Thunder in the hills: North Wilkesboro, 20 years later
NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. -- Paint peels and memories fade but the echoes of the past still ring off the hillsides here. Twenty years ago today, the checkered flag fell on the final NASCAR premier series race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Bob Flock won the first race, in 1949 and on dirt. Jeff Gordon won the last, in 1996 and on asphalt. The two races serve as bookends for a track that even after 20 years of silence serves as a reminder of the sport's colorful past. For 48 years and 93 races, NASCAR teams made the trek to the secluded .625-mile track in the Brushy Mountains of northwestern North Carolina . "It's one of the sport's most historic tracks, one that really helped put NASCAR on the map," car owner Richard Childress said. "A lot of people overlook that. But a lot of great things happened there. (Former series sponsor) R.J. Reynolds really supported it; Holly Farms back in the day … all those things were important to building our sport to what it is today." Built by Wilkes County resident Enoch Staley and partners Lawson Curry and Jack and Charlie Combs, North Wilkesboro Speedway was a venue unlike any other -- in part because the front straightaway ran slightly downhill and the backstretch uphill. It opened in 1947, two years before the debut of NASCAR's Strictly Stock Series, and hosted its first NASCAR premier series event in October of '49. The Wilkes 200 featured a 22-car field and was the final race of the inaugural season for NASCAR's new featured series. Flock won the race but it was Red Byron, finishing 16th, who captured the series' first championship. RELATED: Veterans share fond memories of track
How the 'tire war' was won -- at North Wilkesboro
RELATED: North Wilkesboro, 20 years later MORE: Classic Dale Jr. story: Angry dad, purple gas jug In the late 1980s, NASCAR's twofold quest for speed and success took a sharp turn as tire supplier Goodyear introduced the radial tire to the sanctioning body's premier series. Bias-ply tires had been the standard for stock car competition from the very beginning. But radial tire technology had vastly improved, and major open-wheel series had already made the swap to radials. Off the track, radials had also begun replacing bias-ply as the tires of choice for passenger vehicles. But the bias-ply tires still used in NASCAR provided teams with another tool in the toolbox, a way to "tune" the car's setup through the use of air pressures and tire stagger ( the variation in the circumference of the car's tires), something radial tire technology couldn't duplicate at the time. Goodyear officials were working toward implementing radials in NASCAR when the company got an unexpected push from Hoosier Tire Company in 1988. The competition between the two was fierce, and not without consequences. "Softer" tires produced by both brands generated higher speeds, but durability faltered. The "fall-off" in the product led to numerous tire failures and hard crashes. The following year, Goodyear officials rolled out radial race tires in an effort to provide both speed and durability. It was an ongoing project -- problems before the season-opening Daytona 500 forced the company to withdraw its product for that event. It wasn't until the spring race of 1989 at North Wilkesboro that Goodyear debuted the radial tire that officials felt was far more durable and could provide the necessary consistency and speed. "We were going to step through it," said Greg Stucker, head of race tire sales for Goodyear. "We were going to introduce them at the short tracks and then slowly step into the other race tracks." Rusty Wallace, driving for team owner Raymond Beadle, won the pole after the Blue Max team made the switch to Hoosiers. "We knew the Hoosiers were quick," Stucker said. "We also knew that the radials were extremely good over the long run. We went the first 100-some odd laps under green, which you don't do at North Wilkesboro very often. And Rusty got lapped, I think, about Lap 70." Dale Earnhardt won the race, thanks in part to the Richard Childress team's use of the Goodyear radials. "I still have that car," Childress said. "That's one of my favorite cars I have on display because I didn't re-do the body on it. I made the rest of them look real nice, but that car is still beat up; it has the Dale Earnhardt look still left on it. All the fenders beat in, the sides, and a set of the very first radial tires. "That's why we kept that one. It was the first win anybody had on radial tires. And everybody said 'That's going to be the end of Dale Earnhardt; he won't be able to run on them radial tires.' Well, we went out there and won the first race on them." The tire war eventually ended – Hoosier pulled out of the sport in mid-1989, returned for the ’94 season with its own radial tire, but departed at year's end due to a lack of sales. "It couldn't have worked out better for us to demonstrate how strong and how consistent the radial was," Stucker said. " The race really played into our hands pretty well. I think it was a good demonstration to everybody that this was a good package. "You know they say you have good days and bad days in racing? That was definitely one of the best days I've had at the race track. It was a good one." &amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Relive the last NSCS race at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway
Take a look back as Jeff Gordon wins the last race at North Wilkesboro Speedway in the Sprint Cup Series on September 29th, 1996.
Hoffman wins Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award
NEW YORK -- Andy Hoffman, founder of the Nebraska-based Team Jack Foundation dedicated to funding pediatric brain cancer research, was the recipient of The NASCAR Foundation's sixth annual Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award presented by Nationwide on Tuesday night, during The Foundation's inaugural Honors Gala at the Marriott Marquis. This year's award presentation is the highlight of the "10 Years of Giving" celebration for The NASCAR Foundation, which has donated approximately $25 million to impact the lives of children since its inception in 2006. The Honors Gala raised more than $1.6 million to benefit hospitalized children across the country through the recently established Speediatrics Children's Fund. The award is presented to a NASCAR fan who has done outstanding work on behalf of children in need in their community. The award honors the philanthropic ideals of the late Betty Jane France, who started The NASCAR Foundation in 2006. The NASCAR Foundation will donate $100,000 to "Team Jack," which was founded by Hoffman and his wife Brianna in 2013, two years after their son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Team Jack works to raise research funds and create national awareness of pediatric brain cancer. Hoffman, from Atkinson, Nebraska, was chosen via an online fan vote on NASCAR.com. "I am humbled to have won the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award," Hoffman said. "Receiving this award is truly a reflection of all of those amazing people that helped support the Team Jack Foundation since day one. Winning this award, literally, could be the difference between life or death for a child someday. Our hope is that the $100,000 donation will provide the seed money for us to help fund yet another clinical trial." There were three other finalists for the award; each will receive $25,000 from The NASCAR Foundation for the charity they represent. Those finalists: Jim Giaccone of Bayville, New York, representing the New York-based Tuesday's Children organization; Logan Houptley of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a founding member of the Mikayla's Voice organization in Nazareth, Pennsylvania; and Parker White of Greensboro, North Carolina , founder of BackPack Beginnings. &amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;gt;
Purple punch: Earnhardt Jr.'s classic North Wilkesboro memory
RELATED: North Wilkesboro, 20 years later Dale Earnhardt Jr . didn't begin his career in NASCAR's premier series until 1999, three years after the series had moved on from North Wilkesboro Speedway. But Earnhardt Jr., a student of NASCAR history, did compete at the .625-mile track, racing a Late Model entry on at least a couple of occasions. "I ran the Sun Drop (sponsored) car there," Earnhardt Jr. recalled. "Actually, I think we went there twice. With the Sun Drop car I remember qualifying 19th or something; I don't remember how many cars were there but I'm sure they sent a few home so it was cool to make the race." The contentment was short-lived. According to Earnhardt, he "T-boned a guy and had to run the rest of the race with no fenders or hood or anything. So it wasn't a whole lot of fun." The following year, all three Earnhardt siblings -- Earnhardt Jr., older brother Kerry and older sister Kelley -- made the trek to the legendary track to compete in the Late Model race. None of the three managed to qualify, a situation that didn't sit well with their father and team owner, Dale Earnhardt. "Dad had assumed that I would make the race because we'd been running so good at Myrtle Beach," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He said, 'You guys run this race' and there was a race at Myrtle Beach that night; he was going to fly us in his King Air to the beach so we could compete that night and stay in the track points (battle)." But when Dale Jr. failed to make the show, "He told me and my guys to screw off, that we had to drive the damn van all the way from North Wilkesboro to Myrtle Beach to try to make the race. "We had to hustle; we barely made it. He was pissed off that all three cars missed the race." MORE: How end of "tire war" started at track Failing to qualify and having to drive all day to that night's race wasn't the only issue. An incident with "questionable" fuel also took place, but Earnhardt Jr. laughs when he recounts the incident today. "I had a jug of trick fuel for my car," he said. "It was a purple gas jug. We kept it in that purple gas jug so we wouldn't mix it up with the other fuel. It was probably Elf fuel or something just to give my car a little more speed. Or it might have had some propylene oxide in there or something. "One of Kerry or Kelley's guys walked over to get some gas for their car and grabbed the purple jug and a fight ensued between their crew and my crew; it sort of let the cat out of the bag that whatever was in that jug was pretty special. That was kind of comical." Something to laugh about, no doubt, on the long drive from the hills of North Wilkesboro to the sands of Myrtle Beach. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Stewart not interested in playing numbers game
RELATED: Updated Chase Grid " Who's on the bubble? " Series standings CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Crunch the numbers. Do the math. But don't bother telling Tony Stewart the potential scenarios required for him to advance to the Round of 12 in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . You'd be wasting your time and his time, too. The only scenario Stewart, 45 and three times a Sprint Cup Series champion, cares about is the one that ends with him and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team celebrating in Victory Lane this weekend at Dover International Speedway . "All we can do is go out and do the best we can this weekend," Stewart said Wednesday during a daylong media stop in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina . "It still amazes me how people can take something that's so simple and make it so complicated. 'Will we be watching where everybody else is?' "Well yeah, I can waste my time and do that but … I've got to focus on winning the race. Because if I win the race I don't have to worry about where they're at . But if I go and do everything I can to try and win the race and I finish second, then wherever they are is wherever they are. I can't control those guys on the race track so why focus your attention on it? It's a waste of time." The 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is the final one for Stewart. He'll remain involved in the series as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing , which fields four Sprint Cup teams and one that will debut a NASCAR XFINITY Series entry next year. He's a track owner, team owner and competitor in other series -- some NASCAR-affiliated, some not -- as well. But his quest for a fourth title rests solely on the outcome of Sunday's Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). A 16-driver field that began the Chase two weeks ago will be trimmed to 12 after Dover, and Stewart will arrive Friday 15th on the Chase Grid. His approach to what could be his final race as a title contender will be no different than any other weekend. "There is no mindset to it," he said. " The most realistic mindset to go into it with is the same approach you go into it with every weekend of the year and that's to go try to win the race. If you don't, get the best finish you can get out of it. That's not glamorous and that's not what you want to hear … but it's literally that simple. Go try to win the race. Do everything you can to win the race. If you can't win the race, try to finish second. If you can't finish second, try to finish third. It is as simple as it can possibly get." That Stewart is in this predicament is something of a surprise, given the strong summer run that saw him collect six top-10 finishes, including a win at Sonoma , in eight races. The No. 14 team, headed up by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, seemed primed for a possible run at yet another title. RELATED: See all of Stewart's victories But the results of the most recent six races weren't nearly as impressive, with no finish higher than 16th. "These things are such science projects," Stewart said of today's cars, "and pretty much the whole (SHR) organization fights the same thing. It's whichever one can find the solution first." Teammate Kevin Harvick has guaranteed himself a spot in the Round of 12 with a win this past weekend at New Hampshire and Kurt Busch can advance either by points, depending on his finish, or with a victory. Teammate Danica Patrick is the only SHR entry not in the Chase field. RELATED: Harvick surges late for Loudon win "We're going to have to rely on Kevin and Rodney (Childers, crew chief), Kurt and (Tony) Gibson (crew chief) for sure and do the best we can," Stewart said. "We weren't totally terrible at the spring race but definitely have to be better than we were to get done what we need to get done." Scenarios? Talk to Stewart at Homestead, if he happens to be one of the championship four. That's when he'll be more aware of such things. "When you get to the last race of the year and you're racing for a championship and you've got enough of a lead that no matter what, if you finish from here on up, then yeah, you think about that," he said. "But that’s not the scenario we're in." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Chase by the Numbers: Dover
Here's all the info you need to know for the first cutoff race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, including some surprising statistics for two of the first-time Chase competitors.
Looking for the lobstah' in the Rearview
NASCAR.com's Costner Merrifield takes a look back at an exciting weekend for all three of NASCAR's top touring series that included a few lobsters in the 'Live Free or Die' state.
Busch family, No. 18 team visit the White House
As part of his Sprint Cup championship duties, Kyle Busch had one more thing left on his to-do list: visit the White House. So that's exactly what he did on Wednesday with the entire No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team and wife, Samantha. And no, Brexton wasn't in attendance, but President Obama gave him a nice, little shout-out. Follow along on the crew's trip to Washington, D.C. Thank you @POTUS for having the @mmschocolate team visit the @WhiteHouse today. pic.twitter.com/2Np9tGTSF1 — Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) September 28, 2016 Snapchatting my way thru the White House if u wanna follow along! Samantha.Busch — Samantha Busch (@SamanthaBusch) September 28, 2016 The No.18 crew is on the ground in DC! Next stop: The @WhiteHouse . #NASCAR #CHAMP18NS pic.twitter.com/32HzSof8ob — Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) September 28, 2016 We're at the @WhiteHouse with @KyleBusch @samanthabusch and the No.18 team! #NASCAR #CHAMP18N pic.twitter.com/k6zaRI6GWL — Joe Gibbs Racing (@JoeGibbsRacing) September 28, 2016 Tune in at 11am ET as @POTUS honors @NASCAR champion @KyleBusch : https://t.co/rOls3Sio1L — The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 28, 2016 . RT @SaraBarnes8 : @SamanthaBusch what does one wear to the White House? pic.twitter.com/Y2JHJGMIaP — Samantha Busch (@SamanthaBusch) September 28, 2016 . @POTUS welcomes @KyleBusch , @SamanthaBusch and the @JoeGibbsRacing family to the @WhiteHouse ! pic.twitter.com/O0kqbP848C — NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 28, 2016 "Tell Brexton I said hello." - @POTUS https://t.co/ptDTddyaES — NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 28, 2016 Crispy lid! @KyleBusch gives @POTUS one of his helmets as a gift at today's visit to the @WhiteHouse . pic.twitter.com/NnUu6nEQyV — NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 28, 2016 . @POTUS honors @NASCAR champion @KyleBusch and the whole Number 18 team: https://t.co/MRvt4wLGCe — The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 28, 2016
Nos. 78, 48 fail post-race inspection at Chicago
RELATED: Full race results " O'Donnell discusses post-race process The No. 78 Toyota of race winner Martin Truex Jr . and the No. 48 Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson failed post-race inspection Sunday following the opening race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Both cars failed during both trips through the Laser Inspection System (LIS). Any penalties will be announced later in the week, according to NASCAR. "It is what it is," No. 78 crew chief Cole Pearn said post-race in the Sprint Cup garage. "Kind of a bummer on the day, but whatever, you know. We'll move on. … It's just really tricky. It's just the repeatability. Things relax. It's not the stiffest suspension back there, by any means. You try to account for that and prevent it and we missed it. We missed it two weeks in a row, which is kind of crappy." This is the second consecutive week the No. 78 failed post-race LIS. RELATED: No. 78 fails Richmond post-race " Team assessed P2 penalty Previous LIS violations have produced either 10- or 15-point deductions during the regular season. NASCAR recently updated its rules for "encumbered" victory penalties during the postseason, but those would not be in effect for Truex Jr. because it was the lowest grade of failure for the LIS platform. " The right rear of our car was well within the tolerance margin, which showed that we were trying to be conservative," Furniture Row Racing announced in a team release on Monday. "However, the left rear wheel alignment was off by approximately ten-thousandths of an inch, which in high probability was due to damage in that area as a result of being hit by the No. 4 car. We believe the laser inspection numbers were correct and accept NASCAR's decision that was made following Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway." RELATED: Read more about the rules updates Kyle Busch 's No. 18 Toyota failed its first trip through the LIS platform, but passed the second. That does not equal a failed post-race inspection. Additionally, the No. 16 Ford of Greg Biffle was missing one lug nut after the race and the No. 43 Ford of Aric Almirola had a broken stud. The Nos. 78, 22 (of Joey Logano ) and 24 (of Chase Elliott ) will undergo further scrutiny at the weekly post-race inspection at the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina , on Tuesday. That event will be live-streamed on NASCAR.com. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;