Amid struggles, another milestone for Johnson

He’s having a tough go of it these days, riding out the longest winless streak of his career, but Jimmie Johnson will reach another milestone Sunday when the Gander Outdoors 400 gets under way at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

Johnson, 42, will make his 600th career start in NASCAR’s top series.

He’ll be the 30th driver to reach that marker, part of the one percent that makes up those drivers with 600 or more career Cup starts.

Eleven of the current 29 are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which isn’t to say that running a lot of races is a requirement for Hall consideration.

Unofficially, drivers making their 600th career start haven’t fared extremely well, so the bar’s not been set too high for the Hendrick Motorsports driver this weekend. The average starting position has been roughly 20th and the average finishing position has been just shy of 18th.

It appears that no driver making his (or her) 600th career start has won the pole – the closest was Bill Elliott who qualified No. 2 for the 2000 DieHard 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. In fact, only one other driver, Richard Petty, started inside the top five. The King lined up third in the ’73 Carolina 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway.

No drivers have won while making career start No. 600 either.

Closest in that category appears to be Darrell Waltrip (third in the ’94 Purolator 500 at Atlanta) and Jeff Gordon (also third, in the 2010 LifeLock.com at Chicagoland Speedway).

Dover has been the site of more drivers (five) making their 600th career start than any other track. If you’re wondering, that’s from a list of 18 tracks, three of which no longer host Cup events.

As for Johnson’s winless streak, it has now reached 43 for the driver of the No. 48.

He’s won 83 times, tied for sixth most in the series with Cale Yarborough; one more and he’ll share fifth place with Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

Along with Petty and Dale Earnhardt, he’s one of only three drivers with seven championships.

Jimmie Johnson has made it all look so easy for so long.

Perhaps he will once again.

A tweak as teams hit the roval at CMS

CONCORD, N.C. – Charlotte Motor Speedway’s “roval” is practically brand-new but the 2.28-mile layout has already had its first facelift.

Nothing major, just a touchup, but enough to bring Tuesday’s open test for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams to a halt for more than one hour.

“It’s all about keeping everybody honest,” Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing said. “Not bypassing what is supposed to be the racing groove, the racing line.”

That “groove” was along the backstretch, through a chicane near the entrance to Turn 3 that is meant to slow cars down. The initial “rumble strips” weren’t enough to dissuade some from staying on the gas, however, and shooting through the area without losing any speed.

That presented a safety concern for NASCAR and a product concern for Goodyear officials, who developed a tire combination based on speeds and tire wear following two previous tire tests.

After consulting with drivers, crew chiefs, track and NASCAR officials, a consensus was reached. Additional rumble strips were installed as well as a tire barrier just at the exit of the chicane.

The move was expected to slow cars by approximately two seconds, the original plan before drivers discovered the drive-by. Or drive-over.

Teams seemed to be happy. Officials with the track and NASCAR and Goodyear seemed to be happy. Testing resumed. An hour was added to the schedule to make up for the down time.

“It’s the same thing they do at every other road course or street course or whatever,” Newman said. “We’re dealing with SAFER barriers on both sides, which is great, but you don’t want to put up any kind of hard walls over there in a situation like that where we carry 150, 160 mph in a braking zone.

“Putting up the tires and taller than average speed bumps (or) curbing … is in my opinion one of the best ways to do it.”

There was only one incident of note in the morning session – Darrell Wallace (Richard Petty Motorsports No.43 Chevrolet) slid into the tire barrier at the Turn 1 entrance to the road course portion of the layout.

Wallace was not injured, however damage to the car was too significant for the team to continue.

Seventeen teams were scheduled to participate and most, if not all, showed up.

On July 17, the remainder of those competing in the series this year will get their chance on the “roval” during a second open test.

The Bank of America Roval 400 is scheduled for Sept. 30 at CMS.

For Jones, Daytona win was Sonoma fueled

Erik Jones will be in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in two months and the reason for that is perhaps only partly due to Saturday night’s victory in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Career win No. 1 for the 22-year-old Jones came in his 57th career start. But he and crew chief Chris Gayle and team owner Joe Gibbs pointed to a recent seventh-place finish at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway as a key to the improved performance of Jones and the No. 20 Toyota team.

Gayle, who had won with Elliott Sadler, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Sam Hornish Jr. and Jones to victories in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, talked afterward about a change in his young driver in recent weeks.

“We went into that (Sonoma) weekend knowing it was going to be tough and we were going to have to battle,” Gayle recounted Saturday night. “And the first 10 laps of that race were pretty tough. It could have gone either way.”

Jones and the team did their best, though, and the result continues to provide benefits.

Confidence bred from that top-10 finish at a track where Jones confessed he felt out of sorts carried over to Chicago, where he finished sixth, and Daytona, where he finished, well, first.

The win didn’t alter the playoff picture – Jones was inside the top 16 in points and with only six different winners thus far, qualifying for the 10-race playoff seemed likely if not certain.

Still, it’s best to have all the boxes checked, so Jones can pencil himself in to the playoff picture and move ahead.

He is the ninth different driver to win a Cup race for Joe Gibbs Racing, joining Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.

At Daytona, he admitted he didn’t circle the race as a potential victory on his calendar.

When his car was damaged in an incident during the second stage and he fell off the lead lap, a win seemed even less likely.

“I didn’t give up at that point, but thought ‘OK, we’ve really go to do our best to salvage a solid day,’” Jones said.

Eventually he had made it back inside the top 15 and then the top 10 and then the top five and “on that last restart, I was like ‘We’ve got a legitimate shot at this point,’” he said.

More than a shot. In the end it was a win.

Still a bit astonished, and disappointed, that there were only 18 cars running at the end of Saturday night’s race. That’s the fewest amount for a Cup race at Daytona since … well, the record is 11, set in July of 1963 so let’s just leave it at that.

They didn’t run restrictor plates back then; the attrition was due to mechanical woes.

Jones’ victory didn’t do a lot to shake up the playoff picture outside of solidifying his own plans – he was 14th in points heading into the race. No new faces moved into or out of the 16-team field and there was only minor movement among those without wins inside the cutoff.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., winner of the first two stages, is four points closer to the cutoff and trails Alex Bowman by 19 while Paul Menard and a few others just inside the top 20 lost significant ground.

The 17 laps led Saturday night by Kasey Kahne weren’t the first for the LFR driver this season – he led 11 laps at Michigan. But the fourth-place finish was the team’s best since former driver Michael McDowell finished fourth in the 2017 Daytona 500.

This week’s races: Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup teams will be in Kentucky for a three-day show (Thur.-Sat.). FS1 will have coverage of Thursday’s Truck race while NBCSN will handle Xfinity and Cup events.

A return to Chicago – minus playoff setting

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Chicagoland Raceway this weekend to begin a 10-week run that will wrap up the “regular” season and complete the 16-team playoff field for 2018.

Eight of the 10 races will air on NBCSN as the annual switch in TV partners takes place. Daytona in July and Watkins Glen in August will get the NBC treatment.

All 20 that remain will get the Dale Jr. treatment as Dale Earnhardt Jr. begins his post-driving career with a move to the television booth.

As for Chicagoland, after seven seasons as Stop No. 2 in the 10-race playoffs, the 1.5-mile track’s main event is back to roughly the same spot it held on the schedule its first 10 years – in the heat and the heart of summer.

The September date, meanwhile, has been awarded to Richmond International Raceway.

David Reutimann won the last Cup race contested in July at Chicagoland and his crew chief was Rodney Childers and that’s a name that’s familiar to a lot of folks these days.

Chicago was tabbed the City of the Big Shoulders by Carl Sandburg (no official NASCAR starts), but down by Joliet where the track is actually located, it’s been Martin Truex Jr. carrying the load and winning the races.

He’s won the last two times out at Chicagoland, and it was Denny Hamlin in ’15 and before that Matt Kenseth in ’13 and they all drove Toyotas so we know the brand and perhaps even the driver who should be favored in Sunday’s race, known as the Overton’s 400.

It is not a track that’s been particularly considerate to those who drive Fords – only once has one of their kind been to victory lane and that was in 2014 and that was Brad Keselowski who’s yet to win this season at the Cup level.

Kevin Harvick, on the other hand, has put Ford in victory lane five times this year and he won the first two Cup races here. Those were in Chevrolets and those were for Richard Childress Racing in ’01 and ’02.

The ’01 win was just the second of Harvick’s career and the second of his rookie season. He led 101 of the final 130 laps so it was no gimme.

Robert Pressley’s only career runner-up finish came in that race, by the way, for those who still recall the Ashville, N.C. native and former Xfinity Series regular.

Harvick’s wins this year have come at Atlanta and Las Vegas, Phoenix and Dover and Kansas and three of the five are mile-and-a-half layouts similar to Chicagoland. His overall average finishing position is 8.9. That’s better than good, in case you were wondering.

His crew chief is Childers, by the way, so between the two of them they have three wins at Chicagoland.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer has scratched out a pair of wins and Joey Logano (Team Penske) won at Talladega for Ford. But Harvick and his No. 4 team have been the mainstay, the one group that’s been there week after week.

On the Chevrolet front, Jimmie Johnson has led more laps (695) at the track and has more poles (two) than any other active driver so maybe if there’s a time and a place for the seven-time champion to snap out of his 39-race funk it’s this weekend at Chicagoland. Given recent results, that might qualify as a surprise.

There are only two 1.5-mile stops, Chicago and Kentucky, until the field of 16 is set and the rest are made up of big tracks (Daytona, Pocono, Michigan and Indy), another road course (Watkins Glen), a short track (Bristol) and a short-tempered track (Darlington).

Certainly, that would seem to open the door for a number of possibilities, but we’ve gotten this far on a steady diet of few winners so who can say for sure?

Sandburg’s piece begins:

“Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler …”

Nowhere does it say anything about parity in NASCAR.

Sonoma can’t slow big three domination

Six winners in 16 races and the guess here is that the topic of the week between Sonoma and Chicago will be why have there not been more folks in the winner’s circle this year in NASCAR’s top series.

Chances are, those fortunate few who may sneak into the Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs later this fall aren’t up in arms about the lack of diversity in victory lane. Quite the opposite. They likely breathed a sigh of relief as they began the long trip back home Sunday evening.

Each different winner bumps out a potential points player and if you’re riding the fence from a points standpoint, 10 available spots looks a lot better than say six or eight.

Sixteen drivers and teams will qualify, either by winning one or more of the first 26 points races or by virtue of points should there be fewer than 16 different winners.

At this rate, the chance of there being 16 different winners ranks up there with the Archies making a comeback.

The series has now hit all the different layouts, from superspeedways to a road course and everything in between. From hairpins to clothespins, restrictor plates to dinner plates. There’s a roval later in the year and it’s part road course, part oval and entirely suspicious.

No surprises remain for the regular season, though.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and Sunday’s winner Martin Truex Jr. have combined to win 12 of this year’s first 16 races and the three are making a good case for reservations in the championship round in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway later this year.

The thing is, it’s a table for four and nobody’s really stepped up and said that fourth chair belongs to them.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves …

By this point a year ago we had a dozen different winners, the year before that there were 11 and 11 the year before that one, too. You’d have to go back a ways, the ‘70s or so, to find a year with as few or fewer winners during the season’s first half.

Fords and Toyotas have dominated in ’18 and there’s little reason to believe that will change to any great degree as the season begins the slow roll into its annual summer stretch.

Chevrolet teams are still trying to sort through the Camaro ZL-1 and aside from a last-lap pass that put Austin Dillon’s name on the Harley J. Earl trophy for winning the Daytona 500 back in February, the automaker hasn’t had anything else to crow about this year. “We’re No. 3” has a hollow ring to it.

Rather than be disturbed by the lack of variety in victory lane, I think it’s been impressive that three different organizations – Stewart-Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing – have continued to slug it out week after week.

Their three drivers will be favored, as they should be, when the series arrives in Chicago later this week, but maybe somebody else will finally step out of the clutter and grab the spotlight.

Clint Bowyer’s a likely candidate, a two-race winner that any other season would be considered practically a shoo-in for title contention.

And that may be the case yet. Bowyer, 39, is enjoying another breakout season 11 years after his first.

It should come as no surprise that Harvick and Busch and Truex have been those who have nearly won when they failed to win – they’ve finished second eight times combined to lead that category, too.

So not only are they dominating the top spot, but they’re also dominating the next one.

Another possible contender, Kyle Larson, has been runner-up three times and the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has won more races since the start of ’17 than anyone else driving for Chevrolet, including seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson.

Among this year’s winless, Larson is considered by many as the best bet to wind up in the winner’s circle.

Unless the likes of Harvick and Busch and Truex cool off, however, it seems everyone else is racing for second. Well, third actually.

Sonoma stop often a memorable one

There will be mentions of wine country and likely a nod to nearby Vallejo, Calif., talk of elevation changes and ringers and other oddities not usually associated with NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series.

It’s race week in Sonoma and the series’ first road course stop always brings out the predictable as well as the unexpected.

Mention Sonoma Raceway, site of Sunday’s Toyota Save Mart 350, and more than the region’s wineries come to mind.

It’s a track that’s been on the schedule since 1989, coming on board just a year after the demise of Riverside International Raceway, another road course located just down the coast.

Sonoma’s track length is a shade under two miles and the layout includes a dozen turns or so – few of which are remotely similar.

It is a track where the brown grass occasionally catches fire after contact from the hot exhaust of a stalled race car.

“Tower, we’ve got a grass fahr over here by the carousel.”

That’s not something you often hear on the scanner at your local NASCAR venue.

It’s where Kyle Busch, barely a few months removed from what could have been a career-ending injury or worse, returned to victory lane with a vengeance and so much to prove. Winning at Sonoma and then winning it all in 2015.

Remember 2011? The image of Tony Stewart’s car, its’ rear end stuck high atop a tire barrier and going nowhere fast, hasn’t faded. Red Bull Racing’s Brian Vickers probably hasn’t forgotten the incident either. Or what led to it.

A year before that it was Marcos Ambrose seemingly on his way to career win No. 1 in the series. Until the engine stalled in his JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota while Ambrose was trying to save gas, handing the win to Jimmie Johnson less than 10 laps from the checkered flag.

It remains the only road-course win for Johnson, who has piled up 82 victories elsewhere.

In 2007, Juan Pablo Montoya won at Sonoma for his first Cup victory, giving car owner Chip Ganassi his first series win since ’02. The guy he beat, Jamie McMurray, had been the last Ganassi winner. It was an early charge and a late pass – Montoya qualified 32nd and after slicing through the field, took the lead for the final time with seven laps remaining.

There have been others – Robby Gordon beating Jeff Gordon and igniting criticism from the runner-up for passing another driver under caution; Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace and how they could sling those heavy old cars through the turns and come out dusty but unscathed.

Folks such as Rudd and Wallace and Terry Labonte rose to the top when racing on the road courses was endured but not particularly enjoyed by most competitors. The Sonoma race, and Watkins Glen a bit later in the summer, were nothing more than bumps on the way to determining the season’s champion.

A win at that time didn’t guarantee a spot in the playoffs because there were no playoffs. A bad race at Sonoma wasn’t seen as an opportunity lost. More of those were still to come and on far more forgiving layouts.

Today? A win can get you in the playoffs and road-course racing is no longer considered an oddity. The mile-and-a-halves still dominate the series’ schedule but today’s racers are much more agreeable when it comes to turning left and right.

Some are as talented as those who dominated in years past; others simply do the best they can and move on. I suppose nothing, other than the names, has really changed.

As for Vallejo, well, that’s the one-time hometown of Jeff Gordon, the four-time series champ and 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame member.

it’s hard to think of Vallejo, by the way, and not recall former driver Sterling Marlin pronouncing it Valley-joe in his unique Tennessee drawl.

Gordon could wheel a car around Sonoma with uncanny precision and when he finally stepped away he had five career wins and 18 top 10s in 23 starts. His fans were left with just as many memories.

Others have stepped up in recent years. Guys such as Busch and last year’s winner Kevin Harvick. Kurt Busch, Kyle’s older brother, and teammate Clint Bowyer, too.

Then there are a host of drivers who have yet to lead a single lap at Sonoma, much less win. But they’re a talented lot and opportunities are often just around the next turn.

And at Sonoma, turns aren’t exactly in short supply.

Digesting Bowyer’s win, other MIS notes

Clint Bowyer now has two Cup wins in 2018 and no doubt that feels pretty good after going winless for five years and 190 races.

The 39-year-old needs one more victory to equal his career best – his only three-win season to date came in 2012 with victories at Sonoma, Richmond and Charlotte while driving for the now defunct Michael Waltrip Racing.

Overall, Bowyer’s now won at seven of the 23 tracks hosting Cup Series points races.

And he’s tied with Alabama Gang member Donnie Allison and two-time Daytona 500 champ Sterling Marlin with 10 victories. Talk about a trio …

Both wins for Bowyer this year involved races impacted by weather – the STP 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway ran in its entirety on a Monday after a snowstorm hit the region; Sunday’s race made it to lap 133 before rain returned and officials ended the race.

It was the first rain-shortened Cup win since Chris Buescher won at Pocono in 2016.

Stewart-Haas Racing, home of Bowyer and Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola, has won seven of this season’s 15 points races. That’s a high-water mark for the organization. Six wins on multiple occasions but never seven. It’s unlikely that the group is finished winning for the year.

The 1-2-3 sweep by SRH (Bowyer, Harvick, Busch) at MIS was also a first for the organization.

Some folks say no single group has swept the top 3 spots in a race since 2008 when Roush Fenway Racing did it. That was the Dover playoff race and the top three were Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.

It also happened earlier that year, in Bristol, when Jeff Burton, Harvick and Bowyer finished 1-2-3 for Richard Childress Racing in the Food City 500.

And there was the Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Ricky Craven 1-2-3 finish in the 1997 Daytona 500 for Hendrick Motorsports.

So, it happens every now and then.

Ford teams led all but 12 laps Sunday. Chevrolet teams led the dozen Ford didn’t and Toyota, for just the second time this season, failed to lead a lap.

Kasey Kahne led 11 laps for Leavine Family Racing and that’s the most laps led in a race, and an entire season, since the organization debuted in 2011.

The view from afar was a bit confusing Sunday when NASCAR chose not to open pit road in an effort to end Stage 1 under green-flag conditions.

NASCAR closes pit road two laps before the end of each stage. It appeared the field was coming to what would have been two to go when Kenseth had his issue.

The caution flag waved, but the pits were closed and stayed that way until a one-lap, green-flag run was completed to end the stage. I don’t know that NASCAR has ever thrown the yellow, then closed pit road until going back to green. Maybe it’s happened before …

With stage and a playoff point up for grabs, though, I would have liked to have seen what crew chiefs would have done has NASCAR not closed pit road and left that option on the table.

As for the “split field” at the end of the race … fortunately, the issue of half the field coming to pit road and the other half staying on the track as the rain started to fall didn’t impact the finishing order.

It just looked messy. And for a race ending in the rain, that’s really not much of a surprise.

Harris hitting right notes at Furniture Row

Blake Harris is car chief of the No. 78 Toyota fielded by Furniture Row Racing with defending series champion Martins Truex Jr. CIA Stock Photo

Blake Harris knew how they felt. Jesse Sanders and Lee Leslie and David Bryant and Austin Konetski and Robert (Cheddar) Smith, all car chiefs, all ejected from various tracks this season for issues during Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series inspection.

The disputes varied. The swift reaction from NASCAR officials did not.

Harris knew because he was the first in the Cup Series to get the boot.

The car chief for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota of defending series champion Martin Truex Jr., Harris was tossed out at Atlanta Motor Speedway when his team’s car failed to pass inspection after three trips through NASCAR’s new Optical Scanning Station (OSS).

The camera-based inspection system debuted this year and multiple failures for either pre-qualifying or pre-race inspection can result in the ejection of a team member of NASCAR’s choosing. Thus far it has been the car chiefs that have felt the sting.

“At the time it doesn’t ever seem (fair),” Harris said. “It was so new at Atlanta – that was our first downforce race with everything. I think there are things on our part and on NASCAR’s part that you learn through those situations.

“It’s not just ‘You’re out of here, you’re gone.’ We explained to them the process that we go through … they need to understand too what we’re dealing with. We can make adjustments on our part, they can make adjustments on their part.”

Harris, 31, is a former Late Model racer from the tiny town of Maypearl, Tex. He has worked in NASCAR for 13 years and been car chief for six seasons.

His backstory isn’t that much different from others – a former racer who didn’t have the funding to keep going. But Harris was chasing an education in addition to checkered flags and that’s part of the reason he wound up in North Carolina and not behind the wheel of a race car.

Fabrication and other classes led to work with a team and pretty soon work took precedence and the education was eventually put aside.

“I learned so much on the job with what we do,” Harris said. “I feel like with my job it’s pretty much all on-the-job training.”

What exactly does a car chief do these days? It varies a bit from team to team but for the most part, it’s the hands-on work that used to fall onto the crew chief’s shoulders.

“Pretty much the crew chief and engineers have come up with what setup needs to be in the car so it’s my job to make sure all the right parts get in the car and on the car,” Harris said. “All the mechanics and I do all the work on the car at the track, some in the shop; we’ll go through and make sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be. I’ll scale the car and make sure everything is set right, exactly to the money of what they want.

“Another big part of it is just dealing with the car in NASCAR. If we unload and there is something (officials) don’t like, I make sure the guys in the shop know that we changed (it) so that we don’t have the same problem the next week.

“If there is something we need to fix immediately – making sure we can get it fixed so that when we go back through tech the next time that we have it right.

“You’re always trying to stay within the boundaries of getting everything you can, it’s just trying to make sure I do my part, kind of babysitting that car through and knowing where we can’t push too much and keep everybody happy on the NASCAR side.”

This year’s at-track inspection process has tightened up gaps in the system that might have existed for no other reason than measurements that were once being recorded by people are now done with cameras and computers. What might have been “gray” in the past is now black and white – or more specifically, red and blue and green and yellow.

The differences in color indicate where cars are in or out of tolerance after they’ve been scanned and by how much.

“I have to admit it’s a little bit easier for us, too, because we can see it,” Harris said.

“We can’t go back and think we fixed it where a template was … we actually see the number they give us and we can go fix it and that correlates on the scan. I feel better about the repeatability. That thing has been really good. I feel like every time we’ve gone through it’s really, really close.”

Harris is married to FOX Sports reporter Kaitlyn Vincie and the couple have a young daughter, Kadence.

He’s also an accomplished musician, one whose career path could have gone in an entirely different direction. Sessions instead of set-ups perhaps.

“When I graduated high school, I had a couple of music scholarships that I didn’t end up using,” he said. “I enjoy (playing) the piano most; I could have had a full (college) ride playing the saxophone.

“The piano is a little bit more challenging because I don’t do it enough. When I sit down and play I can actually pay attention to that and put everything else out of my mind. That’s what I enjoy about it the most.”

Of chips and dips and other NASCAR items

What’s to know about this weekend’s Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway?

For starters, it’s the third year Firekeepers Casino will hold the entitlement rights. Previously it was the Quicken Loans 400 and before that it was the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 and at one time it was even the Batman Begins 400.

The 2-mile track hosted its first NASCAR premier series race in 1969 and that was the only time they ran 500 miles there. Cale Yarborough won, after a tangle with Lee Roy Yarbrough on the final lap.

Later that same year, they scheduled a 600-miler (300 laps) at MIS. I guess Michigan and NASCAR officials got together, looked at the 54-race schedule and figured “Another 600-mile race? Why not?”

It was (mercifully) stopped after just 165 laps. Two rainstorms delayed action for nearly four hours and finally darkness arrived and they flagged David Pearson the winner and everyone went home. Soggy.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., have combined to win 11 of this year’s 14 races and folks do get tired of hearing about the same drivers winning all the races. So maybe it’s noteworthy that of the three, only Harvick and Busch have won at MIS and they’ve each only won once and those wins came in ’10 (Harvick) and ’11 (Busch). Truex was, however, runner-up here last August.

Those three aside, it’s worth noting that of the five races won by Kyle Larson, three have come at MIS. The last three races in a row, in fact, for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Chase Elliott finished second in two of those, Truex in the third.

Four wins in a row at MIS isn’t out of the question – Bill Elliott, Chase’s father, did it in 1985-86.

Truex, con’t: The driver of the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota tied Marvin Panch and Curtis Turner with his 17th career victory last Sunday at Pocono.

Panch won a Daytona 500 and World 600 and he won at Watkins Glen and he’ll likely be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day.

Turner has been called the greatest pure driver in NASCAR by many. He’s already in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, at one time was president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, was kicked out of the series from 1961-65, was eventually re-instated and eventually re-won. At Rockingham.

There’s talk that NASCAR may bring back the aerodynamic package used in this year’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, perhaps at Pocono next month, Michigan in August and Indianapolis in September.

NASCAR has toyed with the cars almost for as long as it has sanctioned races, so maybe this is nothing new. But I’m not a fan of such moves unless they’re safety related. Maybe I’m just not convinced it’s the right (only) answer. It deserves a lot more space than I can devote here so hopefully I’ll dive a bit deeper into it in another piece very soon.

Chevrolet has one Cup win in 2018 and we’re 14 races into the season. The last time the auto maker had fewer than 10 wins for an entire season was 1992 when Chevy teams won only eight races all year.

Ford won the first nine that season and 16 overall and a Ford driver, Alan Kulwicki, won the championship.

Of course, just three years later, in ’95, Chevrolet won 21 of 31, including the first seven and Jeff Gordon won seven himself and his first Cup title. What goes around …

In the meantime, Ford (seven wins) and Toyota (six) have been toting home the hardware this season.

For journos only: Dateline for those first races at MIS wasn’t Brooklyn as it is today but Cambridge Junction, a tiny state park located just down the road from the race track. Seems Brooklyn became the dateline around 1978 for one reason or another.

A look at this year’s Hall of Fame nominees

On Wednesday, members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel will gather in the Charlotte Convention Center to determine the five inductees who will make up the class of 2019.

Official announcement of the five is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Here’s a rundown of the 20 nominees, and five that will be considered for the annual Landmark Award (listed alphabetically):

DAVEY ALLISON: Given his popularity, Allison likely gets the fan vote, which accounts for one overall vote. The son of 1983 premier series champ Bobby Allison, Davey won 19 times and among the victories were wins in the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600. No premier series championships but finished third in points twice. His death at just 32 left a huge void in the series.

BUDDY BAKER: Similarities between Baker and Allison are noteworthy – both won 19 races, both were the son of a former series champion, both were hugely popular during their careers. Baker was larger than life and never approached a race with any intention other than going all out for as long as the car would last. List of wins includes victories in Daytona 500, World 600 and Southern 500. Enjoyed successful broadcast career after driving career ended.

RED FARMER: One of the original members of the Alabama Gang, Farmer won hundreds of races in lower-tier series. He captured NASCAR Late Model Sportsman titles in 1969, ’70 and ’71 as well as a Modified crown in 1956.

RAY FOX: Noted mechanic, engine builder and car owner, Fox worked alongside some of the sports legendary figures, including Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Buck Baker, Cale Yarborough and Fred Lorenzen. Credited with 14 premier series wins as an owner.

HARRY GANT: One of the more popular figures in the premier series during a 16-year career (full-time), Gant won 18 times and finished seventh or better in points eight times. Nicknamed Mr. September after winning four consecutive races in 1991. A 21-race winner in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

JOE GIBBS: The only team owner who can claim championships in NASCAR’s premier series and the NFL. Gibbs won Super Bowls as head coach of the Washington Redskins before becoming a NASCAR owner. His Joe Gibbs Racing organization has flourished, winning titles with drivers Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart (2) and Kyle Busch. Currently boasts 151 total wins in Cup and 145 in the Xfinity Series.

JEFF GORDON: If there’s one slam dunk for the Class of 2019, it’s Gordon. The four-time series champion ended his career with 93 victories, third behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). He helped push the sport out of its southern shadows and into the mainstream in both business and entertainment. Won Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400 titles.

JOHN HOLMAN: One half of the legendary Holman-Moody racing operation that won championships with David Pearson (1968-69) and 96 races with some of racing’s biggest figures. In addition to Pearson, Curtis Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Mario Andretti and Bobby Allison put Holman-Moody cars in the winner’s circle.

HARRY HYDE: For more than three decades, Hyde helped a half-dozen drivers enjoy success in the top series as a crew chief. Thirty-six of his 55 victories came with Bobby Isaac with whom he won the championship in 1971. Buddy Baker (3), Dave Marcis (4), Neil Bonnett (2), Geoff Bodine (3) and Tim Richmond (7) also won with Hyde calling the shots. The character Harry Hogge in the movie “Days of Thunder” was modeled after Hyde.

ALAN KULWICKI: His numbers might not be off the chart, but it’s what Kulwicki was able to do with limited resources that makes the Wisconsin native stand out. Kulwicki was the last “independent” owner/driver to win a championship and his success led to a quick rise in owner/driver entries. He had five career wins at the time of his death in an airplane crash in 1993.

BOBBY LABONTE: The younger brother of two-time series champion and Hall of Fame member Terry Labonte, Bobby won championships in both the Xfinity and Cup series. His 21 Cup victories included wins in the Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. Labonte also won 10 times in the Xfinity Series and once in the Camping World Truck Series.

HERSHEL MCGRIFF: He’s 90 years old and made a start in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West earlier this year. It might have been mostly ceremonial in nature but McGriff is certainly deserving of accolades. McGriff competed in the inaugural Southern 500, held in 1950 and went on to score four wins in the premier series in 87 career starts. He won 34 times in the K&N Series as well.

RALPH MOODY: Moody was a racer before he joined forces with John Holman, earning five wins in 47 career starts. But he’s perhaps best known as helping engineer Holman-Moody to the top of NASCAR’s premier series in the 1960s. Moody was the racing half of the outfit while Holman oversaw the business end of the operation.

ROGER PENSKE: As an owner, Penske teams have won 105 times at NASCAR’s top level with drivers such as Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace and 2012 champ Brad Keselowski. As a businessman, his Penske Motorsports Inc. ownership arm held titles to tracks in Nazareth, Pa., Rockingham, N.C., Brooklyn, Mich. and Fontana, Calif., before eventually selling to International Speedway Corp.

LARRY PHILLIPS: Considered one of the best all-around short track racers by many who saw him and most who raced against him, Phillips won five NASCAR Weekly Series national titles. According to NASCAR records, the Springfield, Mo. native won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned races between 1989-1996.

JACK ROUSH: An innovator as well as a team owner, Roush helped design and create the roof flaps used to keep NASCAR entries from becoming airborne today. As an owner, his drivers have won 137 times in the premier series, 137 in the Xfinity Series and 50 in the Camping World Truck Series. Twice they have won titles in Cup, while Roush Fenway teams have four Xfinity and one Camping World Trucks Series championships.

RICKY RUDD: One of the sport’s Iron Men, Rudd compiled an impressive 788-race consecutive starts list between 1981-2005. Along the way, he scored 23 victories in the premier series, including nine as owner/driver. A talented, all-around driver, Rudd was competitive and won on a variety of circuits, from road courses to short tracks to the bigger speedways.

KIRK SHELMERDINE: Got his start as crew chief with James Hylton in 1977 before moving to Richard Childress Racing in1980 and being paired with the owner/driver. Earned two wins as crew chief with Ricky Rudd at RCR in 1983 before beginning an incredible run with Earnhardt that saw the No. 3 team win 44 races and four championships. Made 41 combined starts as a driver in Cup, Xfinity and Truck series.

MIKE STEFANIK: A native of Coventry, Rhode Island, Stefanik is one of racing’s legendary Modified competitors. His seven championships are a Whelen Modified Series record as are his numbers for wins (74) and top-five finishes. In fact, just about any worthwhile record in the series is held by Stefanik. In addition, he is a two-time champion in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

WADDELL WILSON: Few people could build an engine any more powerful, or durable, than Wilson. David Pearson’s titles in 1968-69 came with Wilson power as did Benny Parson’s in ’73. He is credited with 109 wins and 123 poles as an engine builder. Wilson was also a successful crew chief, winning nearly two dozen times with such drivers as Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough.

LANDMARK AWARD
(Presented in recognition of outstanding contributions to NASCAR)

Janet Guthrie – Groundbreaking female competitor who made 33 starts in NASCAR’s top series.

Barney Hall – The voice of the Motor Racing Network, Hall enjoyed a decades long tenure behind the microphone and called some of the most memorable finishes in NASCAR’s long history. The annual Squier-Hall Award, which celebrates media excellence, is named after Hall and fellow announcer Ken Squier.

Alvin Hawkins: NASCAR’s first flagman and one of Bill France Sr.’s right-hand men in the early days of NASCAR. Helped promote racing across the Carolinas and operated Bowman-Gray Stadium, which continues to host NASCAR weekly programs.

Jim Hunter: A former sportswriter, Hunter worked his way up to track president of Darlington Raceway before leaving that post to help oversee NASCAR’s media and marketing group.

Ralph Seagraves: The man behind the push to bring NASCAR and sponsor RJ Reynolds together in the early 1970s. Seagraves knew what NASCAR needed in terms of publicity and helped guide the sanctioning body into a much broader spotlight.

My Picks:
Hall of Fame: Gordon, Baker, Kulwicki, Roush, Wilson
Landmark: Ralph Seagraves