Dillon wins Daytona; Wallace impressive

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and that’s an impressive accomplishment but much of the focus after Sunday’s race was on Darrell Wallace and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports organization.

Wallace finished second in his first start as the full-time driver for RPM. He fought hard to finish second; he crashed on the final lap, in overtime, but still finished second.

His mom didn’t get to see him until Wallace had come in the media center and there the two hugged and cried and then a sister arrived and they hugged and cried and it was a pretty rare and powerful show of emotion.

Wallace is black and that shouldn’t mean anything but in a series that’s had only one black driver win a single race in its’ 70-year history, it means a lot.

RPM has been a shell of what was once Petty Enterprises long ago – 10 championships between father and son Lee and Richard Petty. There have been few wins – recent years have been more about keeping the team afloat than winning races.

An off-season move from Ford to Chevrolet and a new alliance with Richard Childress Racing (home of the previously mentioned Dillon, by the way) was expected to be problematic, slowing any potential progress.

And the Daytona 500, being a restrictor-plate race, doesn’t give a clear indication of how well a team will likely perform in the coming weeks and months.

But RPM’s group performed surprisingly well over the course of this year’s Speedweeks program and it would be wrong to chalk it up to nothing more than good luck.

Of course, time will tell. Still, it was refreshing to see as it all played out in the season-opening race. And of course afterward.

o Let’s don’t cut Dillon and his No. 3 team short. Winning a plate race isn’t as easy as some folks would like you to believe; winning the Daytona 500 takes a monumental effort.

Dillon led only the final lap but that’s the one that pays and how many folks weren’t even around to contend for the win at that point? Too many to count.

o Most impressive was the run of Ryan Blaney, the Team Penske driver who led 118 laps and appeared en route to his second career victory before damage to the front of his car in a late-race incident took him out of contention.

Blaney ended up seventh, but it’s evident he’s become quite competitive at restrictor-plate racing. With teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano also accomplished plate racers, Team Penske could be the biggest threat on the plate tracks this season.

Chasing ghosts in Daytona Beach

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The cemetery is located between the beach and the speedway and I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven past and thought “stop and take a look around. You know there are stories there.’

Instead, I would keep driving, headed either to the track for some early morning press conference or back toward wherever it was I happened to be staying that particular year, long after sunset, to wash the sand and grit of the track away and perhaps grab a bite to eat.

Friday I stopped. At Daytona Memorial Park.

I wasn’t disappointed.

o o o

According to newspaper accounts of the day, nearly 1,000 mourners paid their respects to E. Glenn “Fireball” Roberts when the NASCAR superstar’s body was returned to Daytona Beach following his death in 1964.

Close to 300 vehicles brought friends and family, fellow competitors and fans to the graveside services at what is still called Bellevue Memorial Park by locals. It was Sunday, July 5 and a time of mourning for the sport.

Roberts’ vault sits on the left just past the entrance, easy to spot below the monument of a tremendously oversized open bible. A plaque in front reads in part: He brought to stock car racing a freshness, distinction, a championship quality that surpassed the rewards collected by the checkered flag.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Daytona International Speedway Vice President Bill France Jr. speaks during a memorial service at the speedway for NASCAR great Edward Glenn “Fireball” Roberts on July 5, 1964. Roberts died on July 2, 1964, after suffering serious burns in an incident during the World 600 race on May 24, 1964 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)
“I went to high school with his brother Tommy,” says David Collins, a 51-year-employee of the park. “I remember going to watch the beach races back then.”

Collins says the park gets a fair number of race fans stopping by on a regular basis, particularly during race weekends when NASCAR cranks up over at Daytona International Speedway. “Probably 10-15 a day,” he said, adding that besides NASCAR folks, there’s a baseball standout or two buried here as well – Hall of Famer Napoleon “Larry” Lajoie for instance.

Roberts was considered NASCAR’s most widely known stock car racer of the day, a winner of the Daytona 500 and Southern 500 and about as many smaller races as one could imagine. He had 33 career wins in 1964 when he was severely burned in a crash during that season’s World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Less than two months later, he was gone. Pneumonia and blood poisoning, resulting from the burns to 70 percent of his body listed as the cause of death.

o o o

The name on the mausoleum reads “France” and it’s where NASCAR’s Bill France Jr. was originally interred. It’s built of dark stone, with vases on each side of the doorway, and sits next to a small pond. A palm tree is on the right, the grounds are neat, the surrounding grass and hedges are green and trimmed just so.

The mausoleum sits empty now, according to the park’s employees.

France, the son of NASCAR founder William H.G. France, passed away in 2007. Taking over from his father in 1972, he ushered the sanctioning body and the sport into what is known as its’ “modern era.”

The peace and tranquility of the location changed in recent years according to some, with the building of a large apartment complex just off the back side of the cemetery.

For that, or whatever reason, a similar mausoleum was purchased/erected at Volusia Memorial Park, less than three miles away. It is there that Bill Jr. and wife Betty Jane France, who passed in 2016, are now interred.

o o o

A bit further into the park, up the slight hill but no different from so many others that are marked by a simple stone placed in the ground sits the final resting place of one Marshall Teague.

Teague, pilot of the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, was as big of a star as there was in auto racing during his time. A winner of seven races in only 23 NASCAR starts, Teague’s prowess on the old Daytona Beach and Road Course was legendary – twice he won the feature on the 4.1-mile course. More times than not he was in contention before his entries were sidelined.

Teague was only 37 when he was killed while attempting to set a closed-course speed record at Daytona International Speedway in 1959. The test wasn’t stock-car related, however. Teague was chasing speed records in his Sumar Special, an Indy entry. In addition to his stock car endeavors, Teague made three career starts in the Indianapolis 500, finishing a career best seventh in 1957.

o o o

Friday I finally stopped. And wondered what took me so long.

Youth edges experience in Can-Am Duels

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It wasn’t teammates who pushed Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott into the lead during Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel races at Daytona International Speedway.

Unusual on the surface perhaps, but such is often the case when it comes to restrictor-plate racing.

Both Blaney and Elliott wound up with wins just the same.

Two young drivers pegged for stardom in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Series didn’t disappoint, winning their respective qualifying events. Youth edged experience this time around.

Officially, the field is now set for Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500.

Blaney will line up third, inside the second row of the 40-car field. Elliott will start fourth, alongside Blaney. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports) and Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing) won front-row starting positions four days earlier.

Blaney has new team. Sort of. Elliott has a new car number. Sort of.

For Blaney, his No. 12 Team Penske crew is made up of most of the folks who helped field last year’s No. 21 entry when he drove for Wood Brothers Racing. That includes crew chief Jeremy Bullins.

Elliott’s still at Hendrick Motorsports, but his car number now stirs memories of his father, 1988 series champion Bill Elliott. What had been No. 24 is now No. 9. Natives of his hometown of Dawsonville, Ga. rejoice.

Blaney spent most of the opening qualifying race running with teammates Logano and Brad Keselowski at the front of the pack. But in the closing circuits it was a push from Darrell Wallace that sent him shooting into the lead.

“I apparently don’t have any friends,” Logano said of the Blaney/Wallace tandem.

“I’ve seen you race before,” noted Wallace. “You’re not anybody’s friend.”

“I know. I could tell,” responded Logano.

They were smiling and joking. But there was a tinge of disappointment underneath.

Blaney, 24, scored his first MENCS win last season. Elliott, 22, is still chasing his first points win.

Victory lane doesn’t differentiate between points and non-points wins, though. Elliott came home first, withstanding the charges of Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones and Clint Bowyer for a final two-lap push. It was Harvick, the ’14 series champ and a former Daytona 500 winner, that gave Elliott the boost past then leader Hamlin.

Some drivers and teams took chances. Some did not. Sunday there will be no holding back.

“Heck yeah man,” Harvick said when asked if drivers would be braver come Sunday. “It’s the Daytona 500. If you back her in the fence going for the lead, so be it.”

o Roll out the backups. Wrecks by several drivers in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway sent teams scurrying to the transporters where backup entries were quickly unloaded.

Among the automotive wounded were the No. 48 of Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, the No. 2 Team Penske Ford of Brad Keselowski and the No. 42 of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson.

The three drivers were among the favorites heading into Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500, perhaps none as much as Keselowski, last week’s winner in the non-points Clash race at DIS.

The price for the car exchange? All will start from the rear of the field.

Can-Am Duels could be wild or mild

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s a race, actually two of them, with points on the line so the general consensus here is that drivers will be as aggressive as necessary when the Can-Am Duel qualifying races get underway here Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.

There’s concern about keeping one’s primary ride for Sunday’s Daytona 500 sleek and slick and without wrinkle. But these guys are racers, we’re told, so once the green flag drops who knows? Could be crazy, could be calm.

Their cars were a handful, for the most part, in last Sunday’s Clash and teams are still trying to figure out how to keep that extra speed but regain some of the control. Bodies are closer to the ground, some are set more cock-eyed than others and spoilers are hidden from the wind.

“Speed is up but the lack of stability down the straightaways is probably the most challenging part for most cars out there that I see,” Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske and runner-up to teammate Brad Keselowski in the Clash, said during Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day.

“We saw the crash with (Kyle) Larson into (Turn) 1 and the 48 car (of Jimmie Johnson) getting pushed on the backstretch and how unstable those cars were. And I know where my car was. I think the lack of downforce has kind of changed the game quite a bit.”

Johnson, seven times a series champ and twice a winner of the 500, said the difference between 2017 and ’18, as far as he can tell, is “just the pace.”

“Basic handling characteristics, if you looked at my notes from ’17, ’18, tight, loose, we’re just going a second faster,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “The intensity is higher because you’re on edge going faster. The general handling characteristics are just the same.”

Johnson and other Chevrolet teams are breaking in a new Chevrolet this season, the Camaro ZL1. It has appeared no more nor no less stable here than the Toyota Camrys or Ford Fusions thus far.

It may be a bit dicier this time around but Logano said the game plan remains the same: “I just get to the front and hopefully they crash behind you,” he explained. “Other drivers may run around the back and wait for the crash. That has never been my way of doing it. … I want to race up front and lead every lap if I can.”

Alex Bowman, pole winner for Sunday’s Daytona 500, will start on the pole in the opening Duel with Johnson also on the front row.

Toyota teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) make up the front row for the second Duel.

Both races can be seen on FS1, beginning at approximately 7 p.m. ET.

Points will be awarded only to the top-10 finishers in each Duel.

o The Item That Won’t Go Away: Roush Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says he is still waiting to “hear back” from NASCAR concerning his penalty for advancing his position below the yellow line in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash.

Stenhouse, driver of the No. 17 Ford, doesn’t deny passing Kyle Busch while out of bounds – “Yeah, I definitely advanced it. I was in the process of advancing it before I got below the yellow line, but I would definitely say that I advanced it,” he told reporters Wednesday during Daytona 500 Media Day at DIS.

His question, he said, involves the portion of the rule that states a driver who forces another competitor below the line also runs the risk of a penalty. The last time a driver was so penalized isn’t clear.

“I guess the next time somebody gets to the inside of me I’ll force them below the yellow line and then they’ll have to pit and they’ll be in the same position that I was in,” said Stenhouse, twice a winner last season.

“If that’s the way they’re going call it, then I guess we’ll race that way. We’ll see if they get back to us before we race tomorrow (in the Can-Am Duel qualifying races).”

Stenhouse has every right to be concerned – as a result of the infraction, he had to make a trip to pit road under green-flag conditions and eventually lost him a lap to the field.

But it’s not as if the penalty hasn’t been enforced in the past – it’s a rule that exists solely for races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s only two restrictor-plate tracks, and it’s been called often enough in the past to cause a few raised eyebrows anytime a driver flirts with the line circling the bottom of the track.

o Patrick, Carpenter set for Indy 500: Rumors of Danica Patrick joining Ed Carpenter Racing for a final run in this year’s Indianapolis 500 were confirmed, albeit unintentionally, by Patrick Wednesday.

Asked about turning her focus away from NASCAR and toward Indy, Patrick noted that she “didn’t have time to meet up with Ed and the people” before stopping herself and then adding: “Did just say that out loud? Oh well.

“I’ve never done that in my career,” she said of the slip.

Patrick, 35, is scheduled to make her final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start in Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500. She’ll drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. calling the shots.

o The final word: Courtesy of Clint Bowyer, who was asked about Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring from competition due to concussions: “I don’t know if that was primarily because of concussions. I think it was because he was wanting to cover the Olympics and Super Bowl and make just as much money as he was racing.”

Trying to figure out this year’s Clash

I started writing a column earlier basically saying this year’s Advance Auto Parts Clash was a boring race. I wanted to call it a clunker, one full of single-file driving around the 2.5-mile track. Limited action.

And then I went back and watched the race again and while I still can’t say the race had me on the edge of my seat, it did have its fair share of side-by-side racing. Particularly in the first 30 laps or so. I guess clunker would have been a little harsh.

There were times in the latter stages when the Clash showed promise, too. But honestly, for the most part the final laps at Daytona International Speedway did turn into a case of follow-the-leader and let’s see what happens.

Thank goodness for Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, two drivers who finally decided to break ranks and try to form up an inside line in an attempt to get to the front. And who was it? Martin Truex, who decided to tag along and see what those silly kids were up to?

The last-lap crash that kept Jimmie Johnson from finishing under power for the seventh consecutive year wasn’t the result of drivers putting it all on the line – it was a mere miscalculation, a tap from Kyle Larson that sent the Hendrick driver into the wall.

Maybe distance was partly to blame – I witnessed this one from nearly 500 miles away and saw only what the network, in this case FS1, chose to show me. I’ve often felt that you get a much better sense of what’s taking place when you’re actually at the event.

Maybe the new “no ride height rule,” a move that erased minimum ground clearance for cars at the superspeedways this year, had something to do with it. Maybe that was part of the reason the cars seemed a bit more difficult to handle in traffic and kept drivers in check and in line for most of the afternoon. Maybe other pieces of the rules package (a bigger spoiler?) had an impact.

Maybe the fact that there were only 17 cars in the field played a role. When 40 cars hit the start/finish line Sunday for the start of the Daytona 500, there will be several more drivers willing to take chances and a few more willing to go with those who take those chances. For whatever reason, there seemed to be too little of that Sunday in the Clash.

Sunday’s race wasn’t a clunker, but it wasn’t quite what I expected or hoped for either.

There were fewer leaders and lead changes in last year’s Clash, but that race seemed much more exciting. And that was before Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski tangled on the last lap, allowing Joey Logano to sweep past for the win.

I won’t say drivers were just “riding around” Sunday. But for whatever reason or reasons, there didn’t seem to be a lot of folks eager to jump out of line and take a risk until the very last moment.

Maybe that’s what it takes to win on a restrictor-plate track and anything attempted prior to the last lap is foolish and destined to failure.

But in a race with absolutely nothing on the line other than bragging rights, that feels more than just a little disappointing.

Not Your Average Rankings

Face it. We could do driver rankings every week or so just like everyone else but where’s the fun in that? Instead, let’s occasionally take a look at another side of motorsports.

What to do for a debut then? Since the Advance Auto Parts Clash is scheduled for Sunday at Daytona International Speedway (3 p.m. ET, FS1) and it’s a non-points race …

Best Non-Points NASCAR Races

7 – Daytona 500 Consolation Race: From 1959 through 1962, the race was a 10-lap, last-chance qualifier for drivers to earn a spot in the starting field for the Daytona 500. When it returned for 1981-85, it was a 30-lap race for drivers who wouldn’t be appearing in the 500. No points, just glory.

6 – Suzuka Thunder Special/Montegi: A three-year exhibition stint at Suzuka Circuitland, a 1.394-mile road course in Suzuka City, Japan (1996-97) and Twin Ring Montegi (’98), a 1.5-mile venue in Motegi City, Japan. The racing wasn’t tremendously memorable but give NASCAR and the teams an A for effort. And expense. It wasn’t the first time the series had ventured outside the U.S., but to date it’s been the last. Perhaps for a reason.

5 – Duel at Daytona: OK, sadly this one is no longer eligible since the top 10 finishers in the two qualifying races now receive points. Of course, there was a time when wins in the qualifying races counted toward a driver’s career total, too. Thankfully, that practice ended in 1972. But there were times when the race to snatch up one of the final spots for the Daytona 500 was more exciting than the actual race for the win. With only four positions up for grabs now, and teams not wanting to risk tearing up their cars before the 500, the wow factor isn’t what it used to be for this event.

4 – Clash at Daytona: Hardly a better way to kick off the season than with a short, fast-paced race featuring many of the same drivers that will be vying for a Daytona 500 win the following week. Now back as part of a Sunday show that includes Daytona 500 qualifying and no longer run under the lights, the Clash should provide a little better glimpse of what the 500 might actually look like.

3 – All-Star Race: There have probably been more complaints lodged against this one event than any other non-points race on the NASCAR schedule. Mainly that it’s held at the same venue, Charlotte Motor Speedway, every year. And that the drivers are the same that fans get to see every single week during the season. Both are true. But the venue did move once before – a disastrous effort at Atlanta in ’86 – and since the drivers will ALWAYS be the same competing every week, officials have tried to juice up the format instead. Sometimes it has worked, sometimes it hasn’t. There have been several memorable All-Star races through the years, but few of late.

2 – Goodyear NASCAR 500: It wasn’t out of this world but it was out of this country. In 1988, NASCAR teams packed up and headed to Melbourne, Australia to compete at the Calder Park Thunderdome – after the NASCAR season had already begun. It was the first NASCAR race on a superspeedway outside the U.S. Neil Bonnett, winner at Richmond the previous weekend, scored his second consecutive victory, outdueling Bobby Allison for the exhibition win. A trip to Australia for a non-points NASCAR race has a major cool factor surrounding it even today.

1 – International Race of Champions: OK, I’m going to pull a fast one here right out of the box. The IROC series, which ran from 1974 through 2006 (with one brief interruption) technically wasn’t a NASCAR Series. The annual four-race platform featured many of auto racing’s most talented drivers from various disciplines. Where else could you see Bobby Unser and A.J. Foyt and David Pearson and Emerson Fittipaldi go head-to-head? Yeah it got a little NASCAR top-heavy toward the end of its run, and by then the races were all held on ovals. But the idea and the effort and the action ranks tops. For a non-points event, it didn’t get much better than this.

(Bear in mind this is far from a “complete” list of non-points races. There have been many, many other consolation races, hooligan races, etc. These are simply a few that stood out to me. Thanks for stopping by.)

Clash: Looking back before moving forward

It seems odd when you look back at it, that first Clash held at Daytona in 1979, having nearly forgotten that the NASCAR season didn’t officially begin in Daytona Beach back then.

It would be three more years, 1982, before competition at Daytona opened the season; in ’79 Darrell Waltrip had already won at Riverside (Calif.) before teams headed south in search of sun, surf and checkered flags.

Buddy Baker won the pole for the Daytona 500, shattering the track record previously held by Cale Yarborough, and later won his qualifying race as well.

In between the two, Baker dominated the inaugural Busch Clash, a 20-lap race that featured a field of nine.

Baker, driving for Harry Ranier and with Herb Nab as his crew chief, led 18 of the 20 laps; Waltrip, the runner-up, led the other two.

It was Baker’s lone win in the special, non-points race.

Also noted: A third-generation driver named Kyle Petty won his first race, an ARCA event, at Daytona that week.

o Sunday’s running of the Advance Auto Parts Clash (3 p.m. ET, FS1) will feature a field of 17 consisting of last year’s pole winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners who didn’t win a pole last year and last year’s playoff drivers who also did not win a pole last year but qualified for the playoffs.

Twenty drivers are actually eligible but Matt Kenseth has no ride for ’18, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is out of the car and in the TV booth, and Danica Patrick will focus on her final Daytona 500 and NASCAR start.

Saturday, the starting lineup will be determined by a blind draw in the UNOH Fanzone featuring fans and crew chiefs for each eligible team.

Sunday’s 75-lap race will feature a pre-determined break after lap 25.

Eligible drivers are defending winner Joey Logano and teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney (Team Penske Ford), Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing Ford), Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet), Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing Ford), Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing Toyota), Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) and Kasey Kahne (Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet).

In addition to Logano, Hamlin, Harvick, Johnson, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch are former Clash winners.

Upgrades for the track too tough to ignore

They tried to kill her off once before, stripped one race from her legendary asphalt and stuck her with a lone weekend date that many believed sounded the death knell once and for all.

They say, though, that Darlington Raceway is too tough to tame.

I say she’s too tough to ignore.

The legendary South Carolina track, one of only two that’s been on NASCAR’s premier series schedule every year since 1950, will get an influx of capital from its owners, International Speedway Corp., money that will go toward upgrades in the grandstands circling the 1.366-mile track along with other fan amenities.

The project, dubbed “A Better Darlington … The Tradition Continues,” will run $7 million or so.

That’s a far cry from the $400 million ISC spent to give rise to Daytona International Speedway a few years back.

Or the $178 million poured into ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix International Raceway, for major upgrades that will be completed later this year.

Or the expected $30 million doled out to Richmond Raceway; Richmond Reimagined features a total re-build of the .75-mile track’s infield.

It’s not about how much here, though. That ISC continues to put back into its facilities in an effort to “enhance the fan experience” is a very, very good thing.

How much, for those wondering, is approximately $615 million between the four facilities, and that’s not pocket change.

Darlington’s slice of the pie will suffice because the old gal’s gotten by on a lot less for a lot longer than nearly everyone else. And that’ll be the case this time around, too.

Work was scheduled to begin Thursday (Feb. 1) and be completed in time for this year’s throwback extravaganza, the annual Bojangles’ Southern 500, set for Sept. 2.

“We have the coolest track in NASCAR,” track president Kerry Tharp said, adding that the project will “make the fan experience better than ever.”

Seats along the frontstretch, in the Tyler Tower, will now be wider. Stadium-style seating (bleachers with backrests) will replace those seats currently in the Wallace (frontstretch) and Colvin (backstretch) grandstands.

There will be more handrails, guardrails and restrooms will get upgrades as well.

The closest thing to changing anything on the actual track will be the addition of a “Wall of Honor” on the front and backstretch where the names of every race champion at Darlington will be featured.

Joie Chitwood, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of ISC, said the decision to move forward with the upgrades to Darlington was part of ISC’s “commitment to the fan in creating the best possible experience on our properties.

“It just shows the future is bright for Darlington,” he said. “This place is special but you want to combine it with amenities (for the new fans).”

The Bojangles’ Southern 500 has been a staple on the schedule for most of the track’s 69 years of existence. However, when the track’s spring date was shipped elsewhere in time for the ’05 season, the Labor Day date was moved as well.

Darlington, stuck with a lone race on Mother’s Day weekend, didn’t just survive but began to thrive, eventually selling out an event that was thought to be a stopping point along the way to non-existence.

In 2015, the track got its Labor Day date back, officials unveiled an annual “throwback” platform to recognize the heroes of NASCAR’s past and interest in the track and its race weekend has continued to soar.

“One thing that’s really nice is the fact that nothing is changing with the track (surface),” two-time premier series champion Terry Labonte said. “It will still be that good old historic race track. All I can see are big plusses for what they are doing.”

Plenty of newness for LVMS test

There will be a mix of the old and the new on hand Wednesday and Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when the 1.5-mile track hosts the first of three scheduled organizational tests for the series in 2018.

Of the 13 teams slated to participate, nearly half feature a driver change from 2017.

Erik Jones, the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, will be making his debut in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing;

William Byron, the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series champ, will be behind the wheel of the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports;

Speaking of Hendrick, after six years with the four-team organization, Kasey Kahne now finds himself behind the wheel of the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing;

Darrell Wallace Jr., isn’t exactly new to the No. 43 of Richard Petty Motorsports – the 24-year-old made four starts for the team last season while driver Aric Almirola was recovering from a back injury. However, Almirola has since landed at Stewart-Haas Racing and Wallace is now the full-time driver for RPM, which has made the move from Ford to Chevrolet.

Paul Menard is the newest driver of the No. 21 Ford fielded by Wood Brothers Racing. Menard won the 2011 Brickyard 400 while the Wood Brothers won the 2011 Daytona 500. Make of that what you will.

Last on the “new” front – SHR XFINITY Series regular Cole Custer will handle testing duties this week with Go Fas Racing in that team’s No. 32 Ford.

Absent from the roster is defending MENCS champ Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota team. The team dominated the 1.5-mile stops last year, with seven of its eight victories coming on the intermediate tracks. Truex did take part earlier this month in a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile venue.

Rounding out the roster of drivers and teams testing this week are:

Brad Keselowski, Team Penske No. 2 Ford; Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford; Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford; Cole Custer, Go Fas Racing No. 32 Ford;

Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet; Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet; Ty Dillon, Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet; Chris Buescher, JTG Daugherty No. 37 Chevrolet;

Wheel force cars from the three OEMs will be driven by Justin Allgaier (Chevrolet), David Ragan (Ford) and Drew Herring (Toyota).

Gates will open at 9 a.m. PT daily and fans will be admitted free of charge in grandstands and the popular Neon Garage both days.

LVMS will host the Pennzoil 400 Sunday, March 4, the wrap-up to a triple-header weekend that will also include Camping World Truck and NASCAR XFINITY Series races.

For CMS media tour, that’s a wrap

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Three days and nearly 50 drivers from NASCAR’s three national series collided here and suddenly it’s over and I guess from here on out folks will focus on racing.

Another NASCAR media tour, hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, is in the books and this one closed quietly. For the print folks, it was Team Penske driver Joey Logano chiming in on fatherhood and failing to meet the on-track expectations of 2017.

We’ll get back to that in a bit …

• The young driver/old driver storyline carried over into the final day and I really don’t know what to make of it. Too much or not enough?

if you’ve missed it, don’t worry. Chances are it will resurface in Daytona. For now, just know that NASCAR is hard behind its younger competitors and that’s not exactly a new tactic. Nor is it the worst idea.

Some veteran drivers will feel slighted and that’s to be expected. Some will speak out about it when asked and that’s to be expected too.

Fans need to know about the younger drivers coming into the series, but let’s not brand those drivers as stars until they’ve actually accomplished something.

Meanwhile, there are four full-time drivers suiting up this year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series who are 40 or older. Jimmie Johnson’s the eldest of the elder statesmen at 42, Kevin Harvick’s a few months younger, Jamie McMurray is 41 and if Ryan Newman were a Super Bowl he’d be XL.

Johnson has won seven premier series championships, could become the first ever to win eight and NASCAR ought to have a marketing campaign around the Hendrick Motorsports driver going into every year for that reason alone.

Harry Gant won 18 premier series races, all of them after he turned 42. Bobby Allison won a championship at 45. Young drivers left their marks early too. I guess the point is, don’t make too much of age, or what some marketing agency does with it.

• Kasey Kahne, the fresh-start kid, said expects to open up his Sprint car schedule now that he’s joined Leavine Family Racing for his Cup Series efforts. Kahne, whose KKR fields full-time World of Outlaw entries for drivers Daryn Pittman and Brad Sweet, hopes to run between 20-30 races himself in a third entry.

• Daniel Suarez, thrust into the No. 19 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing with the unexpected departure of Carl Edwards, said there have been “adjustments” made to his team in preparation for the ’18 season.

Those changes are primarily personnel – Suarez changed crew chiefs early in the year when Dave Rogers took a leave of absence and the driver said his No. 1 and 2 engineers changed “in the last two months of racing.” There was also a car chief change in the offseason. “Everyone knows the challenge that we have, and everyone knows all that we have (in place). I really like that,” Suarez said.

• Logano, the first driver to miss the Playoffs due to an “encumbered” win at Richmond last year, called the feeling one “we never want to have again.”

“We thought we would go win more races,” he said “No big deal. Then it was one thing after another and before we knew it our back was against the wall. … We did not see that coming at all.”

Sixteen teams made the Playoff. The No. 22 team wasn’t one of them.

As for fatherhood? Logano said he’s learned that “I can’t halfway do something.”

“When I go to work, I have to be 100 percent at work and when I go home, I have to put my phone down,” Logano said. “… There is a time for work and a time for family. I need to do 100 percent at each one of those and not try to do 50 percent at all of them. It doesn’t work.”

As always, thanks for stopping by.