Veteran Crafton plays mentor role to up-and-coming rookies
CONCORD, N.C. -- Being a two-time champion in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has its share of perks for Matt Crafton . But besides the laurels, there's also a certain amount of responsibility, one that involves helping the next generation of drivers learn their way. For the third straight season, Crafton has helped preside over the series' rookie orientation meetings, joining series director Elton Sawyer in providing insights for the truck tour's new crop of talent. In recent years, the duty has fallen to the reigning series champion, which Crafton achieved with consecutive titles in 2013 and 2014. But with last year's champ, Erik Jones , shifting to the NASCAR XFINITY Series full-time this season, Crafton was asked back. "If it's something where I feel I can help the rookies and possibly make it better racing, that's what it's all about," said Crafton, who's back on top as the series' points leader after last weekend's victory at Dover International Speedway . "I remember being a rookie and going to some of these places and not having a damn clue what I was doing or what to expect on some new race tracks, so if you can give them a little bit of insight as a group and then I always tell them at the end, if you ever have any questions, they're always free to ask me whatever they need to ask me in the trailer afterward. It's part of it." It's been 15 years since the 39-year-old Crafton was a truck series newbie, almost as long as the lifespan of some members of this year's rookie crop. When Crafton was on the other side of the first-year drivers' orientation, he learned from a rotation of the series' pioneers -- Ron Hornaday Jr ., Mike Skinner , Todd Bodine . Times may have changed over the course of Crafton's career, with the driver roster seemingly skewing younger. But it's also tilted to an even more ambitious and talented class in one of NASCAR's most competitive divisions. "Just to think they're racing in the Camping World Truck Series at 16 years old like they can do, it's nuts," Crafton says. "It's just crazy the amount of pressure that's on these kids. The thing is, they're in great, great equipment. I can honestly say, everybody always says each and every week that, 'oh, there's such a great group of rookies out there.' There's been a great group of rookies a lot of years in the Camping World Truck Series since I've been here, but not all of them have always been in great equipment." On this damp Thursday morning, Sawyer and Crafton hold court in the suites over Charlotte Motor Speedway 's pit road. A group of 15 young drivers -- some true rookies and some who were preparing for their first start on the 1.5-mile track -- circled around, awaiting direction over the racket of the Air Titans drying the pavement. Before diving into a discussion about race procedure, Sawyer singled out John Hunter Nemechek , attending his last required rookie meeting at Charlotte -- the last track missing from his truck series portfolio. "I thought Elton was going to bring me a cake this week, a certificate or something for graduating," the 18-year-old Nemechek joked later. "He said he forgot, so I may have to get a cake in to him that says 'Race Director' or something on it." Sawyer emphasized the high notes from the crew chief's handout, providing watch-outs about gamesmanship on restarts and other procedures. But he also ceded plenty of time to Crafton, who answered a question from ThorSport Racing teammate Rico Abreu about the blend zone off pit road and how hard he could hustle back onto the race track. The inquiry led to a detailed description from Crafton about one of the most finicky tracks on the circuit. In vivid terms, Crafton explained the speedway's character, how much the groove widens in time, how delicate side-by-side racing can be, and what he called the "gnarliest" transition as trucks dive into the Turn 1 banking. "When we go to a new race track, it's just learning the basics of the things that we need to look out for, especially here," says 18-year-old rookie William Byron, who became the series' newest first-time winner two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway . "He's talking about the transitions and just things to watch out for in the race. It's good to have a broad perspective of what it's going to be like racing here. It gets you a little bit more comfortable." Even Nemechek, already a two-time truck series winner on intermediate-sized tracks, has seen the benefits. "It was a good experience. They all helped every time you went," Nemechek says. "… Any veteran that you can get and talk to and listen to that you know is going to shoot you somewhat straight when you come to a new place, it can only help you -- from race trends to how to get on and off pit road to the characteristics of the race track." Crafton's 366 career starts -- an all-time series best -- count as an encyclopedic amount of experience, and the back-to-back titles speak to his success. But the longtime veteran says he still finds time to pick up on things from the cub drivers with single-digit starts on their record. What does he learn? "Some of these kids nowadays, they just know more than we do," Crafton says with a playfully satirical grin. "I have a daughter who's 3 and she already knows more than me."
Skinner hit by a Gale force wind
Contact sends Cale Gale into Mike Skinner , destroying both trucks just past the halfway point of the race.
Five legends unveiled as 2017 NASCAR Hall Of Fame Class
RELATED: See all of the nominees DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 25, 2016) – NASCAR announced today the inductees who will comprise the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2017. The five-person group -- the eighth since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010 -- consists of Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons. In addition, NASCAR announced that Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles won the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel met today in a closed session at the Charlotte Convention Center to debate and vote upon the 20 nominees for the induction class of 2017 and the five nominees for the Landmark Award. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton announced the class and Landmark Award winner, respectively, this evening in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's "Great Hall." The Class of 2017 was determined by votes cast by the Voting Panel, including representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from major facilities and historic short tracks, media members, manufacturer representatives, retired competitors (drivers, owners, crew chiefs), recognized industry leaders, a nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.com and, for the third year, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion ( Kyle Busch ). In all, 54 votes were cast, with four additional Voting Panel members recused from voting as potential nominees for induction (Ricky Rudd, Robert Yates, Waddell Wilson and Ken Squier). The accounting firm of EY presided over the tabulation of the votes. Voting was as follows: Benny Parsons (85%), Rick Hendrick (62%), Mark Martin (57%), Raymond Parks (53%) and Richard Childress (43%). The next top vote-getters were Robert Yates, Red Byron and Alan Kulwicki. Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Buddy Baker, Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, Benny Parsons and Larry Phillips. The five inductees came from a group of 20 nominees that included, in addition to the five inductees chosen: Buddy Baker, Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Ron Hornaday Jr., Harry Hyde, Alan Kulwicki, Hershel McGriff, Larry Phillips, Jack Roush, Ricky Rudd, Ken Squier, Mike Stefanik, Waddell Wilson and Robert Yates. Nominees for the Landmark Award included Earles, Janet Guthrie, Raymond Parks, Ralph Seagraves and Ken Squier. Class of 2017 Inductees: Richard Childress Long before he became one of the preeminent car owners in NASCAR history, Richard Childress was a race car driver with limited means. Childress, the consummate self-made racer, was respectable behind the wheel. Between 1969-81 he had six top-five finishes and 76 top 10s in 285 starts, finishing fifth in the NASCAR premier series standings in 1975. Having formed Richard Childress Racing in 1972, Childress retired from driving in 1981. He owned the cars that NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt drove to six championships and 67 wins between 1984-2000. In addition to Earnhardt’s championships, Childress drivers have given him five others. Childress was the first NASCAR owner to win owner championships in all three of NASCAR’s national series, and his 11 owner titles are second all-time. Childress also owned the vehicles driven by NASCAR XFINITY Series driver champions Clint Bowyer (2008) and Austin Dillon (2013), as the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver champion Austin Dillon . Rick Hendrick The founder and owner of Hendrick Motorsports , Rick Hendrick’s organization is recognized as one of NASCAR’s most successful. Hendrick Motorsports owns an all-time record 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car owner championship titles -- six with Jimmie Johnson , four with Jeff Gordon and one with NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte . Hendrick also has 14 total NASCAR national series owner championships, most in NASCAR history. Gordon and Labonte combined to win four consecutive titles from 1995-98. In 2010, Johnson won a record-extending fifth consecutive championship. Hendrick also owned the car driven by 2003 NASCAR XFINITY Series driver champion Brian Vickers . Hendrick’s 242 owner wins in the premier series rank second all-time. Mark Martin He is often described as the "greatest driver to never to win a championship," but Mark Martin 's legendary career is so much more than that. He came incredibly close to that elusive title many times -- finishing second in the championship standings five times. Over the course of his 31-year premier series career, Martin compiled 40 wins (17th all time) and 56 poles (seventh all time). Martin saw success at every level of NASCAR. He won 49 times in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, holding the series wins record for 14 years. He retired with 96 wins across NASCAR’s three national series, seventh on the all-time list. In 1998, Martin was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. Raymond Parks Raymond Parks is one of stock-car racing’s earliest -- and most successful -- team owners. Funded by successful business and real estate ventures in Atlanta, Parks began his career as a stock-car owner in 1938 with drivers Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall. His pairing with another Atlantan, mechanic Red Vogt, produced equipment good enough to dominate the sport in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Red Byron won the first NASCAR title (modified, 1948) and first premier series title (1949) in a Parks-owned car. Parks’ team produced two premier series wins, two poles, 11 top fives and 12 top 10s in 18 events. Benny Parsons Benny Parsons won the 1973 NASCAR premier series championship and could be called an everyman champion: winning enough to be called one of the sport’s stars but nearly always finishing well when he wasn’t able to reach Victory Lane. He won 21 times in 526 career starts but finished among the top 10 283 times -- a 54 percent ratio. One of Parsons’ biggest victories came in the 1975 Daytona 500 . He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. Parsons also was known as a voice of the sport making a seamless transition to television following his NASCAR career. He was a commentator for NBC and TNT until his passing in 2007, at the age of 65. Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR: H. Clay Earles One of the original pioneers of stock car auto racing, H. Clay Earles played an integral role in the early years of NASCAR's development. Earles built and opened Martinsville Speedway in 1947, and the short track remains the only facility to host NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races every year since the series’ inception in 1949. The speedway held its first race on Sept. 7, 1947 -- three months before the creation of NASCAR. That initial race drew more than 6,000 fans to the track, which had just 750 seats ready. In 1964, Earles decided it was time for a "different" type of trophy for his race winners. He gave winners grandfather clocks, a tradition that continues today.
Hall of Fame preview: Mark Martin among contenders
RELATED: Meet 2017's nominees " Live stream of reveal, 5 p.m. ET Mark Martin will be one of 20 people considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when the Voting Panel convenes in Charlotte on Wednesday to determine the 2017 class. (TV coverage: NBCSN, 5 p.m. ET) Three of those on the ballot are former premier series champions -- Red Byron, NASCAR's first Strictly Stock champion in 1949; Benny Parsons, the 1973 winner who went on to enjoy a successful second career in the broadcast booth; and Alan Kulwicki, killed in a plane crash just four-and-a-half months after capturing the 1992 crown. There was no championship trophy for Martin, who retired from competition at the end of the 2013 season. But that doesn't diminish the accomplishments the Batesville, Arkansas, native garnered during a career that spanned more than three decades. Martin, 57, won 40 times in the premier series, with victories coming at 21 different tracks. He finished 10th or better 453 times, in more than half of his 882 career starts. He also won 56 poles. RELATED: Live stream, 5 p.m. ET, Wednesday In the battle for the championship, Martin placed second five times, a mark he shares with current Hall of Fame member Bobby Allison, and he scored 17 top-10 points finishes during his career. "It makes me proud I was able to be as successful as I was and grateful for the opportunities I had," Martin told Little Rock, Arkansas, radio station KABZ-FM recently. "To be real honest I didn't enjoy a … significant part of my career because I was trying so hard to get that championship because I wanted it, and even more than that, the people who supported me wanted it for me so badly. I saw time running out. "I spent too much of my time focused on that and not enjoying the opportunities I had. Today, when I look back on it I wish I hadn't done that." Martin lost the 1990 title by 26 points to Dale Earnhardt and finished second to the Richard Childress Racing driver again four years later. Other runner-up finishes through the years came against Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson . "My life would not be different one bit had I won one of those or not," Martin said. "I had a great career. … I don't think it would have changed a thing in my life had I won one of those trophies. I was very close. I got beat by only four of the greatest of all time in NASCAR in my opinion. … "I'm not embarrassed." Earnhardt was one of five members inducted into the Hall’s inaugural class in 2010. Gordon, a four-time series champion with 93 career victories, retired from driving at the end of 2015 and won't be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration until 2018 and possible induction until '19. Stewart, winner of three premier series titles and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing , will cease to compete full time in the series following the 2016 season. Johnson is a six-time champion and boasts 77 career wins, including two thus far this season. In addition to his premier series exploits, Martin held the XFINITY Series record for career wins for 14 years and is also a seven-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series. It is his second consecutive appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. First-year nominees for the 2017 ballot are former Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr ., team co-owner Jack Roush, driver Ricky Rudd, noted crew chief and engine builder Waddell Wilson and broadcaster Ken Squier. Rounding out the list of nominees are Buddy Baker, Richard Childress, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Rick Hendrick, Harry Hyde, Hershel McGriff, Raymond Parks, Larry Phillips, Mike Stefanik and Robert Yates. Also to be determined by the Voting Panel is the 2017 recipient of the Landmark Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to NASCAR. The five nominees are Martinsville Speedway track founder H. Clay Earles, driver Janet Guthrie, team owner Raymond Parks, former RJ Reynolds executive Ralph Seagraves and Squier. The Voting Panel is scheduled to begin the selection process Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. ET at the Charlotte Convention Center. The announcement of those chosen will take place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Great Hall (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN). NASCAR.com will also live stream the event: You can watch it live here.
NASCAR partners with Steven Soderbergh on heist-themed film project
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 26, 2016) -- NASCAR ® is collaborating with Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh on a feature film entitled Logan Lucky , starring Channing Tatum alongside Katherine Heigl, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Adam Driver and Seth MacFarlane. Depicting a theoretical heist at Charlotte Motor Speedway , the project will mark Soderbergh's first feature film since announcing his retirement from the film industry in 2013. Soderbergh, who also directed heist film Ocean's Eleven , is best known for his work on the critically acclaimed Traffic and Erin Brockovich , which garnered him two Oscar nominations and the accolade of Best Director. This will not be Tatum's first experience working with NASCAR or Soderbergh. He and 22 Jump Street co-star Jonah Hill served as grand marshals for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series™ Pocono 400 in 2014, while Tatum and Soderbergh previously teamed up for the Magic Mike films, Haywire and the 2013 thriller Side Effects , which was the most recent film project led by the acclaimed director. "We are excited to work with Steven, Channing and all of Logan Lucky's incredible cast and producers," said Zane Stoddard, NASCAR vice president of entertainment marketing and content development. "It's a big-hearted, fun story that showcases NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway as the world-class sports entertainment property and venue that they are, much like the Bellagio in Steven's Ocean's Eleven ." Logan Lucky is tentatively scheduled for release in Fall 2017. Mark Johnson, Gregory Jacobs and Reid Carolin are producing. Zane Stoddard is executive producing for NASCAR. Pre-production filming will begin this weekend at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 , which airs live on FOX at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 29.
Dillon, Kahne for Forde's Charlotte sleepers
The 'Loop Dog', Mike Forde, joins SiriusXM NASCAR Radio to give his fantasy advice for the upcoming Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
New Hampshire marks 500th Truck Series race
RELATED: Cup drivers in the Truck Series " Timeline of the Truck Series Born to modest beginnings in the American Southwest, NASCAR's launching pad, otherwise known as the Camping World Truck Series, will celebrate a major milestone on Saturday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . There, shortly after 1 p.m. ET (on FS1), the green flag will signal the start of the 500th race in a series that has provided indispensable impetus to the careers of some of NASCAR's top stars. Carl Edwards , for one, recognizes the debt he owes to the series and to longtime owners such as Mike Mittler, who gave Edwards his start in trucks. "The Truck Series means a lot to me, and it means a lot to my career, for the fact that Mike Mittler has owned a truck since the beginning of the Truck Series," Edwards said. "If it weren't for that opportunity from Mike Mittler, and Jack Roush hiring me to drive his trucks, I would not be here today. "So I'm really grateful for the Truck Series, and I had a lot of fun driving those trucks." Edwards won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title in the Truck Series in 2003 before graduating to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney are other former Truck Series Rookie of the Year winners currently racing at NASCAR's highest level. The Truck Series has changed markedly since its debut on the national stage in 1995 at Phoenix International Raceway , where Mike Skinner , already 38 years old at the time, won the Skoal Bandit Copper World Classic by .09 seconds over Terry Labonte . In its formative years, the Truck Series was a repository for veteran drivers. Skinner won the first series championship. Ron Hornaday Jr ., perhaps the most identifiable name in series history, claimed the title in 1996, the first of his record four championships. Veterans Hornaday and Jack Sprague were kings of the series from 1996 through 1999 before Biffle won the title in 2000 to advance another rung up the ladder that would take him to the Cup series in short order. The periodic appearances of Kyle Busch notwithstanding, it's fair to say that older, more experienced drivers dominated the Truck Series until 2011. Hornaday won his third championship in 2007 and his fourth in 2009, amassing a series-record 51 victories along the way. Todd Bodine won the second of his two titles in 2010, at age 46, before Dillon and James Buescher notched back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012 at ages 21 and 22, respectively. Dillon and Buescher are emblematic of the changing face of the Truck Series, which now features more teenagers and 20-somethings than drivers in their 30s and 40s. For one thing, team owners like Kyle Busch , Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr ., have embraced the Truck Series as an affordable way to give back to the sport by launching the careers of young drivers. Erik Jones , 19, who drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports, is the current series leader. Tyler Reddick , also 19 and a Brad Keselowski Racing protégé, is second. "I think the Truck Series is a great division," Busch said. "It's certainly a lot of fun. I enjoy it. It's a level at which I can be competitive owning a race team. ... "This level ... I feel it gives us a great chance to bring up the (young) talent to the upper level of NASCAR racing." Owning his own team also gives Busch a chance to compete in the occasional race. With 44 victories in the series, he is second only to Hornaday, and he'll have a chance to move one win closer this weekend at New Hampshire. "Having its 500th race and being in that race is going to be special for me," Busch said. Keselowski is part of the Truck Series' present and future, but his love for the trucks is rooted in the past. His father, Bob Keselowski, raced in the series debut at Phoenix. Bob Keselowski took his only checkered flag in the series in 1997, and he and Brad remain the only father/son combination to win races in the trucks. "The Truck Series for me has been a huge part of my career and a huge part of my family from the get-go," Keselowski said. "My dad ran in the first-ever truck race at Phoenix, and I still remember that day. "I still remember watching that race, and I remember how big a deal the Truck Series was when it started and how big a deal it is now to young drivers and the future of our sport." Two-time defending Truck Series champion Matt Crafton once would have been typical of the series. Now, at 39, he's a throwback to an earlier era. But Crafton is content to race for wins and titles in the Truck Series, as opposed to driving less competitive equipment at a higher level. "If I stay here for the rest of my driving career, I'll definitely be happy with that," Crafton said. "I know each and every week I can go win races. I have no desire to go somewhere where I'm going to run 15th to 25th and be happy with that." A nine-time winner in the Truck Series, Crafton is seeking his first New Hampshire victory this weekend, as he tries to stave off the growing youth movement in the Camping World Truck Series for yet another season.
#TBT: Broken collarbone can't keep Dale Earnhardt down
Dale Earnhardt earned his Intimidator nickname by handing out some lickings on the racetrack, but he could take one, too, as he proved in 1996 at Watkins Glen. He couldn't breathe and he couldn't raise his right arm as NASCAR's premier series headed to the road course in New York. Earnhardt had been in a hard wreck at Talladega two weeks earlier, suffering a disclocated sternum and broken collarbone. But he wanted to both qualify and race at The Glen after running just six laps at Indianapolis the week after Talladega before handing over the No. 3 to relief driver Mike Skinner . Dr. Jerry Punch recalled in 2014 for NASCAR.com how he was called to the motorhome with Dale and Teresa Earnhardt and Richard Childress as the debate went on about whether Dale would pilot the Goodwrench Chevrolet that weekend. "In spite of us telling him how dangerous it was, and how painful it was, he wanted to be in that car," Punch said. "Richard and Teresa were getting me to help convince him to not get in the car, for his own safety. He looked right at Richard and said, 'If you tell me, Richard, I'm going to hurt this race team by being in your race car, I won't get in it.' Richard said, 'Are you kidding me? You're Dale Earnhardt. I can't tell you you're going to hurt my race team by being in my car.' And Dale said, 'All right, it's done.' " A loose sternum was very disconcerting at the road course, as any impact could send bone fragments into nearby vital organs -- the heart and lungs. But those around Earnhardt were more worried about his body, and he was concentrating hard on the racing. All that shifting and steering didn't stop the tough-as-nails driver, who reportedly used his knees to help steer on his way to winning the pole for The Bud at The Glen. Earnhardt stayed in the car for the whole race on Aug. 11, 1996, as well, despite Jeff Green standing by in case he needed or wanted relief. The No. 3 finished sixth. After finishing the 220.5-mile race, Earnhardt said, "It hurts. But it's a good hurt." That season he wound up fourth in the points standings.
Part 2: The Intimidator's Day at Talladega
MORE: READ PART 1 HERE The Build-up "That's what we've been wanting is being able to draft up and race these guys. I think the things they've done and changes they've made will make a difference. I think you'll see a better race, a closer race." -- Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR teleconference, Oct. 11, 2000. Bobby Labonte was steaming toward his first premier series championship, heading into Talladega with a commanding 252-point lead -- more than any driver could earn in one race under the former Latford points system -- over Jeff Burton. Dale Earnhardt ranked third, 258 points off the top with Dale Jarrett further back in fourth, 388 points in arrears. Dunlap: I think he saw those upcoming races as a real chance for him to make a run. ... Earnhardt was so focused on getting that eighth championship and, I think, at that moment that late in the season he had kind of felt it slipping away. Bobby Labonte: At the time where we were in points, it was risk over reward and if you were the chaser, it was easier to make those risks. If you're being chased, this is one of those places where you bide your time and you wait toward the end of it more. Dale Jarrett (driver, Robert Yates Racing No. 88 Ford): It was such an unknown. I won't say that I dreaded the race because I looked forward to racing there. We had been very successful at Talladega, but with the unknown and being in the midst of a championship battle was something that we were a little bit leery of in making the right choices and the right calls, so, as always, you're on edge racing at Talladega. In addition to the ratcheted-up championship pressure, teams and drivers also faced polarizing new aerodynamics rules that altered the looks of the cars and the type of racing they produced. McReynolds: The aero package was interesting. NASCAR had been searching all throughout the early part of 2000. ... In the summer of that year they took about 10 or 12 of us down to Daytona to do a test, and it was really an open sheet of paper. We went down there and they told us to bring all types of spoiler material and aluminum. I don't know that they really knew what they wanted to try and we just started trying things. Helton: We'd kind of eased up to it, but back in those days, we would kind of settle in on what we would use at the Daytona 500 by the Talladega race and use it there so that everybody would get used to it or we'd find any hidden ghosts and goblins in it before we unveiled it at the Daytona 500 . Bobby Labonte: I think we were there for the test and it was like some people liked it and some people didn't. If I went from 18th to first on the last lap, I loved it. I didn't like it quite as good at the end of the day. Childress: As good as I can remember back, we had the package with the wicker on the spoiler and the wicker across the roof. It was a whole new package and the cars really drafted, really raced. Nemechek: We called that the old taxi cab strip and they put a lot of drag in the car and turbulated a lot of air. … Once the air hit that thing on the roof, there were some very unique things going on with that, and I think between our two teams we were able to understand that quicker than most. Kenny Wallace (driver, Andy Petree Racing No. 55 Chevrolet): Andy Petree was by far, in my opinion, the best at getting the most out of his race cars on the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega. He was the king of aerodynamics and getting the car low to the ground. Petree: I loved it. In my opinion, it was one of the best packages that we ever had for restrictor-plate racing because it kept the cars obviously in a big pack, but it made a big, huge hole in the air and it took a lot more power to push that aero package, so the car had more power, more response and I thought it was one of the best packages they ever had. Bobby Labonte: Back then, we didn't run a pack of 43 cars in a full pack like you do today. I don't think we circled it as much as these guys do, say in the last five or 10 years, but it was somewhere you knew that just whatever happened, you could be running in the top five one lap and then 18th the next lap. Hailey: There was a tremendous amount of unknown with the new wicker bill across the top of the car. We had no idea what we were in for. A new aero package had drivers and crew chiefs wondering how their respective cars would react in traffic. This No. 3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo had no problem adjusting. The vehicle that carried Dale Earnhardt to his final NASCAR victory still resides in the team museum. Though the aerodynamic devices were intended to slow and bunch up the cars, the speeds shown in early practices were deemed too fast. That led to NASCAR officials making a change to the size of the restrictor-plate openings -- from 1 inch to 15/16ths -- just before final practice in an effort to further slow the cars. The modification added an extra layer of intrigue to what was already shaping up to be a true wild-card race. Petree: They had a restrictor-plate size, if I recall correctly, it was a one-inch plate that we started with, which made quite a bit of power. So we sat on the pole with the 33 car (Nemechek) and that one-inch plate changed everything as far as restrictor-plate motors. Helton: I don't think it would be called unprecedented, but it wasn't something we did every superspeedway race, but we also watched very closely the top speeds, and so if I recall correctly, it seems to me like this package during practice produced some speeds that had crept up and the aero package around the car was still such that the lift-off speed was critical to us. We shrunk the plate in the middle of that event to get the speeds in a better position for the event. Skinner : The aero platform, the whole rules thing with the engine package that they brought, for some reason everything was perfect on our car that weekend and we were extremely fast. And then NASCAR decided to put a smaller plate on, and I went up into the NASCAR truck and raised hell. It didn't take Mike Helton long to come out of his chair and explain to me that NASCAR had been there long before I was and it will be there long after I'm not. His job is to make sure that we don't put cars in the grandstands and keep our fans safe, and he basically just shut me right up and they did what they wanted to do anyway. Hailey: At that time, I was actually the dyno operator in the shop, so it was my job to run the engines on the dyno. We did a lot of testing before each race because we always had the idea, 'They may go a little smaller restrictor plate or they may go a little larger.' So we had a little background. We knew kind of what to do if they changed restrictor plates as far as the engine, as far as the tuning and everything, so it wasn't a big surprise that we had to change it. We were ready.
Jimmie Johnson signs extension with Hendrick
RELATED: See who is in the Chase Officials with Hendrick Motorsports have announced two-year contract extensions for six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and primary team sponsor Lowe's. The extensions, which were announced today via press release, run through the 2017 season. Johnson, 39, is the No. 1 seed in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , which gets underway with Sunday's myAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). A four-time winner this season, Johnson is attempting to become only the third driver in series history to win seven premier series titles, joining Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. He is a 74-time race winner in the series and is only two victories short of tying Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time win list. Johnson is the only driver to capture five consecutive Sprint Cup championships (2006-10). He and crew chief Chad Knaus have been paired together at Hendrick since the 2002 season. "My relationship with Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports means so much," Johnson said in a team release. "To me, this just reinforces how committed Lowe's is to our sport and to our partnership. It says a lot to have one sponsor and one team for this amount of time. I couldn't be prouder to represent everyone at Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports . This is my home, and I'm looking forward to many more victories together as a team." Knaus, whose latest contract extension runs through 2018, won championships as a crewman with teammate Jeff Gordon in '95 and '97 prior to being named crew chief for Johnson. "The contributions Jimmie and Chad have made to Hendrick Motorsports can't be overstated," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "When Lowe's took a chance by sponsoring the No. 48 team back in 2001, we never could've envisioned the results. It's a championship combination and genuine partnership that we're proud to continue and committed to develop even further." RELATED: Johnson discusses his outlook heading into the Chase Lowe's, the North Carolina-based home improvement chain, has been the No. 48 team's primary sponsor since 2002. It also backed the team for three races in 2001. The company funded the efforts of drivers Brett Bodine ('95-96) and Mike Skinner ('97-01) before aligning with Hendrick. "Their dedication … not only to Hendrick Motorsports but to the NASCAR community and our fans, has been absolutely incredible," Hendrick said. "We're fortunate to work with a company that's truly passionate about our sport and shares many of our organization's core values." Hendrick teams have won 11 premier series titles and 237 races since debuting in NASCAR in 1984 as a single-car entity with driver Geoff Bodine. RELATED: Where will Johnson be for Chase Across North America? In addition to Johnson, HMS also fields NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries for drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Kasey Kahne . Gordon, a four-time series champion, will retire from driving at the end of 2015. He will be replaced by defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott . Earnhardt Jr. is signed through the 2017 season while Kahne's contract was renewed late last year and will keep the Enumclaw, Washington, native on board through 2018. Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. will join Johnson in this year's 16-team Chase field.