500 (2 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). And regardless of how the following weeks and months play out, he said, he hopes to continue to race elsewhere when the opportunity is there. "Yeah, I feel like everybody should, instead of making Chip and Felix (Sabates, minority team owner) feel like they have to shut me down," he said, "(they) should encourage them because it helps our fan base out."
Elliott joins elite list with back-to-back Daytona 500 poles
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! As he propelled his No. 24 Chevrolet to the top of the leaderboard for the 2017 Daytona 500 pole position, Chase Elliott was a part of history Sunday afternoon, once again. He rewrote record books last season with his Daytona 500 pole, becoming the youngest driver to lead "The Great American Race" to green at 20 years old. This year, he became only the fifth driver to win the Daytona 500 pole twice in a row in the race's 59 year history. The feat puts him in a rare club and one that his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott , is a part of. "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" had a three-year run of Daytona 500 poles from 1985 to 1987. Talk about keeping it in the family. Hall of Famer Fireball Roberts kicked off a three-year run of Daytona 500 poles in 1961. Buddy Baker scored back-to-backs beginning in 1979, kicking off a three-win, seven-pole season for NASCAR's "Gentle Giant." Ken Schrader went with three-in-a-row starting in 1988 during his tenure with Hendrick Motorsports . All but Baker completed the three-peat for poles. Premonition for 2018? Only time will tell. But for now, tune into the 2017 running of the Daytona 500 (Sunday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m., FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to see if Elliott can turn that P1 into a checkered flag. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Wood Brothers going full time in 2016
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Wood Brothers Racing , one of the longest tenured teams competing in NASCAR's premier series, will return to full-time competition beginning in 2016. Officials with the team and Ford Motor Co. made the announcement Friday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway , site of this weekend's Ford EcoBoost 400 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) season-ending event. Ryan Blaney will handle the driving duties, embarking upon his first full season after making 15 starts for the team this year heading into Sunday's race. Weather issues kept the team from attempting to qualify at Daytona, Kentucky and Chicago earlier this year. "These are the guys that made it happen, Ford Motor Company," co-team owner Eddie Wood said. "It is just a lot of people that have been working on this for a long time and we are really proud of our association and heritage with Ford Motor Company. We have been racing Ford Motor Company products for 65 years and we are really looking forward to next year and getting started with that." The team will continue to have a technical alliance with Team Penske , which fields Sprint Cup entries for drivers Joey Logano and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski . "It is what you dream of as a kid," Blaney, 21, said. "I have been fortunate enough to get great opportunities and meet great people being with Team Penske in 2012 which led to the Wood Brothers this year and then beyond for next year. "Obviously it is a little overwhelming right now … knowing what is going to come but I am excited for it. I don't get excited about a lot of things and maybe I don't show it but I am really excited about this program for next year and having the opportunity." It will be the first time since 2008 that the Wood Brothers organization, founded by team owner Glen Wood in 1953, has attempted to run the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. That season, three drivers -- Bill Elliott , Marcos Ambrose and Jon Wood -- split the driving duties, although Johnny Sauter made one attempt, failing to qualify at Las Vegas. The last full season with a single-driver for the team came in 2006 with veteran Ken Schrader . "We were in Pocono … testing for the Pocono race on May 28, 2008," Wood said. "At about noon that day Mr. Ford called me looking for a phone number. I hadn't talked to him in a while and he said, 'I haven't heard from you in a while, why haven't you called?' I told him we had been running so poorly that I had really just been ashamed. He says, 'So, you are saying this 21 is broken?' and I said, ‘Yeah, it is broken right now.' "So he said we were going to see about that, that we would fix that. From that day until now, it has been just like this. He put some things in motion that started to help like increased engineering and just more of everything. There were some Ford Motor Company people that … moved in with us and helped get us straightened out and three years later we win the Daytona 500 (with driver Trevor Bayne ). You can never give up." Wood Brothers entries have visited Victory Lane 98 times, sixth most among active teams and seventh overall. The list of drivers who have won for the team includes NASCAR Hall of Fame members Wood, Curtis Turner (a 2016 inductee), Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Dale Jarrett. Leonard Wood, younger brother of Glen and crew chief for the majority of the team's victories, is also in the Hall of Fame. Despite often running a limited schedule, the organization has finished in the top 10 in points 13 times and won the series' premier event, the Daytona 500 , five times. "I think the timing was perfect for this to all come together," Edsel Ford II said. "I think with Team Penske 's help, that kind of motivated us to sort of talk to the Wood Brothers internally … and find out if this was possible. It just all came together this year and fit. It fit perfectly. So why not do it." NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series schedule consists of 36 points races and two non-points event and runs from February through mid-November. Entering this weekend's event, 35 teams have competed in all points races contested thus far this season.
Prayers for Elijah: Brave boy sparks a movement
Standing on stage holding his arms high above his head giving double peace signs, 10-year-old Elijah Aschbrenner looked like a rock star -- bright red hair, high wattage smile and unmistakable attitude. A year after being diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer, Epithelioid Sarcoma, Elijah struck the pose after joining NASCAR stars such as Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Danica Patrick walking the runway as part of the Martin Truex Jr . Foundation's "Catwalk for a Cause" pediatric cancer fundraiser this past May. Predictably, Earnhardt and Patrick got rousing cheers, but Elijah clearly stole the show -- afterwards be-bopping around the Mooresville, North Carolina, venue shaking hands with donors, grabbing snacks with his little brother Sam, 9, and posing for photos with the race car drivers. It was difficult to tell who was the celebrity and who was the cause célèbre. That was only five months ago. Unfortunately, a recent CT-scan revealed that despite the chemotherapy and the radiation and the surgeries -- despite great courage and faith -- Elijah's cancer has spread. And after a brief and hopeful time participating in a clinical trial in Atlanta last month, doctors have decided there is no further treatment to prescribe. A hospice nurse visits Elijah every Tuesday at his home outside Charlotte making sure he is comfortable. A hospice social worker also stops by regularly to counsel Sam and Elijah's friends, whom his mom, Becky Hughes, says "are having a real tough time with this." Though Elijah would much rather be riding a Ripstik outside with his brother and friends, he mostly spends his days in a wheelchair building elaborate Lego creations or watching television -- "Wheel of Fortune" is one of his favorites. "My mom and I are really good at it," he says. He loves the occasional trips to Target or Toys "R" Us, and the steady stream of visitors who bring prayers and love. The cancer has taken a real toll on Elijah's young body. His voice is softer and strained, his stamina greatly diminished, but cancer has not sapped his incredible spirit or lessened his intense resolve. "There are so many days I could just cry and let myself get buried in that, but I can't," his mom explained. "Elijah is strong and Sam is strong, always there to make us laugh and smile. "I have prayed to God to just give me this tumor. I would do that in a heartbeat. The worst pain in the world is seeing your child going through something like this, and you can't fix it, you can't do anything. "I could be an emotional wreck, but Elijah only allows me three minutes of crying a day. Some days I don't need it, but if I start to, he'll say, "Three minutes, Mom." Hughes has worked in the racing industry for years both as a driver public relations representative and now with sponsor Great Clips. She has been buoyed by the outpouring of support from the NASCAR community but not surprised. This weekend Elijah and his family will be guests of Ann and Ken Schrader at the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . After some souvenir shopping -- his favorite part of the day -- Elijah is looking forward to stopping in the garage area and seeing his "friends" from the Catwalk event. So many of them have provided help to Elijah and his family. Drivers have lent their private airplanes to transport Elijah to various doctors around the Southeast. They have donated money to cover the escalating medical bills and sent messages of support using the hashtag #prayersforelijah on social media. More significantly, they have given their time and attention. Truex and his girlfiend, Sherry Pollex, herself undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, are essentially on speed dial with the family and have been constant support for Elijah. Pollex organizes the Catwalk event and had been raising money ($300,000 this year) for childhood cancer long before she was affected personally by the disease. Team Penske put Elijah's name over the door of both of its Sprint Cup Series Chase contending cars last week. And 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski devoted one of the entries on his popular blogs to remind people about "perspective" in life. He used Elijah as a shining example. Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing are among the organizations to publicly offer good wishes -- the entire team from shop foremen to drivers posing with a "Prayers for Elijah" sign. And while it is all a bit overwhelming and "very cool," Elijah joked this week that it does cause a minor problem when it comes to picking a driver to cheer for. "That's the hard part," Elijah said. "They are all so good to me. "The fact they know me is outstanding, I don't know how a kid like me would get that lucky to meet them. Just knowing them means a lot to me." His mother begins to cry when trying to explain the impact of those relationships. "He really looks up to Martin (Truex) and Dale Junior and Kasey (Kahne) and Jeff Gordon and feels like they are all his buddies because they have done events with him," Hughes said. "After the Catwalk, he'll talk about how Dale Junior is his buddy. During a race, he'll ask me to call Dale Jr. and get him to do this or that. I'll laugh. It shows how great these guys have been to Elijah. "Even if they were just with him for half an hour it made such an impact on him and made him feel comfortable and like a friend.That means everything to me. To see how happy he gets thinking he has all these buddies in all these different avenues of sports." Taking the cue from NASCAR's best, other sports have rallied about Elijah, too. WWE wrestling star Titus O'Neil changed a flight to detour to Charlotte and pay a visit to Elijah. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton surprised Elijah at a block party in his honor -- a Halloween theme because that's Elijah's favorite holiday. News outlets from People Magazine to "The Today Show" shared the story. "I'm in disbelief. Every day we'll hear of another athlete doing something for him, last night someone sent us a picture of Kirk Cameron holding up a sign saying 'Prayers for Elijah,' " Hughes said. "It's just amazing to me, the outreach and the people that have been impacted throughout all this, from NASCAR, to WWE to the Panthers. Everyone's just put their arms around us and are supporting us. "He is definitely a loved little boy, and I am so blessed that God chose me to be his mom. He is the bravest little boy I know and I just pray for many, many more years to watch him grow up." It's not just famous people who have recognized and rallied for Elijah. Classmates from school visit him. The community organized a golf tournament fundraiser, and even local restaurants designated certain nights to donate funds. In some ways, "Prayers for Elijah" has grown from a sentimental hashtag or well wish into a movement. It is a plea for more funding and research into childhood cancers, which currently receive a very small portion of the overall funds. It is an inspiration reminding us if a 10-year-old boy can be this strong and positive despite all he's going through, then we should have great courage and a better attitude, too. It is a lesson in living in the present each day. As a breast cancer patient myself, I feel a special connection to Elijah. I was diagnosed a couple months after him and our chemotherapy treatments and surgeries often coincided. In fact, I had radiation treatment the morning I flew from Florida to Charlotte to attend May's Catwalk event. And I had to leave early the next morning to be back in the cancer center for my next round. That evening I asked Elijah what advice he had for other cancer patients. "Keep fighting," he said. "And breathe." His mom considers that evening a gift -- a time of pure happiness and excitement. How proud to know her son was an inspiration to every soul in the room. And still is. "He was amazing, he just shined that night," Hughes recalled. "It was like, 'Here I am and I'm not going to let cancer get the best of me.' And he's had that attitude from Day 1. "There have been many days when my faith is down and I’m scared and worried and he'll look at me and say, 'Mama, we're going to get through this.' So never once has his faith been in question. A few months ago he coined the phrase, 'Faith and believing are your cure.' And he really means it. "He is amazing and he gives me strength every day." He does the same for all of us.
Return to Martinsville joins past, future for Wood Brothers
Photo credit: Eddie Wood/Wood Brothers. Glen Wood stands next to his first NASCAR Grand National car, a 1953 Lincoln, at Martinsville Speedway on May 17, 1953 – his first NASCAR start. It's a home game for the Wood Brothers. But the April 3 STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is a home game the Wood Brothers haven't experienced as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team with a single driver since Ken Schrader filled the seat of the vaunted No. 21 Ford in 2006. We're talking about Martinsville, of course, the shortest track on the Sprint Cup circuit at 0.526 miles, the closest to the Wood Brothers' family home in Stuart, Virginia, and the next race on the Sprint Cup schedule. "It's a huge thing," says NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Leonard Wood, who co-founded NASCAR's most venerable organization with brother, driver and fellow Hall of Famer Glen Wood. "We look forward to going to Martinsville. We used to run over there and have a lot of fun." The Wood Brothers last competed at Martinsville in 2011, when Trevor Bayne 's unexpected victory in the season-opening Daytona 500 gave the family-owned team the wherewithal to run more races than originally planned. The Woods' last trip to the paper-clip-shaped track before Bayne's 35th-place run was with veteran driver Bill Elliott in 2008. This year, they return to the track with Sunoco Rookie of the Year hopeful Ryan Blaney , a 22-year-old who has never driven a Sprint Cup car at Martinsville, though he does have five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races under his belt there. Blaney appreciates the significance Martinsville holds within his organization. "It's really a home race for those guys, and almost for me, too," Blaney said. "I grew up in High Point, North Carolina, an hour away from Martinsville, and I vividly remember every Martinsville race I went to, watched my dad ( Dave Blaney ) run it. "And it's really neat to go back and bring the Wood Brothers back there and have them in their hometown and home state. Hopefully, we'll see a bunch of Wood Brothers fans out there. I think we will." Obviously, Leonard Wood’s memory is a bit longer than Blaney's, dating to the days in the early 1950s when Martinsville was still a dirt half-mile. In 1953, Glen Wood raced there for the first time at NASCAR's highest level in a '53 Lincoln. "It had power steering on it, and the power steering was so easy that we had to mark the steering wheel, because, when the track was wet, it was so smooth you couldn't feel it," Leonard Wood says. In 1959, Glen Wood won the pole at Martinsville with a lap at 69.471 mph, a track record at the time. All told, Glen won four poles there, though he never won a race in NASCAR's premier division. In fact, the only two Martinsville victories recorded by the Wood Brothers in 109 starts came with NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough (1968) and David Pearson (1973) behind the wheel. When Blaney completes his 22nd lap at the .526-mile track on April 3, it will mark 45,000 laps in Cup competition at Martinsville for the Wood Brothers. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to the beneficence of track founder Clay Earles, the Woods spent countless hours testing there. Leonard recalls one instance where Glen was testing the team's "back-seat car," a 1937 Ford with both the engine and driver's seat moved radically toward the rear of the car. Glen though the car needed a bigger spindle on the right front. From observing the car on the track, Leonard wasn't so sure. "So I climbed in and rode with him around the track at Martinsville" Leonard says. "He is just flying through the corners, and it felt like there's about 10 tons of pressure on the right front. It was getting so much grip that I was just holding on, like it was trying to throw me right out the window. "I'm trying to get him to slow down. He can't hear me. Finally we came to a stop. And I said, 'Glen, you need a bigger spindle on that right front.'" Blaney's experience clearly is a lot more limited, and he's not sure racing the trucks at Martinsville will be all that helpful, even though he posted fifth-place finishes in his last three starts. "I think there are some things you can take away from running the Truck races," Blaney said, "but I think there's a reason why the Cup guys don't normally run both of them. For one thing, it's really hard on your body. And, two, I hear it kind of messes them up when they run both, trying to be consistent between the two cars. "There are probably some things we can take away, and I'm looking forward to learning and everything like that, but there's not a lot that you can take away." Though Blaney readily admits Martinsville hasn't been one of his best tracks, he credits crew chief Jeremy Bullins with helping to retool his attitude. "Last year, when we announced the full-time deal, I said 'Martinsville's the one place I’m not looking forward to,' and he persuaded me (otherwise)," Blaney said. "And now I'm looking forward to going to Martinsville, and I want to go real bad. "So it's nice to have someone that can motivate you." Doubtless, on April 3, there will be a large contingent of fans in the grandstands trying to amplify that support. After all, it's a home game for the Wood Brothers—and by extension and proximity, for Blaney, too.
Menard's Darlington scheme gives honor to Al Unser Jr.
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes CONCORD, N.C. -- When Valvoline officials queried NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Paul Menard about his racing heroes, the first name on the list was Al Unser Jr. So Menard couldn't be more pleased that the Valvoline-themed throwback paint scheme he will run in this year's Bojangles' Southern 500 pays tribute to Unser Jr.'s lone NASCAR premier series start. Menard's Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet will carry the gray, orange and black color scheme used by Unser Jr. for the 1993 Daytona 500 with sponsor Valvoline featured on the hood when the series travels to Darlington Raceway for the annual Labor Day weekend classic. "Little Al's first NASCAR race was the Daytona 500 in 1993," Menard said earlier this week as preparations for the unveiling of the paint scheme got underway. "The partnership with Valvoline this year -- we got to talking earlier about who some of my racing heroes were and Al Jr. was right away, even without the Valvoline relationship. I've always been a huge fan of his. He was the guy in IndyCar that I always pulled for." Menard said he met the former open-wheel champion and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 "when I was probably 12." "I remember; he probably doesn't," Menard continued. "But I pulled up (this morning) … and he was standing out in the parking lot. We were out there talking probably 10 or 15 minutes, just about the '93 (Daytona) 500, his autocross stuff that he's doing now, just talking about a little bit of racing." Unser Jr. was carrying the Valvoline colors in 1992 when he won his first Indy 500 title. Already a NASCAR sponsor, Valvoline wanted additional branding in '93 to promote its line of synthetic products, particularly for that year's Daytona 500. And the Daytona 500 just happened to be on Unser Jr.'s bucket list. "There were special races that I wanted to race in my career," Unser Jr. said. "The Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans. Those are the ones that I really wanted to run as a kid. "The Indy 500 is really where my heart is so we'd been doing that. But yeah, I wanted to run the Daytona 500 sometime during my career and it was just a blessing when Valvoline called me up and said, 'You know, we'd like to do this down in Daytona. Would you like to do it?' "I said, 'Of course I would. It's got to be with a great team.' "They said, 'We've contacted Hendrick Motorsports,' and I go, 'Awesome.' " At that time, the Hendrick organization consisted of three teams with drivers Ken Schrader , Ricky Rudd and rookie Jeff Gordon. The addition of Unser Jr. made it a four-team effort for the series' most notable race. A crash during the second of two twin qualifying races three days before the 500, however, cost Unser Jr. his primary entry and he wound up racing Schrader's backup Chevrolet Lumina. Instead of a gray, orange and black paint scheme, Unser Jr.'s race-day car was white with the Valvoline branding on the hood and across the rear quarter panels. A crash with less that 50 laps remaining took Unser Jr. out of contention, and he finished 36th. When told that Menard and Valvoline were bringing the original paint scheme back to the track for the Darlington throwback weekend, Unser said he was "just overwhelmed." "Mainly because this was just a one off," he said, "not a traditional kind of car with a lot of running behind it, a lot of heritage to it. So when they contacted me and said they were thinking about doing this throwback at Darlington … it was a true blessing." Menard praised Valvoline for not only bringing back the paint scheme, but for the company's long involvement in auto racing. "The brand is iconic in our sport," he said. "You pick out right away where that Valvoline car is on the race track, whether it's a stock car race or IndyCar races, NHRA. They're always around the sport. They have a huge racing legacy and I'm proud to be a part of it." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
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