Ron Bouchard passes away at age 67
RELATED: Bouchard's standout Modified career Ron Bouchard , winner of the 1981 Talladega 500 and the premier series' rookie of the year that same season, passed away Thursday. He was 67. A family friend and close pal of my fathers Ron Bouchard passed away today. My thoughts and prayers go to his family. — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) December 10, 2015 NASCAR made a statement on Thursday regarding the news, " Ron Bouchard's passion for racing was evident from his very early years in NASCAR. Competition fueled Ron , whether racing modifieds at short tracks across the Northeast or winning rookie of the year honors in NASCAR's premier series. He loved this sport, and made an indelible mark on it, one that won’t soon be forgotten. "NASCAR extends its condolences to the friends and family of Ron Bouchard , a true racer." A native of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Bouchard pulled off one of NASCAR's most stunning victories when he shot from third to first on the final lap at Talladega (then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway), passing Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte to score his lone premier series victory. The win came in his 11th career start. He was driving the Jack Beebe-owned Race Hill Farm No. 47 Buick, with crew chief Bob Johnson. Bouchard had taken over the ride earlier in the season following the departure of driver Harry Gant. Bouchard became the 13th different winner in the 13-year history of the summer race at the 2.66-mile track. "Coming off the fourth turn … I was behind Waltrip and Terry when Terry decided to pass Darrell on the outside," Bouchard told reporters following his Talladega victory. "When he moved up, Darrell moved up to get in front of him. When I saw that, I just shot down to the inside … and moved up fast." A standout Modified driver, Bouchard won track championships at Stafford Springs, Thompson and Seekonk speedways before moving up to what was then known as NASCAR's Grand National division. He made 160 starts at NASCAR’s top level, finishing a career-best eighth in points in '82. In addition to his one win, Bouchard scored 19 top-five and 60 top-10 finishes. He won the series' rookie title in a class that included Morgan Shepherd , Tim Richmond and Joe Ruttman. Seven years later, his brother Ken Bouchard captured the series rookie of the year award as well.
Ron Hornaday returns to his racing roots
RELATED: Hornaday among NASCAR's 2017 Hall of Fame nominees MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Ron Hornaday is currently not competing in NASCAR, but the four-time champion appears to be as busy as ever. And racing remains his focus. Hornaday, winner of a series-best 51 victories in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, is more hands-on these days, building dirt Modifieds for grandson Slater McCray and teammate Billy Workman Jr. as well as several other competitors. There are those who kick up the dust and ride the cushion on local tracks in the Carolinas, Kentucky, Indiana and various other venues who put their faith in a Hornaday-built entry. Given their success, it seems that trust has been well placed. A recent Saturday night outing at Fayetteville Motor Speedway indicated as much -- the top three in the Open Wheel Modified division were built by Hornaday Race Cars. "Back to building dirt cars and having fun again," Hornaday said recently from his race shop, surrounded by cars in various states of progress. "Back to doing a little bit of everything, I guess."
NASCAR Hall of Fame: Ron Hornaday
Ron Hornaday leads the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series records books with four championships and 51 victories, but his experience and willingness to give back to the sport has earned him a NASCAR Hall of Fame nomination.
Keselowski and Hendrick: What might have been
On April 18, 2009, Mark Martin won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway . It was the 36th NASCAR premier series win for the 50-year-old driver and his first with team owner Rick Hendrick. A week and a day later, Brad Keselowski won the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway . It was the first career win for the 25-year-old, and the first premier series victory for independent car owner James Finch. Two distinctly different races won by two distinctly different drivers. Martin's NASCAR career was beginning to wind down; Keselowski's, on the other hand, appeared to have only just begun. But there was one string that tied the two together -- Hendrick Motorsports . HMS was home to Martin, Jimmie Johnson , Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr . And it was expected by many to be the future home of the up-and-coming kid from Rochester Hills, Michigan. But a collection of factors that came together throughout the course of that season altered the racing landscape as well as the career path of Keselowski. It would be nearly three years before the next driver change at HMS. By then Keselowski had not only found a new home, but he was also on his way to winning the Sprint Cup championship. 'I WAS NOT GOING TO LOSE' The sun was out and the grandstands were packed when the 2009 Aaron's 499, the season's ninth Sprint Cup race, went green for the final time. As race leader Ryan Newman tried to keep Earnhardt Jr., the crowd favorite, in check, Keselowski darted to the inside behind Carl Edwards on the track's massive backstretch. It was a move that didn’t seem to mean much at the time. But at the start-finish line with two laps remaining, Edwards and Keselowski shot to the outside entering Turn 1. "Here they come; look at the 99 and ..." NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip began. " Brad Keselowski ," lead announcer Mike Joy and co-analyst Larry McReynolds chimed in. When the white flag appeared, Edwards and Keselowski had caught and were beginning to pull away from Newman and Earnhardt Jr. Racing back through the tri-oval, Keselowski turned his No. 09 Chevrolet to the outside, and then quickly dropped to the bottom as Edwards moved up to block. Realizing the bottom lane was now open, Edwards reacted quickly -- but not quickly enough. Contact sent the No. 99 Ford spinning. Edwards' car came off the track briefly and was beginning to settle back onto the track it was struck by Newman's Chevrolet. The impact sent Edwards roof-first into the frontstretch catch fence. Meanwhile, Keselowski kept his foot in the gas, racing across the finish line for the win just ahead of Earnhardt Jr. "I was not going to lose," Keselowski said in his post-race winner's interview. "I was not going to lift and (I was going to) hold my ground and consequences be damned." A full-time competitor at the time for JR Motorsports (which, coincidentally, counts Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick among its ownership group) in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Keselowski said he didn't know what the future held after his first premier series win. "I know I don't have anything locked in," he said. "That's really all I can say ... I don't have a job secured for next year, and everything to this point has been wait-and-see. I know this certainly can't hurt." But behind the scenes, moves were already underway. Finch's Phoenix Racing, which purchased it engines from HMS, had put Keselowski in the car at the suggestion of Hendrick. And the JRM/Hendrick pipeline, which grooms talent in the lower series to help restock the Sprint Cup program, was taking root. Keselowski had made two starts for Hendrick the previous year, and would make seven all together in '09, in addition to five races with Finch. Perhaps his future wasn't as cloudy as it appeared. "Rick had come out and told me, actually had made it a point to say to the media that he thought I was a future driver at Hendrick," Keselowski told NASCAR.com recently. There was only one problem. SWAN SONG? On July 4, 2008, HMS officials announced that Martin had signed a two-year agreement to drive the organization's No. 5 Chevrolet. According to the news release, Martin, who would run a full schedule in 2009, would "run a partial Sprint Cup schedule ... in 2010, sharing the No. 5 Chevy with a to-be-determined second driver.” By most accounts, that driver was expected to be Keselowski. But in May of '09, less than three weeks after Martin's Phoenix victory, HMS officials announced a revision to the '08 agreement. The veteran driver would return in 2010 to once again run the entire season. With Keselowski waiting in the wings and Martin winning and agreeing to return the following year, "Rick was kind of half pregnant," Keselowski said. "He (was) stuck. "My feeling was, after I had won Talladega, I'm going to get this 5 car ride partially next year, pair it with something else, let's go. I didn't know what it was going to be. We'll figure it out; let's go." A phone call and subsequent meeting with Hendrick, however, changed all that. "I was kind of expecting more of a 'Hey, we're going to expedite the process of clearing out the rest of this,' " Keselowski said of the meeting, "And instead I got a 'Hey, I don't have a ride for you. You need to figure something else out. I'll try to help.' "That was late April, early May of that year. My intent ... was to give him that time to kind of make right on it somehow, find a ride because he had made me the promise that I would have that car. It didn't sit all that well, but I understood the circumstances and so forth." Months passed and Keselowski busied himself with his full-time XFINITY Series effort at JRM while making a handful of Sprint Cup starts for Hendrick and Finch. Hendrick, in the meantime, was exploring the various avenues that might keep Keselowski in the HMS camp. Possible scenarios included Stewart-Haas Racing , at the time a two-team effort, and Red Bull Racing. Consideration was even given to fielding a Sprint Cup entry out of the JR Motorsports shop, according to the owner. But the pieces didn't fit and as the summer wore on, Keselowski's future remained uncertain. "I wanted him to wait a year," Hendrick told NASCAR.com. "... I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that Mark had done so well, and I had tried to talk (Mark) into staying. "I've told all our guys, the first time I sat down with Brad he impressed me because he was so intense about the whole car and wanted to be involved in everything. He was just so committed. I told our guys he's got the right attitude about racing and driving. I just needed him to wait." Waiting, though, wasn't part of Keselowski's plan. "My perception is a driver is a lot like a perishable fruit," Keselowski said. "You've got so much time, then he spoils and goes bad. There are a lot of variables, much like anything." PENSKE COMES CALLING The Keselowski family has always been involved in racing. Brad's father Bob was an ARCA Series standout and a former winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Ron Keselowski, an uncle, scored two top-five finishes in 68 premier series starts while older brother Brian Keselowski has one or more starts in all three of NASCAR's national series. "We knew the Keselowski name from being here in Detroit," Walt Czarnecki, an executive vice president at Penske Corp., said. "His dad, his uncle, all that. They would run out at MIS ( Michigan International Speedway ) when (Penske) owned the track." But it was a business associate, lawyer/agent John Caponigro, who brought up the young driver's name during a conversation in 2009. "We thought he was committed to Hendrick," Czarnecki said. "He'd been on loan to James Finch to run several races. But some things were changing." Conversations with Keselowski ensued, in Michigan as well as Mooresville, North Carolina, where Team Penske is headquartered. "All this time," Czarnecki said, "Still having this somewhat uncertain situation with Mr. Hendrick." Team Penske had grown from a two-team to a three-team organization in '08, fielding cars for drivers Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr . In '09 Newman departed to join owner/driver Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing and 32-year-old David Stremme was brought on board to fill the open seat. But the Keselowski opportunity was intriguing, according to Czarnecki. "We've tried to sign on what we consider to be the best available young drivers with a great deal of potential that we could mold and have them grow in our organization," he said. "And I think that Brad certainly fit that description. "But above and beyond that, he had a bigger vision as to what role he wanted to play in terms of the development of the team. ... Just how he saw different things coming together ... "Some of it may have been a little unrealistic; some of it was certainly the enthusiasm of a young man who had a goal in mind. ... But he had this great enthusiasm and he had this great desire and this great commitment. And that appealed to us." With the Hendrick effort seemingly stalled, Keselowski went back to Penske with a request -- to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series. In addition to its Sprint Cup effort, Team Penske was fielding one full-time XFINITY Series team with driver Justin Allgaier . Expanding that program to two teams running all the races was problematic, given the economy at the time. Told such a scenario was unlikely, Keselowski was left to consider his few available options. But Penske officials continued to work until enough of the appropriate pieces were in place. "Sure enough, Roger called me one night and said 'Alright, I've got it put together,' " Keselowski said. "It kind of caught me off guard. I was sold. That's it; he made it happen." "I couldn't sit around and wait. ... Roger had gone above and beyond to put something together that I felt like was the opportunity I needed. ... The economy was on its way down fast; Roger (through his various businesses) had a lot of immunities to the economy. Rick made it very clear to me that he was not going to invest himself without having a sponsor, and the economy was not in a spot where he could facilitate that." Hendrick had been aware of the Penske interest from the beginning, having had conversations with his fellow team owner about Keselowski's status. "Roger called me and asked me could he talk to him," Hendrick said. "I didn't want to stand in his way. Brad's a hell of a talent. It was a timing issue. "It's worked out for him. At his age it would have been nice if we could have kept him. ... If I got a call from Roger and I was in his spot I would have done exactly what he did." POSTSCRIPT On Sept. 1, 2009, Team Penske officials announced that the organization had signed Keselowski to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series beginning the following season. Since then, Keselowski has won 17 Sprint Cup races, 28 XFINITY Series races and championships in both series. "I don't want to sound mercenary but he brought us our first Sprint Cup championship (in 2012)," Czarnecki said. "Because that vision that he outlined, we tried to work with him and bring people along, bring people into the organization, have him work with people like (crew chief) Paul Wolfe, it was really the realization of that vision. That's what it (has) meant. "And his intensity hasn't changed." Former teammates Busch and Hornish have departed, and fellow driver AJ Allmendinger has come and gone. Keselowski, now 32, is the veteran of a Penske group that now includes 25-year-old teammate Joey Logano . "I wasn’t looking to switch," Keselowski said. "If things would have gone the way they were supposed to go before Mark won that race at Phoenix, I would still be there."
Joe Gibbs Racing
Manufacturer: Toyota Engine manufacturer : TRD Debut season: 1992 Owner standings Joe Gibbs Racing was launched in 1991 by former NFL head coach Joe Gibbs. As Gibbs looked to move from coaching to a new chapter in his career, his friend Don Meredith was looking for opportunities to race in NASCAR, and the team was born with its first season of premier series competition coming in 1992. In 1993, driver Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500 for JGR's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. Bobby Labonte took to the drivers seat, replacing Jarrett, in 1995. Since then, the team has claimed three championships in the series: in 2000 with Bobby Labonte and '02 and '05 with Tony Stewart , who became the team's second driver in 1999. The team expanded to a third full-time car in 2006 with J.J. Yeley behind the wheel. 2012 brought Joe Gibbs Racing its 100th Cup win, when Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . In 2015, JGR expanded to a fourth full-time car with Carl Edwards behind the wheel of the No. 19 Toyota. JGR is based in Huntersville, NC, with over 450 employees in a facility of 250,000 square feet. Visit the team's web site here. Follow Joe Gibbs Racing on Facebook and Twitter . Driver: Denny Hamlin Car Number: #11 Hometown: Chesterfield, VA Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie Year: 2006 Primary team members: Crew Chief: Mike Wheeler " Hometown: Southold, NY Car Chief: Leo Thorsen " Hometown: Stoughton, WI Spotter: Chris Lambert " Hometown: Kannapolis, NC Over-the-wall crew: Gasman: Caleb Hurd " Hometown: Pulaski, VA Front Tire Changer: Dustin Necaise " Hometown: Gulfport, MS Front Tire Carrier: Brandon Pegram " Hometown: Statesville, NC Jackman: Nate Bolling " Hometown: Swanton, OH Rear Tire Changer: Mike Hicks " Hometown: Salisbury, NC Rear Tire Carrier: Heath Cherry " Hometown: Belmont, NC Pit Crew Coordinator: Paul Alepa " Hometown: Vienna, VA JGR Athletic Director: Mike Lepp " Hometown: Charlotte, NC Road crew members: Truck Drivers: Frank Hodel " Hometown: High Bridge, NJ, David Ott " Hometown: St. Mary's, PA Tire Specialist: Kerry Ferris " Hometown: Perry, NY Shock Specialist: Drew Bible " Hometown: Coldwater, MI Engineer: Matt Beckman " Hometown: Glenview, IL Engineer: Sam McAuley " Hometown: Huntersville, NC Mechanic: Troy Welty " Hometown: Manchester, PA Mechanic: John Furino " Hometown: East Meadow, NY Interior Mechanic: Sean Kerlin " Hometown: Marysville, PA Driver: Kyle Busch Car Number: #18 Hometown: Las Vegas, NV Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie Year: 2005 Primary team members: Crew Chief: Adam Stevens " Hometown: Portsmouth, OH Car Chief: Nate Bellows " Hometown: Fairfax, VT Engine Specialist: Mike Johnson " Hometown: Bozeman, MT Spotter: Tony Hirschman " Hometown: Northhampton, PA Over-the-wall crew: Gasman: Tom Lampe " Hometown: Beatrice, NE Pit Support: Marcus Bonicelli " Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO Pit Support: Jeff Koons " Hometown: Greenfield, IN Front Tire Changer: Josh Leslie " Hometown: Mount Clemens, MI Front Tire Carrier: Brad Donaghy " Hometown: Orange County, VA Jackman: T.J. Ford " Hometown: Charlotte, NC Rear Tire Changer: Jake Seminara " Hometown: Steubenville, OH Rear Tire Carrier: Kenny Barber " Hometown: Hoosick Falls, NY Road crew members: Truck Drivers: Brendan “Slim” Greene " Hometown: Midland, NC, Jamie “Montana” Price " Hometown: Choteau, MT Tire Specialist: Gregory Katzke " Hometown: Wausau, WI Shock Specialist: Chris Chase " Hometown: Nichols, NY Engineer: Ben Beshore " Hometown: York, PA Engineer: Gene Watchtel " Hometown: Clearwater, FL Front End Mechanic: Brandon Griffeth " Hometown: Pittsfield, IL Rear End Mechanic: Chris Jones " Hometown: Smith Mountain Lake, VA Mechanic: Todd Foster " Hometown: Birmingham, AL Interior Mechanic: Wesley Lape " Hometown: Sinking Spring, PA Driver: Carl Edwards Car Number: #19 Hometown: Columbia, MO Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Primary team members: Crew Chief: Dave Rogers " Hometown: Marshfield, VT Car Chief: Eric Phillips " Hometown: Canton, IL Engine Specialist: James Dudley " Hometown: Porterville, CA Spotter: Jason Hedlesky " Hometown: Clinton, MI Over-the-wall crew: Gasman: Kenneth Purcell " Hometown: Savannah, GA Windshield: Zack Miller " Hometown: Vista, CA Front Tire Changer: Clay Robinson " Hometown: Simi Valley, CA Front Tire Carrier: Kevin Harris " Hometown: Sanford, FL Jackman: Trey Burklin " Hometown: Charlotte, NC Rear Tire Changer: Matt Ver Meer " Hometown: Montezuma, IA Rear Tire Carrier: Kip Wolfmeir " Hometown: Kingdom City, MO Road crew members: Truck Driver: Kyle Bazzell " Hometown: Fairbury, IL Truck Driver: Bob Hannigan " Hometown: High Bridge, NJ Tire Specialist: Jamie Turski " Hometown: Trumbull, CT Shock Specialist: Ron Denton " Hometown: Bristol, VA Engineer: Lee Hallman " Hometown: Claremont, NC Engineer: Kenny Oates " Hometown: Miami, FL Mechanic: Matt Tyrrell " Hometown: Ft. Lauderdale, FL Fuel Runner: Ben Surface " Hometown: Pulaski, VA Driver: Matt Kenseth Car Number: #20 Hometown: Cambridge, WI Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie Year: 2000 Primary team members: Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff " Hometown: Sumter, SC Car Chief: Jeff Meendering " Hometown: Concord, NC Engine Specialist: Gregg Wilson " Hometown: Charlotte, NC Spotter: Chris Osborne " Hometown: High Point, NC Over-the-wall crew: Gasman: John Eicher " Hometown: London, KY Front Tire Changer: John Royer " Hometown: Otis, KS Front Tire Carrier: Joe Crossen " Hometown: Salisbury, NC Jackman: Jason Tate " Hometown: Statesville, NC Rear Tire Changer: Adam Hartman " Hometown: Oxford, NC Rear Tire Carrier: Blake Haugland " Hometown: My. Ayr, IA Road crew members: Truck Driver: Dennis Valverde " Hometown: Albuquerque, NM Truck Driver: Tom McCrimmon " Hometown: Mount Pleasant, NC Tire Specialist: Jerold Shires " Hometown: Waiteville, WV Shock Specialist: Scott Myers " Hometown: Modesto, CA Engineer: Michael Lorusso " Hometown: Asburn, VA Engineer: Levi Porter " Hometown: Wyben, MA Mechanic: Alan Buzze " Hometown: Onondoga, NY Mechanic: Jason Overstreet " Hometown: Clearwater, FL
Bristol was 'sixth-place victory' for DiBenedetto, BK Racing
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Matt DiBenedetto 's best day in NASCAR's top series nearly ended with the ultimate buzzkill. Driving back Sunday from Bristol Motor Speedway after salting away a career-best sixth-place finish and becoming the provisional leader for feel-good story of the season, the 24-year-old driver saw flashing blue lights not far from his home in Hickory, North Carolina. "Ah, dang, that sucks after a good day,' " DiBenedetto recalled thinking as he pulled to the side of the road. But DiBenedetto didn't think he was over the posted speed limit, a notion that was confirmed when law enforcement approached him. "The cop comes up to me and says, 'Hey, I have one question for you: I just want to know why you were going so darn slow?'" DiBenedetto said. "So then I realized it was a prank." The best of pranks as it turns out. The second-year driver for BK Racing drove the rest of the way with a police escort and with his parents following him home, where he expected a small, muted observance of his stirring Sunday drive. That didn't happen, either, not with the secretive planning of sponsor and close chum Constantine "Cosmo" Kogan, who rallied DiBenedetto's circle of friends into a boisterous welcoming committee, complete with party favors and uncorked bubbly. "There were probably 30-40 people out in our neighborhood," DiBenedetto said with a smile Monday from his BK Racing shop in north Charlotte. "Silly string everywhere. My car was covered. Champagne, the little party popper things -- it was out of control. It was absolutely hilarious. Only my friends, that's just cool to see how much they care and they were all so excited." DiBenedetto's hard-fought sixth-place finish made its own viral turn Sunday, thanks not only to the underdog rooting interest for one of the circuit's smaller teams but also for the unabashed emotion that the driver showed in post-race interviews. As he watched his family wipe away tears off camera, the tremble in his voice became more pronounced. "I couldn't quite hold back the emotion," DiBenedetto said. "I would be lying if I said that I was fighting off the tears, but unfortunately just couldn't hold it back. That was a dream come true for me. I know it wasn't a first-place finish, but for us that was like a win to finish up there in sixth in the Cup Series, which I've dreamed of racing in since I was 5 years old. Just to be here in the first place is a dream come true." Living dreams Making it to the sport's big leagues seemed like destiny, but so often fate takes the curvier road. DiBenedetto seemed earmarked for stock-car racing glory early on as part of the first NASCAR Next class in 2011, then called the NASCAR Next 9. What followed after a successful first season in the K&N Pro Series was a hodgepodge of spot duty in the XFINITY Series, sitting in the driver's seat one week and out the next. "It seem like it's all kind of gone by in a blur," DiBenedetto said. "I was racing K&N, part of the NASCAR Next and then thought my career was done five times in between then and now. It's been so up and down so many times. For me to be here, it's still surreal to think back." Opportunity for DiBenedetto meant pounding the phones and knocking on doors. His big break came shortly before the 2015 season in the form of a race-to-race agreement with BK Racing owner Ron Devine. DiBenedetto said Devine took a substantial chance in hiring a driver without Sprint Cup experience, but the risk was modestly rewarded -- the week-to-week deal turned into a full season with just one DNF and a return invitation for 2016. "Being a rookie in Sprint Cup is way tougher than I gave it credit for," DiBenedetto said of the learning experience. "It's just a whole different level of racing. You have to be so perfect at every single thing you do, down to the level of not losing a half-second on pit road. You have to drive your tail off every single lap of the race to make sure you stay on the lead lap -- everything." Driving his tail off makes for a suitable description of Sunday's spirited drive at Bristol. Carl Edwards captured the checkered flag and punctuated his celebration with his trademark backflip, but he was also head over heels about DiBenedetto's accomplishments, saying, "They finished sixth? Man, that's unbelievable. That's probably tougher than what we did." The driver of the No. 83 Toyota wasn't about to draw a direct comparison with Edwards' feat, but was quick to spread the credit for a banner day among his BK Racing shopmates. "To win in the Sprint Cup Series among the 40 best is incredibly difficult and that takes an amazing amount of talent like Carl Edwards has," DiBenedetto said. "I don't know if I want to say it was harder than what he did, but we're definitely proud of what we did. I'm more proud of all the guys that work on the team, proud of my crew chief … I'm just more proud of my guys, not myself. They're the ones that deserve that good of a finish. They're the ones that are working late nights and dedicating their lives to doing best job they can and putting a good race car underneath me. "It is lot of hard work like Carl did say. That's a total team effort. That's a lot of hard work by my guys. I was just happy to be the one holding the steering wheel and able to drive it up there for them." The camaraderie among the tight-knit group is what made BK Racing 's post-race cheer all the more jubilant with hugs all around. That celebration spread to the shop Monday, with DiBenedetto springing for pizza during the team's lunch break. "A lot of that emotion is shared by this whole team," said Ryan "Frenchie" Dubois, in his second year as BK Racing 's general manager. "We work really hard here and face a lot of obstacles that a lot of other teams aren't faced with. For us to overcome those obstacles and come out of there with a sixth-place victor-, er, sixth-place finish, it's like a victory for the team right now and what we're trying to do for the future." Dubois caught himself, but "sixth-place victory" has a certain ring to it. "To jump to sixth was great," he added. "If we can back that up next week, that'll be a Cinderella story for sure. We just want to be consistent, do everything right. We've got fast cars this year, that's the positive thing. We've got the right people in place, and it's about putting everything together. Once we do all that, we'll get those outcomes more often than not." It's an opinion shared by veteran crew chief Gene Nead, who began working with DiBenedetto in the second half of last season and was atop the pit box for nine Camping World Truck Series victories with Ted Musgrave at the wheel from 2002-05. "It's a definite David and Goliath story, you know what I mean, for a team this small without enough proper funding," Nead said. "You walk out in the shop, there's 60 people. You go into Gibbs', there's 600. It's pretty hard to do what you did with 10 percent of their people." Basking in Bristol Fittingly enough, DiBenedetto was savoring the moment before ever turning a lap Sunday. The California native decided to have some fun with Bristol Motor Speedway 's unique system of drivers selecting their own music for pre-race introductions, taking a page from his wedding reception last August. During his reception, each member of the wedding party selected their own entrance music. His father's comedic take, entering to ZZ Top's "Sharp-Dressed Man" in full beard, hat, sunglasses and guitar, clearly resonated. With his dad's permission, DiBenedetto reprised the role Sunday with gusto, donning the full costume and earning some of the biggest pre-race laughs. "You've got to enjoy it every step of the way, you've got to do fun stuff," DiBenedetto said. "That's what the fans want to see and to get them riled up before the race. That's what it's about." That spirit has been contagious, one that's extended to all corners of the BK Racing shop and that's helped boost the team's morale. "With Matt, for one his attitude is always positive," Dubois said. "He's a very humble driver and very appreciative of the opportunity that he has. We've seen from the beginning with him that he's constantly improved. He's not plateaued like some other drivers have and so we're constantly building with him. We think he's the future of our team and yesterday was a perfect example of what we see, and hopefully everybody else was able to see that, too." Plenty did, based on the outpouring of support on social media and the congratulations he's received privately from well-wishers. DiBenedetto pulled out his phone to show 202 text messages he hadn't had time to respond to, part of the 300-plus pings he estimated he'd accumulated in less than 24 hours. This season's most improbable finish at one of the series' toughest tracks gave DiBenedetto more than TV time, a police escort and a silly-string serenade. It also gave him the rewarding feeling that comes with taking a dark-horse team into the stratosphere usually reserved for the sport's heavyweights. That's why sixth on Sunday meant so much. "Just because we've worked so hard to get here," DiBenedetto said. "To do this without any major funding behind me or family money or anything of that nature, to do it just based on hard work and what teams thought I could do behind the wheel, that's nearly unheard of. To fight that hard and to get here makes you appreciate it that much more."
H2H: Is Talladega truly a wild-card race?
Testing the theory that anyone can win this weekend
Top 10 shockers at Talladega
Talladega has seen a number of surprising winners over the years
Ron Hornaday Jr. picks up sponsorship for two races
Four-time Truck Series champion will be back in action at Las Vegas and Texas NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Ron Hornaday Jr. will return to competition later this year in a deal put together by sponsor Rheem and NTS Motorsports with technical support from Richard Childress Racing . In a release posted on its web site, Rheem said the Atlanta, Georgia, based company would sponsor an entry for Hornaday for two of the final seven races in the series –- the Sept. 27 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as well as the Oct. 31 event at Texas Motor Speedway . According to the company, Rheem "has been working to find the best available truck equipment, crew and technical expertise in an effort to return Hornaday to the truck series before the end of the 2014 season." Hornaday, with funding provided in part by Rheem, was fourth in points when Turner Scott Motorsports officials ceased operations for the No. 30 team earlier this month. He did not compete at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park , dropping to sixth in points, and is not in Saturday night's Lucas Oil 225 at Chicagoland Speedway . NTS currently fields two Truck Series teams with Brennan Newberry and Gray Gaulding as the primary drivers for those teams and the organization has also had Michael Annett, Austin Dillon , John King , Justin Lofton , Chase Pistone and Jason White drive trucks for them this year. It is expected that the Hornaday team will be in addition to those two teams. "Rheem is pleased to play a part in bringing Ron Hornaday back to where he belongs … racing trucks to win and bringing excitement and enjoyment to Camping World Truck Series fans," Ed Raniszeski, managing director for Rheem Motorsports, said. "None of this would have been possible without the solid support of NTS Motorsports and RCR. "We all welcome Ron back and can't wait to see him back in the saddle." Hornaday is a four-time series champion, winning Truck Series titles in 1996, '98, 2007 and '09. He has 51 career wins in the series. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Ron Hornaday Jr. picks up Daytona 500 sponsor
Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff reteams with four-time Truck Series champ Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Moment Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff announced Tuesday that it has reached an agreement to sponsor Ron Hornaday Jr . in the season-opening Daytona 500 (Feb. 22, 1 p.m. ET, FOX). Hornaday, 56, is returning to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time since the 2003 season finale. The four-time champion in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is scheduled to be the primary driver of The Motorsports Group's No. 30 Chevrolet this season. The Curtis Key-owned team announced earlier Tuesday that veteran wrench Pat Tryson will serve as crew chief. Tryson has eight victories as a crew chief in NASCAR's premier series, the most recent coming with Kurt Busch in 2009 during his tenure with Team Penske . The sponsorship deal marks a reunion for Hornaday and Smokey Mountain. The tobacco-free smokeless brand backed his Truck Series efforts in 2012 and 2013, and most recently adorned ThorSport Racing's No. 98 as a primary sponsor for Johnny Sauter in six races last season. "It's an honor to have Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff back on board with me in 2015," Hornaday said in a release provided by the team. "Dave (Savoca, company president) and everyone at Smokey Mountain have always been huge supporters of mine and even after our partnership ended in 2013, we continued to stay in touch. To be able to represent their brand as I attempt to make the Daytona 500 is a dream come true for not only Smokey Mountain as a brand, but for me as a driver." Hornaday ranks as the all-time wins leader in the Camping World Truck Series with 51 victories. His only top-10 finish in the Sprint Cup Series was a ninth-place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2001, his only full season at NASCAR's top level, when he drove for car owner A.J. Foyt. As a driver with a start-up Sprint Cup team, Hornaday will be required to qualify for the Daytona 500 (Feb. 22, 1 p.m. ET, FOX) on his speed in Coors Light Pole Qualifying or through his performance in the Budweiser Duel qualifying races. "Everyone at TMG has been working so hard during the offseason to get ready for 2015," Hornaday said. "I know it's a long shot, but I feel confident in what Curtis has put together. I honestly feel like we have a solid shot at making this race. It takes partners like Smokey Mountain to make this work and I'm going to give it everything I've got." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule