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.
Part 2: The Intimidator's Day at Talladega
Editor's note: This story was originally published Oct. 21, 2015. 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.
Prolonged excellence has Childress Hall of Fame bound
RELATED: Learn more about the Class of 2017 MORE: Photos from voting day, of class Journeyman stock car racer Richard Childress caught lightning in a bottle, not once but twice. NASCAR's only driver strike, on the eve of the 1969 inaugural race at Talladega Superspeedway , gave Childress the opportunity to earn enough money to build his first race shop and lay the foundation for Richard Childress Racing , the powerhouse Chevrolet organization which to date has claimed 11 owner titles across NASCAR’s three national series. Nearly a decade later, the Winston-Salem, North Carolina native met Dale Earnhardt. Together, the pair won six NASCAR premier series championships along with 67 races between 1984 and 2000. Earnhardt entered the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a member of its 2010 inaugural class. Childress will be enshrined in the hall on Jan. 20 in Charlotte, N.C. (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), along with Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons. Childress, 71, grew up selling peanuts and popcorn at Winston-Salem's legendary Bowman Gray Stadium. Soon after, he bought a 1947 Plymouth for $20. "That's where it started," he said in a Grainger.com interview. "It's the best investment I ever made." Top drivers – those with factory contracts – made a decent living while independents like Childress barely scraped by. He went to Talladega in the fall of 1969 to compete in a preliminary event but was asked by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. to enter the Talladega 500 when Professional Driver Association members withdrew, citing high speeds and tire failures. "I had made three or four thousand dollars on Saturday," Childress told The Birmingham News in 2009. "The money that (France) paid us to run – we called it deal money in those days – plus my winnings, I came back with seven, eight, 10 thousand dollars. In those days it was big money. "It was my big break. Life’s all about the breaks and when you take advantage of them. That was the difference between making it and not making it." Childress never won a race as a driver but was able to secure enough sponsorship to keep going. His equipment generally was immaculate and pleased supporters, who ultimately would provide much greater – and crucial – financial backing. Earnhardt, who'd won his first championship in 1980, chose not to accompany Rod Osterlund's team upon its sale to J.D. Stacy. He joined Childress for 11 races, replacing the owner in the driver's seat. "I didn't want to get out of the car but I knew the opportunity was there – and I didn't want to pass it up," Childress told Foxnews.com last year. "I knew Dale was a championship driver. That was one of the biggest breaks in the history of RCR and Richard Childress. "I was maxxed out. I did everything I could do on my home. I sold everything I thought I had that I could sell just to run Dale in those (11) races." Earnhardt left to race for Bud Moore, and Childress – thanks to a bail-out from primary sponsor Wrangler Jeans – was able to continue. With Ricky Rudd, RCR scored its first victory in June 1983 at Riverside International Raceway. Earnhardt returned to RCR the following season, capturing the team’s first premier series title in 1986. Additional championships followed in 1987, 1990-91 and 1993-94. Longtime racing executive and Charlotte Motor Speedway promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler credited Childress for molding Earnhardt into one of NASCAR's greatest drivers. "In his own, quiet Southern way, Richard instilled in Dale all he knew," Wheeler wrote in "Growing Up NASCAR." "Richard knew what to say and when to say it and he knew how to get the best out of his driver. Richard was a brilliant, brilliant coach, something most drivers never get." Earnhardt and Childress finally won the long-elusive Daytona 500 in 1998, three years before the driver's death on the final lap of the "Great American Race." Childress considered leaving the sport – "Probably all the way up until Tuesday. Sunday night, definitely," he said – but recalled a hunting incident after which he and Earnhardt agreed each would go on if something happened to the other. RCR promoted its NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Kevin Harvick to drive its Chevrolets – retiring the iconic No. 3 in deference to the late Intimidator. Childress returned the number to its cars several years ago when his grandson, Austin Dillon , moved to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after winning NASCAR Camping World Truck and XFINITY titles. To date, RCR has won 105 NASCAR premier series races. The organization counts four XFINITY owner titles and the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner championship in 1995 with Mike Skinner . RCR also captured the XFINITY Series driver championship in 2013 and the Camping World Truck Series driver title in 2011, both with Austin Dillon . Childress, recipient of the 1986 Bill France Award of Excellence, is a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, International Motorsports Hall of Fame and North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. &amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR Hall of Fame unveils new lineup of iconic cars
RELATED: More on the Hall of Fame " Fan Appreciation Day CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For just the third time since the NASCAR Hall of Fame first opened its doors in 2010, race fans will see a new Glory Road exhibit encircling the Great Hall in the museum's main level. Glory Road "ICONS" features 18 cars representing some of NASCAR's most recognizable vehicles as well as its legendary drivers. The exhibit will officially open to the public Jan. 7. Friday, Hall officials held an unveiling for members of the media and various local dignitaries. Seventeen of the vehicles were on display when the hour-long event got underway. The wraps on the 18th, the No. 28 Ford Thunderbird piloted by Davey Allison for Ranier-Lundy Racing, were removed during the program. Among those in attendance for the unveiling were Allison's father, Bobby Allison, the 1983 series champion and winner of 84 races, Davey's son Robbie Allison, Joey Knuckles (Allison's crew chief for 19 races in 1987), Larry McReynolds (Allison's crew chief at Robert Yates Racing from '91-93) and Lorin Ranier, son of team owner Harry Ranier. "I notice in this general area Alabama is represented really well," Robbie Allison said, noting his father's car sits between those of his grandfather and fellow Alabama Gang driver Neil Bonnett. "We're doing pretty well I think. "When I look at this car, one thing that stands out is I always see the snippet online of him driving down pit road at Talladega and the whole crew is on top of the car. ... I see it all the time. All the good times that he and his team shared and our family was able to share through racing." Davey Allison scored his first NASCAR win in the top series in '87 at Talladega Superspeedway . He would add 18 more victories, including two more at the 2.66-mile Talladega track, before his death in 1993. Bobby Allison's racing career had ended in 1988 when his Buick slammed into the wall and was then struck by another race car on the first lap of a race at Pocono Raceway . Clifford Allison, Davey's brother, was killed in a crash during practice in 1992 at Michigan International Speedway . "Something that my granddad says to me all the time is that racing has taken a lot away from us but it's also given us an awful lot at the same time,” Robbie Allison said. "There are so many good memories ... "The words that everybody that knew (my dad) on and off the track, determination, hard work, obsession even, always willing to put in that extra effort to be better every day. ... He was definitely as good of a father as he was a racer.” McReynolds, now a NASCAR on FOX analyst, said Allison "actually made my job pretty easy because … I think a lot of it was the way Bobby brought him up through the racing ranks he knew what was going on with that race car and he had a pretty good idea what we needed to do to make it better. ... "He obviously did a phenomenal job in that race car but he did a really unbelievable job outside the race car. He loved his race fans." The 18 cars featured on the new Glory Road "ICONS" exhibit span the history of NASCAR, from the 1952 Hudson Hornet driven by Marshall Teague -- a dominant combination in the sport's formative years -- to the 2015 Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota Camry that carried Kyle Busch to the series championship. Other entries in the exhibit include: • 1957 Ford Fairlane driven by Fireball Roberts • 1964 Plymouth Belvedere of Richard Petty • 1966 Ford Galaxie owned and driven by Wendell Scott • 1966 Dodge Charger fielded by Cotton Owens and driven by David Pearson • 1939 Chevrolet Coupe piloted by Richie Evans in 1970-71 • 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Darrell Waltrip • 1978 Ford Thunderbird driven by Bobby Allison • 1982 Oldsmobile Omega driven by Sam Ard • 1989 Ford Thunderbird driven by Neil Bonnett • 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass driven by Harry Gant • 1992 Ford Thunderbird driven by Bill Elliott • 1995 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Mike Skinner • 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Dale Earnhardt • 2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Jeff Gordon • 2013 Chevrolet SS driven by Jimmie Johnson Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, said his group began with a notebook of "100 to 120 cars" that had to be trimmed considerably before beginning the process of selecting and obtaining the final 18. "If I handed you that notebook you would probably agree that 80-90 are iconic cars," Kelley said. "There are others that are noteworthy of acknowledging at some point in time, but would it pass the sticker test ... would you say 'yeah that's iconic?' " As with previous Glory Road exhibits, the "ICONS" exhibit will remain on display for three years. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Live streaming schedule for Champion's Week
RELATED: Full Champion's Week schedule Champion's Week is here, and NASCAR.com will live stream several events from Las Vegas as NASCAR formally wraps up the 2016 season. Below is the complete schedule. All times are ET. WEDNESDAY, NOV. 30 -- 12-12:30 p.m.: Miss Sprint Cup with Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus ( Watch live ) THURSDAY, DEC. 1: -- 2-4:15 p.m.: NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon ( Watch live ) -- 4:45-5:15 p.m.: NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France ( Watch live ) -- 6-7:15 p.m.: NASCAR Victory Lap Fueled by Sunoco ( Watch live ) -- 7:15-7:30 p.m: Matthew Dillner, Claire B. Lang ride to NASCAR After the Lap location, the Pearl ( Watch live ) -- 7:30-8:05 p.m.: Mike Skinner and Angie Skinner at the Pearl, with guests ( Watch live ) -- 8:05-9:30 p.m.: NASCAR After the Lap Sponsored by Chevrolet, Ford & Toyota ( Watch live )
Analysis: How guidelines affect race to all-time wins
RELATED: New guidelines put limits in place The updated 2017 driver guidelines will have an effect on many drivers, as it places a limit on the number of NASCAR XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series races in which veterans of the premier series can compete. It also will have an effect on two NASCAR records -- the all-time wins in both the XFINITY and Camping World series. Kyle Busch is closing in on Ron Hornaday Jr .'s Truck Series mark, but will have fewer opportunities to catch him due to being eligible for fewer races. As NASCAR announced Wednesday, all drivers with at least five years of experience in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series can compete in a maximum of seven races in the Camping World Truck Series and 10 races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. WATCH: Driver analyzes new guidelines Here's how the records books might turn out: XFINITY SERIES Leader of the pack: With 85 career wins, Kyle Busch leads second-place Mark Martin by … uh, a lot. Martin has 49 career series wins, followed by Kevin Harvick (46), Carl Edwards (38) and Brad Keselowski (34). What it means: Busch has piled up stats over the past eight years. From 2008-15, he started 203 events in the XFINITY Series, an average of about 25 per year. That will go down drastically -- to a maximum of 10 -- but it may not create as much of a hardship as one would think. The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has cut back on his XFINITY schedule in recent years, starting 15 races in 2015 and 16 this year through 30 races. March to 100: Busch has 100 series wins in his sights. He averages one win in about 4 starts in his career, but the past two years the start-to-win ratio is nearly 2:1. With those recent numbers in mind, if he makes the maximum of 10 starts per year in the future, we expect Busch to reach 100 series wins in 2019. And that record … : The XFINITY Series all-time wins record likely will never be broken. CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES Leader of the pack: Four-time series champion Ron Hornaday has 51 career wins, but Busch is on his heels with 46. Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague both have 28. Todd Bodine is fifth on the all-time list with 22. What it means: There's even less of an impact here for Busch as he has lightened his Truck Series load considerably, spending most of his energy in the series as an owner ( Kyle Busch Motorsports). March to 52: Two wins in eight races over the past two seasons is an excellent ratio for "Rowdy." While there's a chance he cuts out Truck Series races completely, being so close to Hornaday is going to be like a gravitational pull to someone as competitive and talented as Busch. And that record … : Call it an average of two wins per season moving forward, mimicking his numbers this year, and you're looking at a new all-time series wins leader in … 2019, the same year we project him to get to 100 XFINITY Series wins.
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.
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."
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.
France: Truck Series connects NASCAR's past, future
RELATED: NASCAR stars who got their start in Truck Series MORE: Key moments in series history LOUDON, N.H. -- What blossomed from an out-of-the-box idea conceived in the American desert in the mid-1990s is now marking an important NASCAR milestone. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will celebrate its 500th race with Saturday's UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway , and the series' staying power is a testament to simultaneously embracing new ideas and old-style racing. Today's Truck Series is both a throwback concept and a racing vision that has evolved mightily in the past three decades. It started off as a chance to seize on the popularity of pick-up trucks and take an exciting form of racing from "off road" to "on track," where it has become one of the most popular forms of racing in America. Racing stars have been born, NASCAR got to show its wares in new, often smaller markets and truck manufacturers still benefited with a slightly varied version of an old NASCAR promise: "What wins on Friday night, sells on Monday mornings." The series is unique in that it is both retro and futuristic, providing an old-style, hard-knocks brand of close competition while also serving as a training ground for young drivers and a platform for NASCAR to try out new rules and formats. And many people might not be aware of NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France's early involvement in helping the series through humble beginnings to the thriving national competition it is today. "From the very beginning, for a lot of reasons, we got a lot of good competition out of it and obviously that is the heart and soul of a national race division,'' France told NASCAR.com. "We were fortunate to get up-and-coming drivers in combination with some venues that would put on an exciting event. From the early days, our competition guys designed good, smart rules packages that increased competition and made it an exciting series. Most of those attributes remain today.'' The idea of racing pick-up trucks was the brainchild of a group of off-road racers competing in the Southwest. They had the idea but recognized having NASCAR's marketing, promotional and sanctioning arms behind the series would make all the difference. And it didn't take much to convince France of the potential. He was living out West at the time, holding an assortment of titles while learning the "family business'' and he helped push the idea of racing trucks along to his father, NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr. Both men recognized it as a real niche and big opportunity. "We were able to look at and work with the original founders of the concept,'' Brian France said. "The car manufacturers were really focused on trucks at the time. Our fan base related to trucks and we thought we could design a rules package and series around all of that. We thought we could market it and extend NASCAR in some areas. "Most of that worked out just nicely.'' After a lot of behind-the-scenes blood, sweat and tears -- including fast and furious work from a handful of truck builders -- the France family proudly announced the launch of NASCAR's newest national series in May of 1994. A series of exhibition races in the West were held that summer piquing interest from competitor and spectator. The first official green flag was dropped on Feb. 5, 1995, at Phoenix International Raceway in a race won by eventual champion, California-native Mike Skinner . The seasons since have launched the careers of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' stars such as Carl Edwards , Greg Biffle and included stops by reigning Cup champion Kevin Harvick and 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski . The Truck Series' unique pairing with IMSA sports car races and IndyCar events has brought NASCAR racing to a non-traditional audience and allowed the sanctioning body to test out new pit road rules and formats, including the green-white-checkered flag concept used now in all three national series. Today's Camping World Truck Series remains a popular, must-see TV for fans and continues to be a thriving development opportunity for young drivers such as current points leader Erik Jones , Ryan Blaney , Darrell Wallace Jr ., Ty Dillon and last week's newest first-time winner, 18-year old second-generation NASCAR racer John Hunter Nemechek . They all get regular chances to gauge their racing progress competing against the likes of successful Cup drivers such as Kyle Busch and Keselowski, who also own truck teams. "It's gone through a lot of different generations for positioning,'' France said. "And where it's ended up is the best place. It's basically a throwback to how racing used to be. It gives us our best look back at that style of racing, shorter events, more contact typically and smaller venues that we can get into because of the cost structure. "It allows us to hold onto a page of NASCAR's history that is very definitive for us. That's a good thing and allows us to take it to venues and do things we might not take risks on with other national divisions. It gives us good flexibility. "It remains a great entry point for up-and-coming drivers to run on some venues that other national divisions run on and some new ones. It allows them a place to break out and that's always a good thing for us to develop talent. "It serves a lot of other purposes, but most notably our core fan base in NASCAR often believes that's the best racing in NASCAR."
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