Bruce: Throwbacks or not, Darlington chock full of lasting memories
RELATED: Paint schemes, then and now DARLINGTON, S.C. -- What year was it, 1985? The season Bill Elliott captured the Winston Million bonus the very first season it was put up for grabs by then-series sponsor RJ Reynolds? Ol' Bill, who would finish the season with an amazing 11 victories but lose the championship battle to Darrell Waltrip. Recollections of Elliott smiling broadly as "Million Dollar Bills" floated through the air in Victory Lane. That was probably it, the first time I covered a NASCAR premier series race at Darlington Raceway . The backstretch today was the frontstretch then, the big red press box and suites sitting there just outside Turn 1. It provided a grand view, possibly one of the best of any stops on the circuit. Watching the field roar out of the fourth turn, so incredibly close to the wall. Then flying down the frontstretch, hammer down and into Turn 1 to start the process all over again. Just sitting there. Soaking it all in. Overlooking history in the making. More than three decades. Time does fly, I suppose. The track's hugely popular throwback program, now in its second season, rekindles a lot of racing memories. Paint schemes that we haven't seen in years suddenly re-appear, roll out of the garage and in a sense, roll back the calendar. But then again the memories always stir a bit when it comes to Darlington. No throwback program is necessary. Maybe it's because the track is an honest-to-goodness landmark, cut out of the sandy soil by Harold Brasington and opened for business in 1950. It was NASCAR's first paved oval of more than 1 mile in length. Brasington had a vision and wasn't shy about pursuing it. But more than that he was also a kind and caring soul to all of us and I never make the trek down here for a race without thinking about him. The action on the track? Yeah, that stands out, too. But it wasn't always the kind of things you hoped to be writing about -- hard crashes and injuries could, and did, happen other places as well but a couple that occurred here haven't been forgotten. Neil Bonnett's crash in the spring race of 1990 is one of them. The extremely personable Bonnett was one of 10 drivers collected in the Turn 4 incident during that year's spring race. Briefly knocked unconscious, Bonnett was eventually transferred to the local hospital and hours later it was reported that he was suffering from amnesia. More than a decade later, it was Steve Park. The Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver was competing in a Busch (now XFINITY ) Series event when, under caution, his Chevrolet suddenly veered left and into the path of Larry Foyt. The impact was tremendous to have happened under caution. But the sadness of such instances doesn't completely overshadow the good times. Jeff Gordon 's Winston Million victory in 1997, the final year of that format, was the perfect bookend to that program's 13-year run. His battle with Jeff Burton in the closing laps of that race was as memorable as any that have unfolded on the 1.366-mile track. Speaking of Burton, there are recollections of his 1999 Darlington sweep in a pair of rain-shortened races here; toss in Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch bringing the fans to their feet with an absolutely amazing finish in 2003; and Regan Smith rising up with the then-small Furniture Row Racing operation to slay the field, and Carl Edwards in 2011. This year's Bojangles' Southern 500 , scheduled to get underway Sunday (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the 67th running of the legendary classic. I've seen some of the cars and heard many of the stories from several of the men who were there when the legend of Darlington began. For a lot of others, I've been there to witness it firsthand. It's been worth every minute of it.
Kenseth to continue Tide car's legacy at Darlington
RELATED: See all the schemes from 2016 " VOTE: Favorite Darlington scheme BUY TICKETS: Darlington When five drivers and an owner of the caliber of Ricky Craven , Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip, Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs get in one room, race fans can't help just hoping they won't stop telling stories. Thank Tide and Darlington Raceway 's throwback weekend for bringing together this entertaining and endearing group of racing royalty. Kenseth's throwback scheme for Labor Day Weekend's Bojangles' Southern 500 (Sept. 4, 6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) allows the orange, yellow and white Tide car to ride -- and contend for a win -- again. The Joe Gibbs Racing quartet, consisting of Kenseth, Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards , has racked up 10 wins in the 2016 season's first 22 races -- the most successful organization, thus far, in 2016. The iconic scheme brings back memories of victories for Craven , Rudd and Waltrip. "Matt's the only one who hasn't won in the Tide car," Craven pointed out. "No pressure, Matt," the other racers chimed in. Kenseth, however, isn't feeling too much pressure on the track yet with two wins in 2016 -- at Dover and Loudon -- and his Chase berth secured. But the 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion did feel the gravitas of the racing greats gathered Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the unveiling of the No. 20 Tide Pods Toyota. "On a serious note, I really want to thank the three guys behind me, all legends in the sport," Kenseth said. "I've gotten to race with all three of them. "I'm a little concerned about Darlington, though. Not because of the track, but because of these guys. Ricky Rudd doesn't look like he's aged a day since he got out of the car. I know he can fit right in my seat and go drive the thing. So I'm a little worried about him at Darlington. Might have to bring security with me." "Does that mean we're just old?" Ricky Craven asked, referring to himself and Waltrip after Kenseth eliminated them as threats to steal his ride for the Southern 500. "I know Waltrip can't fit," Kenseth joked. Waltrip joined in the jostling but also got very sentimental. He recalled his victory in the Tide ride at Martinsville Speedway on Sept. 27, 1987, the day his daughter, Jessica, was born -- and the rose in a vase someone left in his car seat with a note that said, "Win for me, daddy." Gibbs joked that he's the perfect person to represent the sponsor because, "When I was 5 years old, Tide became a reality. You do the math." Tide is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The three retired racers worked the Tide brand representatives on hand, too, pushing hard to see the Tide car back on track full-time as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series sponsor. Gibbs said for now it's a one-race deal, but JGR is honored to work with the brand that has been a part of racing for decades -- including being the detergent that goes in the Air Titans when they wash the tracks. Bringing back memories is the key to fans and race teams alike embracing the Darlington throwback weekends. The JGR and Tide team hopes the No. 20 will lead the pack in nostalgia as well as horsepower. "That orange car is going to make a splash at Darlington," Waltrip said. MORE: Reaction to paint scheme from the legends
Kenseth scheme paints picture of historic Darlington moment
VOTE: Favorite Darlington scheme " MORE: Relive the 'Tide Ride' making history BUY TICKETS: Darlington The final piece of the Joe Gibbs Racing Darlington throwback paint schemes puzzle fell into place Tuesday afternoon at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The #TideRide Returns for @TooToughToTame ! @JoeGibbsRacing @mattkenseth @AllWaltrip @RickyCravenESPN pic.twitter.com/UxBhCAzcFn — NASCAR Hall of Fame (@NASCARHall) August 16, 2016 Matt Kenseth pulled back the cover of his No. 20 Toyota Camry to reveal a Tide-influenced scheme that he'll run on Sept. 4 in the Bojangles' Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Tide has a rich history in NASCAR, including being on Darrell Waltrip's car for his 1989 Daytona 500 win, as well as a famous moment at Darlington -- in 2003, Ricky Craven , in his orange Tide car, beat Kurt Busch to the stripe by .002 seconds in a classic slam-bang finish. Ricky Rudd also ran the paint scheme for several seasons. In doing so, Kenseth will join Kyle Busch (No. 18, honoring Dale Jarrett), Denny Hamlin (No. 11, honoring Darrell Waltrip) and Carl Edwards (No. 19, honoring Tony Stewart ) in the JGR fleet of drivers. More than two dozen throwback paint schemes for this year's race have been announced. The throwback program launched last year and is expected to continue for the next several seasons. This year's theme honors the era of 1975-84. MORE: Legends banter about the scheme &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Relive the 'Tide Ride' making history
Relive the drama as Ricky Craven drives the 'Tide Ride' and battles Kurt Busch to the checkered flag at Darlington Raceway in 2003 to create the closest finish in NASCAR history.
Kenseth unveils throwback 'Tide Ride' for Darlington
Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Ricky Craven and Darrell Waltrip unveil the No. 20 Tide Ride throwback paint scheme for Darlington. Catch Kenseth on track at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, September 4th.
Gordon fastest in rain-shortened Dover practice
RELATED: Practice results " Junior gives update in Dover garage Jeff Gordon , filling in for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr ., topped the leaderboard in Saturday's first of two scheduled Sprint Cup Series practices at Dover International Speedway at 160.514 mph in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Right behind him was Ricky Stenhouse Jr . in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford at 159.610 mph. Rounding out the top five were Ryan Newman in the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (159.419 mph), Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 HMS Chevrolet (159.405 mph) and Paul Menard in the No. 27 RCR Chevrolet (159.011). Series points leader Brad Keselowski was 22nd fastest with a speed of 157.020 mph in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford. Martin Truex Jr . and Kevin Harvick , who have each clinched a berth to the next Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup round, were 28th and eighth, respectively. The final practice session was set to begin at 1:30 p.m. ET, but weather prevented the cars from getting on track. The Sprint Cup Series will return Sunday for the Citizen Soldier 400 at 2 p.m. ET (NBCSN, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio).
Mixed reviews for Keselowski's restart
RELATED: NASCAR official: We believe we did our job today LOUDON, N.H. -- Race restarts have been a hot-button issue in NASCAR this season and ironically, one of the teams most vocal about restart officiating was penalized for an illegal start Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Team Penske driver -- and Chase contender -- Brad Keselowski was ruled to have jumped the restart on Lap 242 and penalized with a pass-through penalty that dropped him from second place at the time to 25th. NASCAR officials say that video shows Keselowski's Ford accelerating through the marked restart area ahead of then race leader Greg Biffle 's Ford and called the decision to penalize Keselowski "very clear cut in our mind.'' "We did get 100 percent confirmation from our official that was on the ground as well as by all the data that was available to us,'' said Richard Buck, NASCAR's managing director of the Sprint Cup Series. The 2012 Cup champ Keselowski said he felt like NASCAR was making an example of him saying he was "the first person to ever be penalized for jumping a restart when I don't pass anyone, so that's a new one." "But we moved on and we made the most of a good day with the Miller Lite Ford and got a solid finish that hopefully will make our Dover (race) a little bit easier, so that was good," said Keselowski, who rallied to a 12th place finish. Biffle, for his part after the race, seemed a little puzzled by the call as well. "To be perfectly honest with you, I didn't notice," Biffle said. "I saw Brad kind of going a little bit and I waited until about the middle of the zone maybe. I didn't go right at the two marker, but I maintained my speed and I didn't speed up or slow down and I took off when I felt like it was time for me to go. "I wasn't really paying that close attention to the 2 (Keselowski) or what he was doing. We were pretty even getting down into (Turn) 1. I don't knew what they called him for, but I'll have to take a look back I guess. "I feel bad for Brad. I wasn't playing any games. I wasn't doing anything. I just went in between those two marks like we're supposed to.'' Keselowski recovered well from the penalty and is ranked eighth of the 16 Chase drivers with next week's elimination round after Dover cutting the field to 12. Still his team owner Roger Penske wondered what might have been on Sunday as Keselowski ran up front most of the afternoon. "I didn't see it, but his car was ahead of the 16 (Biffle) at the second line and I guess that's how they called it,'' Penske said. "He (Keselowski) didn't pass him, so I thought he was all right. I've got to go back and look at it. The race is over; there's nothing we can do about it. "I don't think he tried to jump it all. The way it looked in the box and they're going to call it when the first car doesn't cross the second line ahead. We'll just have to deal with it. Brad did a great job. The car ran well. We were running second at the time, with the 4 ( Kevin Harvick ) running out of fuel it would have been interesting. We're still in decent shape going into the next phase.'' WATCH: Keselowski black-flagged after restart Buck spoke with reporters after the race to further explain NASCAR's position on the restarts. He said there has been a lot of communication about the standard and the punishment. He said officials even warned teams on the radio during the race when it looked like the start was in position to be compromised. "We have made the rules very clear to everybody in the last couple drivers meetings and made sure everyone was informed,'' Buck said. "In fact today during the race, we reminded them before the race and during each restart of the rules. "If we saw something creeping toward the end we informed the spotter and crew chief so they knew what we were seeing and that's what brought us to the decision. "We're very clear and the drivers agree. The language is: there is a double red mark on the wall and a single red mark on the wall. The leader is the control car and has the right to restart the race and he must restart the race in that zone. The 16 was the leader at that point. The 2 car restarted before the 16 did." While NASCAR felt confident in its decision, it took some criticism from others on social media during the race. Ricky Craven , a NASCAR analyst for ESPN and a former Cup driver called the ruling "a horrible decision" because Keselowski did not ultimately pass Biffle on the start. A precedent was set today black flagging the highest running Chase driver @keselowski For gaining nothing ? 6:15p @SportsCenter — Ricky Craven (@RickyCravenESPN) September 27, 2015 Keselowski actually brought up the subject of restarts two weeks ago in the pre-Chase media availability. "I have said it before but I still view restarts as rock-paper-scissors and you have to counter the moves of the person next to you,'' Keselowski said prior to the Chicagoland Chase opener last week. "As has happened it starts with the leader and the zone not being allowed to dictate it. If the guy in second place is lagging back then the only defense to that is to go early, both of which are illegal by the definition. Neither of which have been consistently called as an infraction. If one guy lags back and beats you when you do everything legal, then you have to defend it. That is your job. "I felt like as the leader at Darlington, I probably had half a dozen or more attempts at controlling the restart and I kept the lead the majority but not 100 percent of the time. The few times where I lost the lead it was very obvious that the car next to me had lagged back significantly and there was no call made. That forces your hand the next time you have the lead to do something to react to it. In a sense it is kind of vigilante justice. That is just how you have to play it." This time, however, Keselowski overcame the penalty and is still in good shape for the postseason. "I'm really proud of my guys to come back and get a top-12 out of that without getting another yellow or catching any other breaks after the black flag,'' Keselowski said. "I'm really proud of my guys.''
Kurt Busch: 'I never wavered'
Stewart-Haas Racing driver ready to return to car after 'humbling experience' RELATED: Chase requirement waived " Official NASCAR release Sounding every bit resolved and resolute, Kurt Busch addressed the media on Wednesday for the first time since serving what ended up being a three-race suspension from NASCAR for off-track legal issues. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver told the national media he remains focused on his job as driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for the team and has been "humbled" from the whole experience. "I understand why NASCAR needed to take the action that it did. This is a very serious issue,'' Busch said. "The important factor is that what I was accused of was a complete fabrication, and I never wavered through this whole process because of the confidence in the truth, and I had the support from Gene Haas and everybody at SHR, and that's where my focus has been. It's been on the racing side of it, and I never lost that confidence and that drive, and so it's a humbling experience, but it's made me more focused and determined." NASCAR suspended the 2004 Cup champion indefinitely on Feb. 20 after a Delaware judge issued a no-contact order for Busch, writing that Busch "likely" committed an act of domestic abuse against his former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll stemming from an incident Sept. 26, 2014 at Dover International Speedway . The Delaware Attorney General's office announced March 5 it would not pursue criminal charges against Busch. And on Wednesday, NASCAR reinstated Busch with the caveat that he is under indefinite probation and must adhere to any judicial requirements asked of him and remain in a treatment program as part of NASCAR's Road to Recovery. "I'm appreciative of the process, of the road to recovery,'' Busch said. "To me it's a roadmap that they laid out that I am respecting. It's created such a good foundation to utilize moving forward that I wish I would have done it sooner." The hardest part of the last two months? "Sitting out watching the 41 car go around the race track, especially at the Daytona 500 ,'' Busch said. "Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks, and Las Vegas is my hometown track. It's been torture sitting out of the car. "Being in that race car is a privilege, and it's a feeling that you can't describe when you go out there for practice each and every weekend. You drive down into the corner, the car sticks, you stand on the gas, and you drive out of the corner, it's an experience that not a lot of people get to do, and I get a chance to race against the best in the world in NASCAR." Busch also disclosed a recent insightful conversation he had with NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. "Talking with Brian France and going through this road, he told me, 'Don't change,' '' Busch said. "(He told me) 'Don't be the person that's different in the car, but be a different person outside of the car,' and so Brian said, 'Go be yourself in that car. That's what we really love. We love Kurt Busch behind the wheel. Go out there, use that passion, go for those wins.' "And that's my focus is to be humble through this whole process, but let actions speak louder than words." Busch would not specify if he would pursue further legal action to clear his name or have the no-contact order rescinded, instead deferring that course of action to his attorneys. He did say, however, that his trademark "Outlaw" moniker that has ridden above the driver's side window of his race cars in competition would likely be replaced with his signature. "My reputation has always been what I've done behind the wheel, and it's moments that I hope to battle and put out on the track like I did with Ricky Craven in the closest finish in the history of NASCAR," Busch said. "It's to focus on the wins at the tracks that I haven't won on or to deliver for Gene Haas on the trophies that he signed me on for that he wants in his trophy room. "My reputation will iron itself out in whichever way that it is, but my focus is the race car, and as I move forward, I'm putting my signature above the door of the car, and I'm proud to have my signature on the side of a car that Gene Haas has and to carry his name into Victory Lane." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
ESPN 'full-steam ahead' for future NASCAR coverage
Network has big plans despite not having TV rights after '14 RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today Although ESPN will not televise NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races beginning next season, officials said Tuesday the network expects to continue to provide timely content to fans for 2015 and beyond. "I don't think you'll see much of a change," said Rich Feinberg, vice president, motorsports, production for the Bristol, Connecticut-based group. "We obviously won't be doing the races, but in terms of serving the interests of fans with our news and information coverage, we're full-steam ahead." ABC/ESPN ends an eight-year run of NASCAR race coverage at the close of 2014, during which time the company aired the second half of each season's races. FOX returns next year and will continue to air the first half of the season while NBC will replace ABC/ESPN. Races previously aired by TNT in the middle of the year will be split between FOX and NBC groups. With ESPN not a part of the TV package going forward, many have wondered how the network would handle NASCAR news, or if it would abandon the sport altogether. "I can assure those asking the question and all fans out there that we're going to continue to cover NASCAR across all our news and information platforms in a very significant way," Feinberg said. "We don't have rights agreements with many different sports out there, but SportsCenter has an obligation to their fans to cover all sports." Feinberg said recent announcements that will keep former driver Ricky Craven , now an analyst, and reporter Marty Smith in-house is a clear indication that NASCAR remains relevant to the network. "We obviously have a lot of outlets for all our content, both over the air, cable, digital, dot‑com, et cetera," he said. "Our plans are to fulfill the interests of NASCAR fans who watch all our news and information programming, and I can tell you I personally have already been involved in our planning for coverage for the Daytona 500 in 2015 next year." ESPN will air the season's last two races -- this weekend's event from Phoenix International Raceway that will determine the four drivers contending for the championship, as well as the Championship Round finale in Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16. "When we last left you Sunday night at Texas, all hell was breaking loose at the race track, and you know, no one knows what's going to happen this week going into Phoenix," Feinberg said. "But with eight drivers separated by only 18 points and none of the finalists determined yet, tune in … because I think it's going to be one heck of a show and one heck of a shootout. That's our focus and we're really, really looking forward to it." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Top 10 closest Sprint Cup Series finishes
From Dale Earnhardt edging Bobby Labonte in 2000 to Ricky Craven battling Kurt Busch in 2003, count down the ten closest finishes in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.