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.

On New Beginnings

The annual NASCAR Media tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway began Monday and today it will be wall-to-wall driver interviews from morning (9 a.m.) until evening (4:45 p.m.). By the looks of the rotation, there are 30 drivers scheduled to drop in and be asked about the upcoming racing season.

That, folks, is a lot.

I’ll not be there today but not by choice. Off to be poked and prodded a couple more times, a final tune-up I hope before a new journey and new season begins.

Won’t bore you with results, but I will let you know if I pass tech or have to make another trip around the garage.

In the meantime, this is our first gathering here at and I hope you see something you like. Your time is valuable, your interest is appreciated.

Folks sometimes ask and I wish I could recall but there’s no recollection of the first media tour I attended. Let’s say it took place in the 1980s and move on.

Which I only bring up because during two separate conversations Monday I was asked how I felt about the “new and improved” media tour.

First of all, it’s not really a tour in the sense that media members no longer board buses and visit race shops, engine shops, the occasional wind tunnel, etc.

Yeah, it got mighty uncomfortable spending the day on a bus, but we went to Dawsonville, Ga., one year and Fort Worth, Texas another (not by bus, thankfully), and Daytona Beach and Stuart, Va. and Spartanburg, S.C., and it was fun and informative and good grief did you ever learn things.

All you had to do was walk into a Hendrick Motorsports or a Richard Childress Racing, a Team Penske or Roush Fenway or Joe Gibbs Racing and you immediately knew why those organizations were successful. Sheer size, spotless shops. Buttoned up and so impressive. Dynos and set-up plates and pull-down rigs and always, always rooms that were “off limits.”

Then you’d make a stop at another competitor’s shop and it would be painful trying to wedge 100 or more media in the door. Run by folks who tried just as hard to win races but it was clear how much they had to overcome. But when they did? Man, those were stories.

They didn’t all start that way – big and spotless and impressive. Very few of them did in fact. We watched a lot of them grow and that was fun and it was news. We saw a lot of them that didn’t and eventually they would be gone and that wasn’t any fun at all.

You met with drivers and owners and crew chiefs and guys that did nothing more than clean parts. You couldn’t help but learn.

Today is different. There’s no travel, except for an occasional run out to CMS. It’s a chance to see drivers a final time before heading to Daytona and the season-opening SpeedWeek program gets under way.

That’s not to say there is no value in the tour, no questions to be asked. There have been changes among organizations and drivers who have changed teams and moves made involving the auto manufacturers. There are new faces in old places and old faces in new ones and the “tour” may have changed but it still has value.

I can’t imagine that ever not being the case.

Thanks for stopping by.