Marlin leads group hoping to save fairgrounds track in Nashville
Waltrip, Curb among investors ready to renovate former NASCAR short track
Back-to-back Daytona 500s? Hamlin knows 'odds are stacked against (me)'
BUY TICKETS: See the Daytona 500 live! RELATED: See every winner of the Daytona 500 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Denny Hamlin was all smiles and backslaps as he navigated the crowded Daytona 500 Club for NASCAR’s annual Media Day. He joked with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth in the midst of Kenseth’s live internet interview and later kidded with Kevin Harvick about his golf handicap. RELATED: Hamlin teases Harvick about his golf game Times are good for the reigning Daytona 500 champion. In another four days, however, Hamlin will have to defend his title. And consecutive wins in this event are rare. Sterling Marlin is the last driver to earn back-to-back trophies (1994-95) in the Great American Race. Only three men in the race’s great history: Marlin , Richard Petty (1973-74) and Cale Yarborough (1983-84) have won back-to-back Daytona 500 s. Hamlin knows the challenge and the historical record. But he’s fast. And he’s a favorite. His No. 11 FedEx Toyota led 48 of the 75 laps in Sunday’s The Clash exhibition and was out front when he collided with Brad Keselowski on the last lap. A couple hours later, he was sixth in Daytona 500 pole qualifying. "The odds are stacked against you," Hamlin acknowledged Wednesday of winning back-to-back Daytona 500 trophies. "If this were Martinsville I’d say the odds are really good, or Richmond. But at Daytona we know the entire field could win the race. We’ve seen surprise winners. There’s just more drivers that can win this week than say, next week in Atlanta. And it makes it very, very hard to repeat." Hamlin’s competitors acknowledge the route is tough. The late Dale Earnhardt made a great effort -- winning in 1998 and finishing second in 1999. His son, Dale Earnhardt Jr . was runner-up in 2012 and 2013 and won in 2014 before finishing third in 2015. RELATED: See Dale Jr.'s full 'Great American Race' history Ryan Newman won the 50th Anniversary edition of the Daytona 500 in 2008. He finished 36th the next year. And that’s an equally as common turn of events. " It is that hard to win a Daytona 500 in general," Newman said, allowing a smile. "So doubling up isn’t easy. It is challenging. You can have the best car and get shuffled out. You can have a not-so-good car and be stuck in the middle all day. It’s not easy. A lot of it is luck that you create. You have to put yourself in the right position. In 2008 we were fortunate to do that. "And," he added, "I think it was easier to have a package that would dominate say 10, 15, 20 years ago. Just the way the rules are and everything else, we all kind of know some things like the No. 4 car ( Kevin Harvick ) guys did. You can’t do that kind of stuff anymore. So it becomes harder because of that. I think those rules have kind of communized the garage performance-wise." Kevin Harvick hoisted the Harley J. Earl trophy in Daytona's Victory Lane in 2007 and finished 14th both the year before and the year after. He acknowledged that the last to win two straight here, Marlin , competed in a vastly different time in restrictor plate racing. "Those guys were dominant back in the 90s during that particular time period with the Kodak entry," Harvick recalled of Marlin ’s wins. "When you get to superspeedways like this there are so many things that can go wrong. There are more things that can go wrong than right. If you have a fast car or a slow car you can get caught up in a wreck, a miscue on pit road, hit a bird. You just never know what can go wrong or what could go wrong. Usually if it’s going to happen there’s usually some crazy event that happens during the Daytona 500 , you just never know. "And," he paused, "It’s just really competitive." RELATED: Drivers with multiple Daytona 500 wins Michael Waltrip is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and very nearly captured three straight Daytona wins -- with victories in 2001 and 2003 and a fifth place in 2002. While acknowledging the odds are against a driver having both a super fast hot rod and everything fall right in competition, he immediately offered confidence in Hamlin becoming the first back-to-back Daytona champion in more than two decades. "We might see it this year," Waltrip said. "Denny obviously was in a position to win Sunday (in The Clash), so we could very well see it this year. I know, like I had the best chance ever in '02, and I finished fifth but that's just what the results say. "Part of my suspension fell off my car and went through Junior.'s radiator, took him out, and my car just drove terrible all day long, and we were the best car in '02, and then we finished fifth. So it's always something. This race is so difficult, and anything in the world can happen, and it's hard to predict. "But Denny could be the guy that does it." And that’s something Hamlin absolutely agreed with. "I do feel like over the past four years or so, I’ve always had a great shot," Hamlin said. "I’ve been smart enough to make the moves necessary to win it, but last year was the first time I did it. "I always feel like we have a chance, that our cars were good enough to do it. I know that. But it just seems like we didn’t win it for some reason or another. But last year things came together for us and we executed a plan great. "And this year I just feel like, if the chips fall right, we could do the same thing." &amp;amp;amp;amp;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;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR.com reporters make national series predictions
RELATED: Key changes in NASCAR " Fast facts on race enhancements NASCAR.com's Kenny Bruce, Holly Cain, Zack Albert and Jonathan Merryman make their predictions for the 2017 NASCAR season: KENNY BRUCE NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Timothy Peters . Rebounds from winless '16 to ride the Red Horse to the title. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler . So close a year ago; his JRM team is rock solid. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Daniel Suarez . Stepping into a title-contending car; just needs seat time to become a challenger. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Daniel Suarez . There will be hurdles for last year's XFINITY Series champ, but he's proven to be a quick study. Daytona 500 pick: Kyle Busch . It's one of the few accomplishments left for one of NASCAR's best. Championship 4: Kevin Harvick : Switch to Ford proves to be a non-issue for 2014 champion. Joey Logano : Simple game plan: Get to the front and stay there. Kyle Busch : Bad-fast car. Extremely talented driver and team. Martin Truex Jr .: Team makes silly speed; gotta be there at the end, though. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Joey Logano . Can win a slew of races or be crazy consistent. This year he could do both. HOLLY CAIN NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: John Hunter Nemechek . My repeat pick from 2016, but hoping the right (generous) sponsor sees this young talent and he gets the backing to match his potential. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler -- The veteran has been oh-so-close and this is the year it all comes together for him. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Erik Jones . The Furniture Row Racing 's newest team member is super-talented, highly motivated and knows how to shine even among such fantastic first-year talent. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Kasey Kahne . This will be a resurgent year for the talented 17-time Cup winner who is ready to remind people of his place in the sport. Out front. Daytona 500 pick: Denny Hamlin . Daytona has been Hamlin's playground and he's poised to be the first back-to-back 500 winner since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95. Championship 4: Jimmie Johnson , Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch and Joey Logano will decide the Cup after hugely competitive playoffs that ends in a history-making moment. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Jimmie Johnson . Reigning champ makes history with his eighth title. ZACK ALBERT NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Christopher Bell . The 22-year-old standout bookends a season that started with a Chili Bowl victory with his first national series crown. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: William Byron . A hotshot rookie for the title? Gobs of talent and JR Motorsports resources go a long way. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year: Daniel Suarez . First-year driver steps into a well-established team that contends for victories. Surprise playoffs qualifier: AJ Allmendinger . Planets align for the No. 47 team at one of the series' two road-course visits. Daytona 500 pick: Brad Keselowski. Team Penske 's strength shows, with one of the best in the restrictor-plate biz leading the charge in the "Great American Race." Championship 4: Kevin Harvick , Denny Hamlin , Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski . The cream rises, with four organizations and all three manufacturers represented in the final bracket. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Denny Hamlin. He's been on the podium three times before. In 2017, Hamlin should make it to the top step. JONATHAN MERRYMAN NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion: Matt Crafton . Great, consistent racer. That style will fit the new format. NASCAR XFINITY Series champion: Elliott Sadler . Coming off of a solid 2016, the No. 1 JRM team should be in position to win it all. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup NASCAR Series Rookie of the Year: Erik Jones . Seat time in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car in 2015 should help the rookie seal the deal. Surprise playoffs qualifier: Erik Jones . I think the rookie wins a race in 2017 clinching a playoff berth. Daytona 500 pick: Brad Keselowski , with four wins at Talladega and one win at Daytona in the summer of 2016, Keselowski has quickly become one of the best plate-racers in NASCAR. Championship 4: Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch . All four consistently finish races and have multiple win seasons. 2017 Monster Energy Series champion: Kevin Harvick . Mr. "Where did he come from?" has turned in to Mr. Consistency over the past few seasons. Consistency combined with the new points format should complement Harvick well.
Member of the Month: March
Name: Chris Current City: Independence, MO Member since: 2011 Getting to know Chris : Q. Why did you join the Official NASCAR Fan Council? "I liked that I would have input on decisions to make changes to an ever-evolving sport, such as rule changes, sponsor questionnaires, track questions and schedule changes. Not to mention the Chase race format for Truck, XFINITY and Cup." Q. How did you first become interested in NASCAR? "I was dating a girl in high school, whose father raced dirt late models. He watched NASCAR Winston Cup races and got me hooked on watching every Sunday." Q. What makes NASCAR special for you? "There is nothing like showing up on a Sunday looking across the parking lot at all the people and flags of all the different drivers. Also, the fact that everybody is so nice, even if your favorite driver isn't their favorite. It's like no other sport." Q: Do you have any favorite NASCAR memories or traditions? "1998 when Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 and every pit member on every team came onto pit road to congratulate him and the Daytona 500 race when Sterling Marlin was winning the race and got out of his car during a red flag to pull a dent out of his front fender. Priceless." Q: Do you have a favorite in any of the following categories? Driver: "Dale Earnhardt Jr." Track: "Kansas, Talladega and Bristol." Memorabilia: "Numerous Dale Jr. hats and t-shirts, two die cast cars and a pair of Dale Jr. Spy McCoy sunglasses." Q: If you could go to any NASCAR race/track, where would you go? "Daytona or Bristol. I am going to Talladega in May - one off my bucket list." Q: What do you like to do in your free time? "I am an avid hunter. I hunt just about everything there is a season on. I am a die-hard Royals and Chiefs an and try to go to as many games as I can.” Q: Tell us about your family. Do you have children and/or pets? "I am married to my soulmate, Diana, for 24 years. We have two children: Rachel, 23, and Kyle, 21. We have four rescue dogs and two cats." Q: What's your dream car? "1948 English Anglia Thames with a blown and injected big block Chevy." Q: If you could go anywhere in the world on a dream vacation, where would you want to go? "Alaska on a hunting trip." From all of us at NASCAR, we thank Chris for his continued support and look forward to hearing from him in 2017.
Larson is fast, atop the standings and having fun
RACE DAY: Full starting lineup " Race-day rundown " Key info FONTANA, Calif. -- Kyle Larson carried his 2-year-old son Owen into the Auto Club Speedway Media Center on Friday afternoon, minutes after winning the pole position for Sunday's Auto Club 400. Young father and young son were smiling, interacting, just enjoying the together time on stage -- Larson thoughtfully answering reporters' questions, Owen playfully leaning into the microphone to add his own toddler commentary. Life is especially good like that when you're leading the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings. For the first time in his four-year Monster Energy Series career, the 24-year old Californian Larson tops the championship standings, assuming the lead last week at Phoenix after scoring his third consecutive runner-up finish -- just in time for his return home. It's not only a career milestone for Larson, but also marks the first time his No. 42 Target Chevrolet Chip Ganassi Racing team has been Numero Uno since retired Ganassi driver Sterling Marlin held the point in 2002. RELATED: Larson's year of feats "I know I've won a handful of championships throughout my racing, but I've never been one to be a points racer or be as consistent as I've been," Larson said. "Going into this year I made it a goal of mine to be more consistent and make fewer mistakes. It's only been four races, but we have been off to a good start on limiting our mistakes and running up front. That has helped put ourselves in position to win each race this season. "Just been really proud of everybody on our race team and happy with kind of how I've been performing. Been trying to work a little bit harder this year and it seems to all be paying off." Sunday's starting spot is Larson's second career pole position -- the last came at Pocono in his 2014 rookie season -- and leading the field to the green flag this week feels appropriate considering Larson's current place in the standings. And … he won Saturday's XFINITY Series race for the second time.
Fill-in-the-blank: Daytona 500
Can you believe it? -- Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 25 cars finished the Daytona 500 A last-lap pass to decide the Daytona 500 The Monster Energy car in Victory Lane ! I've seen everything now. This was the -- wildest most recent best most entertaining Daytona 500 since -- the last Daytona 500 Clint Bowyer finished the race upside down and on fire that time Ward Burton won the race that time Trevor Bayne won the race This race had it all: -- a new Daytona 500 winner pit strategy fuel mileage Michael Waltrip finishing as the highest Toyota , -- teammates wrecking together on multiple occasions only odd-numbered cars finishing in the top 5 15 cars finishing on the lead lap Rob Gronkowski , and most of all, -- Brendan Gaughan six Daytona rookies 37 lead changes the winner only leading a single lap . I don't think anybody expected to see -- the Toyota teams crash together halfway through the race Tony Gibson celebrate boisterously Cole Whitt have a shot at winning the race like, three clean cars at the end of the race in total both Furniture Row cars pass inspection . I haven't seen anything that crazy since -- Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500 the pre-race grid walk Sterling Marlin tugged on his fender under the red flag Carl Edwards suddenly retired . And how about -- Michael Waltrip's final race Ryan Blaney's charge to the finish Denny Hamlin not speeding on pit road for one whole race Corey LaJoie making the race only to crash out early ! Unbelievable, right? He's such -- a millennial a good race car driver a disappointment an important part of the future of the sport . This was the first race with -- NASCAR's new stage-based race format Daniel Suarez Jimmie Johnson's beard Stewart-Haas Racing driving Fords Monster Energy as series title sponsor . It was a big change, which made me feel -- happy inside uncomfortable excited for the future optimistic , yet -- wondering how it would have been normally yearning for the past suspiciously thirsty missing Carl Edwards like Sterling Marlin with a fresh bag of Doritos . This Daytona 500 was also the first one -- with the five-minute post-crash clock in place without Greg Biffle to feature no Joe Gibbs Racing cars on the lead lap without a Labonte since 1978 , which makes me so -- confused frustrated nervous excited different inside ! I'm just glad this -- darn crash-filled Ford-dominated underdog-laden Brian Scott-less race didn't go too much longer than it did. After all, I've got to -- watch the Academy Awards change my preseason playoff picks watch how Ryan Blaney passed like 30 cars on the last lap figure out how Kevin Harvick is fourth in points weep alongside fellow Toyota fans watch the entire race again from the beginning in case something changes throw my Kevin Harvick 2017 Daytona 500 champion T-shirt in the trash figure out if Kyle Busch's segment win gets him closer to 200 career wins get this car fixed before my five minutes expires .
NASCAR mad libs: 2017 preseason edition
I’m so excited for the 2017 NASCAR season! The off-season makes me so -- grumpy frustrated bored anxious . I’ve had to spend every single day -- tweeting Denny Hamlin the number of days until Daytona whittling Derrike Cope action figures watching old NASCAR races on YouTube writing Greg Biffle fan fiction while I -- wrap my street car to match Jimmie Johnson ’s car stock my refrigerator with Monster Energy sob uncontrollably sing holiday songs in Larry McReynolds’ accent . Bring back the -- restarts Big One two-hour pre-race shows uncontrolled tires and -- race cars Kyle Busch Cautions™ Throwback weekend paint schemes spilling tacos on race cars ! -- Monster Energy Erik Jones Gray Gaulding Ty Dillon has joined the Cup Series, which makes me feel -- excited old nervous thirsty . Things sure are changing, especially since you never see -- shirtless fans with a ‘3’ shaved into their back hair the Labonte brothers Johnny Sauter singing patriotic tunes Sterling Marlin anymore. I haven’t seen -- a fuel mileage race Greg Biffle a start and park car people trying to start ‘the wave’ in the grandstands for as long as I can remember. I’m definitely planning to go to -- all 36 races the Fanatics tent the infield at Talladega the local Applebee’s every single weekend next season. Maybe I’ll pick up -- a foam finger for the David Ragan fan in my life Tony Stewart ’s race-used fire suit from Watkins Glen an authentic Austin Dillon cowboy hat seven of my favorite drivers' t-shirts for every day of the week , and -- a family pack of Martinsville hot dogs an Air Titan a charter a Ryan Blaney tattoo for my -- fun uncle dear mother Sharona neighbor’s dog . It seems like everybody at the track these days is such a -- Dale Jr. fan proud American vegan like Landon Cassill millennial ! You’re not -- a true NASCAR fan welcome in Junior Nation living having a good time unless you -- own a Kyle Larson bobblehead have a Denny Hamlin neck tattoo know Dale Jr.’s average finish in 2004 ask Mike Helton if you can touch his mustache . Most of all, I can’t wait for the -- Chase return of Joey Gase 2017 Dale of the Month calendar Clash at Daytona . I hope this year’s champion is -- Jimmie Johnson not Jimmie Johnson Dale Earnhardt Jr . the fans — especially after last year, when -- Dale Jr. missed a bunch of races Jimmie Johnson tied Earnhardt and Petty Danica Patrick signed my fig bar that I later ate Brian Scott tearfully said goodbye and my heart hurts . I suppose I have no choice but to spend the rest of the off-season the same way I spend it every year, -- complaining about everything imaginable on Facebook working on my steamy Joey Logano fan fiction brainwashing my niece and nephew into rooting for my favorite driver bump-drafting on the highway calling into radio shows complaining about that driver I hate flaring the fenders on my minivan watching pay-per-view wrestling between Spencer Gallagher and John Wes Townley creating my own car graveyard, just like Dale Jr. trying to acclimate myself to banana-and-mayonnaise sandwiches coming up with a new nickname for Kevin Harvick researching scientific journals on evidence of The Vortex Theory trying to re-create the secret Martinsville hot dog recipe going four-wide on the interstate .
McMurray understands fill-in challenges Bowman is facing
RELATED: Earnhardt Jr. sitting out remainder of 2016 DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Jamie McMurray knows from experience the challenges young Alex Bowman faces as he fills in for sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr . in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Fourteen years ago, a 26-year-old McMurray was faced with a similar scenario as team owner Chip Ganassi called upon him to step in the No. 40 Dodge for injured Sterling Marlin . "I can't speak for Alex because I don't know what is going through his mind," McMurray said via NASCAR teleconference Friday. "I can only tell you that for me it is as nervous as you can get. I had raced my whole Truck and Busch (now XFINITY ) Series at the time, in cars that I think my Busch car had won like one or two races in seven or eight years. It wasn't necessarily a winning car, and then all of a sudden I got in Sterling's car that had I think won a couple of races earlier that year and it had led the points (through Darlington), it was a really good car. "So, there is a lot of pressure on you to run well because you know that you are in a car that is capable of winning." Winning didn't take long. After a 26th-place run at Talladega Super Speedway, McMurray found his way to Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 13, 2002, the second start of his Sprint Cup career. McMurray ran six races in the No. 40 for Marlin that season. "Once we won in Charlotte it was like super relieving because not only is that a confidence builder for you, but I think in all the people that are around you," McMurray reflected. Having impressed team owner Ganassi, McMurray was afforded a full-time ride the next season in the No. 42 Dodge. He earned his first pole at Homestead that year and won Rookie of the Year honors at season's close, finishing 13th in the final point standings. Having started with a simple opportunity, that six-race 2002 span ended up solidifying the foundation for McMurray's now 15-year Sprint Cup career. "If you are a driver that is trying to make it in the sport, there is no better position to be put in than to get in a car like that because you know that you have an opportunity -- maybe not to win, but you are in a car that is capable of winning and running up front and showing guys what you can do if you are in the right equipment," McMurray said. RELATED: Bowman grateful for 'chance of a lifetime' Bowman's runs in the No. 88 this season have been sporadic, as he shares seat time with veteran driver Jeff Gordon . In his two starts at New Hampshire and Michigan, the 23-year-old has finished 26th and 30th, respectively, with the car experiencing mechanical problems at Michigan. He'll make eight more runs in the No. 88 car this season at Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. Despite finishes outside the top 25, McMurray applauds Bowman's efforts behind the No. 88 wheel thus far – and believes it bodes well for the young driver's future. "I think that Alex has, even though he hasn't pulled off a win, he has had really good speed and I think to me what sticks out the most is he is not even really in a car every week," McMurray said. "If you were in a truck every week or an XFINITY car ... and then you were filling in, that would be one thing. But he hasn't really been racing that much this year. To jump in and do what he has done at a track like Loudon, which is one style of racing, and then to go to a place like Michigan that is completely different -- he has just done an awesome job. "I know that probably for him the phone is not ringing as much as he wants it to, but he is going to get an opportunity because to me he has really shown that he is capable of it." MORE: McMurray's throwback paint scheme for Darlington
Meet Chris Lambert, Denny Hamlin's spotter
Related: Meet Elliott's spotter Editor's note: This is the second in a series of interviews with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series spotters. Chris Lambert, Spotter for Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota HOW DID YOU GET STARTED SPOTTING? "In 1996, I worked for Mike Herman Jr., who actually spots for (Ricky) Stenhouse Jr. now at the Sprint Cup level. We went to school together and he was racing Late Models around North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee area. I worked for him fulltime in the shop, keeping up his cars. One night his cousin, who had done all the spotting, we ran on a Friday night, he coached high school football so he couldn't be there. Me being a full-time employee, I basically got thrown into the fire. We won that night. I started spotting Late Models after that." WHAT OTHER DUTIES DO YOU HAVE WITH THE TEAM? "Here at Gibbs I don't do anything else but spot for Denny." DO YOU SPOT IN OTHER SERIES? "I do Erik Jones in the XFINITY Series car, and Timothy Peters (Red Horse Racing) in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. I have a pretty full schedule, doing about 106-110 races a year. I do a lot of Modified stuff and ARCA stuff for Venturini Motorsports; I do the No. 25 car for them. I do the 24 Hour race at Daytona every year with Action Express Racing. I do the Snowball Derby. I stay busy. If somebody calls and wants me to come do something and it fits, this is how I make my living. There are a few of us fortunate enough to just spot. When I was at Red Bull Racing, I worked in the shop building cars and spotting. When I came to JGR, I just focused on spotting." HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WITH DENNY? "I started with Denny in 2012 so this is year five. It was Darian's (Grubb, crew chief) first year. I've spotted for Erik this year; I did some with him last year because the 20 ( XFINITY ) car was split last year with him, Denny, Matt (Kenseth). I was doing Jason Leffler when the drove the 18 Truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports (in 2012). When they let him go mid-year, (Tony) Hirschman, who spots for Kyle now, went to do that. He was spotting for Timothy so basically we just swapped. I’ve been with him ever since." WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST RACE AS A SPOTTER? "The first actual points race would have been at Chicago in '07. I got out of the sport for a while full-time but got back in at the end of '06, the start of '07. I went to MB2 when (former owner) Bobby Ginn bought in to that deal. Doug Randolph hired me; I was doing all the races with Regan Smith , the XFINITY stuff. I was doing Kraig Kinser in the Trucks at Morgan-Dollar (Motorsports). Sometime around the end of June, first of July they let T.J. Majors, who was spotting for Sterling Marlin , go. I did Sterling's stuff for two weeks -- that's when they shut down and had the merger with DEI and all of that. I did the 150s in '07 at Daytona; we were trying to get Regan in the Daytona 500 in a fourth car for Ginn. It was a little different, just working with Slugger (Labbe), who was the crew chief at the time, and Sterling . Here it was my first race. What do you tell Sterling ? A lot of good stories there. … "That year I went to Daytona for testing and I was like a deer in the headlights. I had never done a plate race. I'd done a few mile-and-a-halves, some ARCA stuff, but I was just in awe of what you had to do in a plate race." WHAT'S THE MOST BIZARRE THING YOU’VE SEEN WHILE SPOTTING? "On track or off? Honestly, probably the truck that caught fire in the parking lot at Kentucky earlier this year. We see the smoke but we're under green, so we can't do anything. When the caution comes out we all make a beeline over there to see what it is and you see a truck with a grille in the back and the truck is just engulfed. There was a fire either at Kansas or Chicago one year down in Turn 1, the grass had caught fire. And you obviously see a few things with people in the crowd that are feeling pretty good about themselves. The tops come off and stuff like that. But the truck fire at Kentucky? Even the guys in the cars were commenting on it, they could see the smoke." WATCH: Truck fire behind track at Kentucky WHAT’S BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE AS A SPOTTER? "Definitely the (Daytona) 500 this year. Being born in Kannapolis, right in the heart of Earnhardt country, stock car country. I was at the race track when I was three months old. My mom passed away, she had cancer, when I was three so I lived with my aunt for a while. I was in and out with my grandfather and my aunt. Her son raced dirt cars so I was at the shop all the time. To grow up in the heart of the sport, to know Dale Jr. and Dale Sr., winning the 500, on a professional level, was the top. "First getting with Denny, getting with a top-tier driver and having success right out of the box with him. When you get in this sport, you obviously want to win a championship but there are certain races you want to win. The All-Star race, which we won last year, Daytona, Indy. Having that 500 ring and trophy at the house (is special). Especially if you're a spotter because you feel like you have more involvement in the plate races. We’re never driving the race cars obviously, but you feel like you have your hand on the cars. … Winning a plate race is fulfilling itself, but winning the 500 and the way we did it … outside of getting married and having my two boys, it was probably my most memorable day in my entire life. You have little things you go through, you strive for … to know you've just won the biggest race in your industry and to know you had a hand in it, it was pure elation. … Once everything settled down and he got into Victory Lane, I just took my radios off and just sat there for a minute taking it all in. It was like 'wow.' As a Cannon Mills lint head from Kannapolis, that's just won the biggest race in our sport … I look at the ring now and all that and tears still well up. It's just 'wow, it really happened.' " WHAT'S THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF YOUR JOB? "The long days. Not really for the race itself. Just the practice days on Friday and Saturday, doing all the series. There are certain times, at Richmond for instance on Friday when they'd run XFINITY and (Sprint) Cup. You get up there at 8 in the morning and you won't get a break until 4 in the afternoon. Even though we're just standing around or sitting around, you're in the sun, you're in the elements; it's hot. And a lot of us don’t just spot anymore. I’m up there with a stop watch and I’ll do split times. I’ll pick a spot on entry to Turn 1 to the center and get a split time, then center out. So I'm always working, trying to figure out who is fast, where we might be getting beat. … So I'm constantly working, doing something whether it's watching cars and their lines or whatever. Then you do qualifying and then the race at night. So it's long days, no shade, a lot of times we have to go down two or three flights of stairs just to go to the bathroom. "And during the race there is so much going on in our headsets, listening to NASCAR, having a second radio, scanning myself to make sure that I'm transmitting correctly and I don't have a problem. Having that much going on and having to concentrate on what I'm doing. There will be times when Wheels (crew chief Mike Wheeler) will be talking to me on Channel 2, I'm spotting and we're in the middle of three wide and he's telling me something. As soon as I get Denny cleared, I'm '10-4, I heard you.' It might be a lap later but just trying to keep up with everything that's going on. "When I first started, I never listened to myself. They said 'hey, you really need to do that. That way you'll know if you have a radio issue.' I hated it. I would just turn it down very faint. Now, I don't know that I could go do a race without scanning myself." WHAT CURRENT DRIVER WOULD MAKE A GOOD SPOTTER? "Honestly, I don't know. Every time I think of somebody, I remember a comment that they made where they've been on the spotters' stand and either tried it, whether it was Jimmie (Johnson) spotting for his brother in an off-road race or something, Denny spotting for Jordan in the Better Half Dash … when I worked for Brian Vickers at Red Bull and he was out the first time for (health problems), I had Casey Mears and Reed Sorenson in the car. BV came up to the roof with me a lot of times. I always think it's great for them to come see my vantage point. See what I see, especially under racing conditions with binoculars and everything else. Then you'll get a better idea of why when you know you're clear by a foot and I'm still saying 'inside;' you're going away from me and the angle is bad. And I'm going to be sure you're clear before I clear you. "Probably somebody like Matt (Kenseth) would be good. I did a handful of XFINITY Series races with Matt and then he talked me into going to Chicago last year for the stand-alone race when Ross (Kenseth) ran the 20 car. … I know he's spotted for Ross some in the Late Model car. Somebody like him; David Ragan probably has experience doing short track stuff." WHICH TRACK IS YOUR FAVORITE? "Darlington, just because of the history. That's another race that's on my bucket list that I want to win. And any track that I can sleep in my own bed is great. The plate races -- I used to hate them when I started because I didn't feel like was giving the driver everything that he needed. Now that I come here with Denny and we've had so much success in the plate races. Whether it's me, the car or the way you have to race those races now, I really enjoy feeling like I'm that involved and that on top of things. Daytona obviously is the pinnacle of our sport so that's one, but Darlington is by far my favorite." WHAT IS ONE THING ABOUT WHAT YOUR JOB ENTAILS THAT THE AVERAGE FAN MIGHT NOT KNOW? "Just how involved we are now. I think the TV, the media exposure over the years has brought it to light some. When I tell people that don't know anything about the sport what I do, that I'm in the driver's ear, getting him through wrecks and all that, they think it's pretty cool. It used to be that you just threw a body up there, and it would be the last person on the team that wasn't doing anything. They'd just throw them up there to make sure somebody was there. But with the full-containment seats and headrests, their peripheral vision is next to nothing. When we ran the cars jacked up in the rear, they couldn’t see out of the back. So we're really their second set of eyes, know what's going on and see everything that’s around them. "It used to be that we just showed up and if we could get them through the wrecks then we were fine. But then it got to the point where if you weren't giving them a competitive advantage, you weren't going to have a job. … If I'm not feeding him information about what I see when guys pick up time or whatever, then he's not going to keep me around. "Ultimately our job is still, at the end of the day, to make sure the car rolls on the hauler in one piece and our driver is safe. That's our main goal. But if you're not giving them what they feel like is a competitive advantage, you're not going to have a job here."
How does a doll fit into Darlington's history?
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- NASCAR competitors have driven with good luck charms for probably as long the sanctioning body has been in existence. A rabbit's foot here, a four-leaf clover there, lucky shoes for some, specific pre-race rituals for others. The lucky penny that rode with Dale Earnhardt to his lone victory in the Daytona 500 in 1998 can still be found glued to the dash of the familiar black No. 3 Chevrolet. After winning back-to-back Daytona 500 titles in 1994-95, former driver Sterling Marlin refused to vary from his pre-race routine leading up to the season-opening event. Marlin stayed in the same hotel, in the same room, wore the same T-shirt under his uniform and dined on the same pre-race meal -- a bologna sandwich and soft drink. More of an early marketing stunt than an attempt to reverse his fortunes on the race track, former series champion Tim Flock raced with a monkey named Jocko Flocko riding shotgun for several races in 1953. Which brings us to this weekend's Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), and the Stock Car Racing Museum located on the grounds of the historic track. Among the several cars on display inside the museum is the race-winning entry from the very first Southern 500 held in 1950. Johnny Mantz, an open-wheel racer who made just 12 NASCAR starts between '50-'56, piloted the black No. 98 Plymouth. Burlington, North Carolina, businessman Hubert Westmoreland was the car's owner. Riding along with Mantz in the car that Labor Day was a child's doll that belonged to the daughter of Alvin Hawkins, a race promoter and flagman. According to reports, the team wanted to remove the doll before the start of the race -- how it got in there in the first place isn't known -- but Lottie Westmoreland, Hubert's wife, convinced them to leave it in the car for good luck. Mantz, in just his third NASCAR start, won by nine laps in a 75-car field that included future Hall of Famers Fireball Roberts, Lee Petty, Cotton Owens and Flock. The doll was taken out and placed in storage following the race, where it stayed forgotten for several years. When track officials donated the car to the museum in 1965, the story of the doll resurfaced; it was located and returned to its rightful place inside the car where it has remained all these years. An arm is missing and the shoes have disappeared as well. Time has taken its toll, understandable given her age. Sixty-five years after Darlington Raceway ushered in a new era in NASCAR and Johnny Mantz roared to a surprising victory, a child's toy is a silent reminder of yesterday.
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