Halfway next time by with return to DIS

Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway marks the halfway point in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

Race No. 18 takes teams back to where the season began in February. Only nine races remain in the regular season.

It’s a good time to stop and take stock of what’s transpired thus far.

Talk of the 2019 aero/rules package has often overshadowed the competition on the race track. That’s not unusual. It’s simply more noticeable in today’s social-media driven world.

While the aero changes haven’t been to everyone’s liking, that’s hardly any different from seasons past.

Because there are different packages for different tracks, it’s natural that it would be a topic of discussion as the season progressed.

Overall, it seems to have improved the product on the track. But it’s clear that the platform works better at some tracks, under some conditions (night vs. day races for example), than others.

The number of teams winning races hasn’t changed all that much, only the teams themselves. Three organizations (Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports) have produced this year’s race winners – all seven of them.

A year ago? Five organizations, four if you aligned the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing with JGR, which most did, and six different winners.

Who wins first in ‘19, seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson or a team from the Stewart-Haas Racing stable?

The odds would seem to favor SHR, which fields four Cup teams. Drivers Kevin Harvick (8), Clint Bowyer (2) and Aric Almirola (1) combined for 11 victories last season; the organization is 0-for-68 so far in ’19.

 Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports) heads to Daytona trailed by a 76-race winless streak. He did win the season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at DIS, a non-points event.

NASCAR’s tougher post-race penalty move hasn’t cost any Cup drivers a win, although two drivers in other series have been disqualified when their entries failed post-race inspection.

Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver Ross Chastain was stripped of the victory at Iowa while Christopher Bell lost his third-place finish in the Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Single-car qualifying returned in early May after months of issues with the multi-car process. At Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.) in March, none of the 12 final-round participants completed an official qualifying lap before time expired. In April, officials reduced the time of each qualifying round to five minutes.

Sweeps: Denny Hamlin led a Joe Gibbs Racing/Toyota sweep in the season-opening Daytona 500 as Kyle Busch and Erik Jones finished second and third respectively;

Team Penske finished 1-2 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with defending series champion Joey Logano winning over teammate Brad Keselowski in a battle of Fords;

Busch and Martin Truex went 1-2 at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., then reversed their order at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway when Truex scored the victory;

Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman finished 1-2 in the Geico 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

First-time winners: Bowman became the 192nd driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race with his first career victory June 30 at Chicagoland. It’s the fourth consecutive season the series has seen at least one new Cup winner. Austin Hill (NGOTS) and Michael Annett (Xfinity) earned their first NASCAR series wins as well, both at Daytona in February.

Equally notable: Christopher Bell gave Toyota its first win with the Supra in the Xfinity Series at Atlanta; Keselowski’s victory the same weekend was No. 1 for the Ford Mustang in Cup competition.

Kyle Busch hit a couple of milestones during the first half of the ’19 season – his became the winningest driver in the Truck series when he scored win No. 52 at Atlanta; his Cup victory at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.) gave him 200 wins across NASCAR’s three national series (Cup, Xfinity, Truck).

Prime time for Daytona, VL for DJ

Saturday, July 3, 1999 – NASCAR’s premier series went prime time on Saturday night for the first time on the Fourth of July holiday weekend, and Dale Jarrett escaped with a victory after almost running out of fuel. The driver of the No. 88 Ford for Robert Yates Racing, Jarrett pitted for a splash of gas with 17 laps remaining in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, then ran out on the backstretch after taking the checkered flag. Dale Earnhardt finished second while Jeff Burton was third.

A year earlier, the ’98 Pepsi 400 was scheduled to be the first to be held under the lights in July at DIS. However, wildfires across the region forced officials to postpone the race. It was run October 17, 1998.

The win was the third in seven races for Jarrett and his 14th consecutive top-10 result.

The race finished under caution after Jeremey Mayfield spun in Turn 4 on Lap 156 following contact from Wally Dallenbach, Jr. Jimmy Spencer and Elliott Sadler were also involved.

The race was the final start in the Cup series for driver Loy Allen Jr. A former Daytona 500 pole winner (1994), Allen finished 40th at Daytona and earlier at Michigan. He failed to qualify at Talladega and Pocono.

Roberts dies after battle with burns

Thursday, July 2, 1964 – Glen “Fireball” Roberts, NASCAR’s top drawing card at tracks across the country, died at Memorial Hospital in Charlotte where he had spent six weeks following a fiery crash in the World 600 race on May 24. Roberts, 35, was the winner of 33 races in NASCAR’s top series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500. A wreck in the 600 resulted in burns over 75 percent of his body.

Officially doctors listed Roberts’ cause of death as pneumonia and septicemia (blood poisoning). The popular star had slipped into a coma a day earlier.

Roberts was injured in a lap 7 crash that also involved drivers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. Jarrett pulled Roberts from his burning car, which had landed on its roof. “Fireball was the idol of all the drivers,” Jarrett said after hearing of his passing. “We looked up to him. He was a gentleman and a sportsman, all that a man in our profession should be.”

Roberts once said his first racing win, which came on a small dirt track in southern Georgia, earned him “a ham, a sack of pecans and a $20 bill.” At the time of his passing, he had earned more than $300,000, nearly $2.5 million by today’s standards.

A.J. Foyt, in Daytona to prepare for the Firecracker 400, called Roberts “the best stock car driver I have ever raced against.”

Shuman wins as NASCAR series turns north

Tuesday, July 1, 1951 – Buddy Shuman made it to the winner’s circle in his 17th career NASCAR premier series start, finishing two laps ahead of the competition in winning at Stamford Park, Ontario. It was Shuman’s fourth start in the No. 89 Hudson for team owner B.A. Pless and the first time NASCAR had competed outside the United States.

Shuman, a native of Charlotte, made just a handful of starts after his victory, ending his career as a driver in 1955 with the lone win and four top fives in 29 career starts.

The race, No. 18 for the season, featured a 17-car field. Only three cars were running at the finish of the 200-lap race. Herb Thomas finished second, two laps down.

A rules infraction in 1950 allegedly resulted in Shuman being suspended from NASCAR, leading the racer to paint “The Outlaw” on the back of his race car. When he returned to NASCAR competition the following year, he replaced it with “The Inlaw.”

Shuman, a standout Modified racer and track promoter prior to racing the full-bodied stock cars, became NASCAR’s chief inspector after his retirement from driving. By the end of the summer of ’55, however, he had been named technical advisor to Ford Motor Company’s NASCAR endeavors.

Shuman was working in that capacity in November when he died as a result of smoke inhalation after a fire broke out in his hotel room in Hickory, N.C. and he was unable to escape the room.

The Buddy Shuman Award is named in his honor and has been presented annually since 1957.

Hickory Motor Speedway hosted the Buddy Shuman 250 NASCAR premier series race from 1956 through 1971.

USAC bails, NASCAR steps in at Atlanta

Friday, June 30, 1961 – The Festival 250, a 250-mile USAC-sanctioned race scheduled for July 9 at Atlanta International Raceway, was cancelled due to tire concerns and risks associated with competing on the high-banked layout. As a result of the cancellation, track officials were able to obtain a race for NASCAR’s top series to be run on the same date instead.

Firestone officials expressed concern over track temperatures which reached almost 140 degrees when Indy veteran Dick Rathman made laps around the year-old speedway. The tire maker said it had been unable to complete necessary tire tests previously because of paving work taking place at the track. The two tire combinations eventually tested proved to be suitable for the open-wheel cars on the fast, banked speedway.

Atlanta officials said they had done everything they were asked of USAC to prepare of the race, including modifications to the relatively new track.

NASCAR agreed to step in and run an event on the same day with its Grand National series and featuring a purse of not less than $30,000.

The addition gave the series 52 races for the ’61 season.

In 2001, CART officials called off a race at Texas Motor Speedway due to concerns over extraordinary speeds and excessive G forces.

Five fined for monkeying with manifolds

Wednesday, June 29, 1988 – NASCAR officials seized the intake manifolds from five of its premier series teams and quickly fined the five drivers $5,000 each prior to practice for the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The drivers fined were Davey Allison (Ranier Racing), Buddy Baker (Baker/Schiff Racing), Ken Bouchard (Whitcomb Racing), Dale Jarrett (Hoss Ellington) and Cale Yarborough (Cale Yarborough Motorsports).

NASCAR determined the teams were attempting to get around the limitations of the 1-inch restrictor plate in use for the upcoming race by altering the manifolds. Some manifolds had small holes bored in them while others were not seated flush against the gasket, allowing air into the engine

Officials also confiscated a faulty gasket from the Ford driven by Kyle Petty, however the third-generation driver was not fined.

Winston Cup director Dick Beatty said he informed teams that officials would be on the lookout for anyone attempting to get around the horsepower-restricting plates. Anyone caught a second time for a similar infraction would be suspended for 12 weeks.

Legendary Darlington track sold to ISC

Monday, June 28, 1982 – Darlington (S.C.) Raceway stockholders agreed to a sale of the historic facility to International Speedway Corp., the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based track ownership arm run by the France family. While no purchase price was announced, reports put the sale of the facility at between $2.5 million and $4.2 million.

Darlington was built after founder Harold Brasington visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway and wanted a similar venue for stock car racing. The track began hosting NASCAR events in 1950. It was the first paved superspeedway in NASCAR, measuring 1.25-miles when it opened.

The track hosted one premier series race, the Southern 500, annually from 1950-’51; two races during the ’52 season, then one again from ’53-59. From 1960-2004, Darlington hosted two Cup races each season and then one again since’05.

The Southern 500, considered one of the series’ crown jewels, has had the largest fields to ever start a Cup race – including a record 82 in 1951.

The purchase gave ISC three facilities that hosted Cup races – Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Darlington. Today, the ownership group holds 12 tracks that host 19 of the season’s 36 points races.

Yarborough collects first NASCAR victory

Sunday, June 27, 1965 – Cale Yarborough finally joined the ranks of the winners on NASCAR’s premier circuit when he picked up the victory in the rain-delayed 200-lap race at Valdosta (Ga.) 75 Speedway. Yarborough, 26, was making his 78th career start in the series and his fourth for car owner Kenny Myler.

J.T. Putney, G.C. Spencer, Stick Elliott and Harvey Jones rounded out the top five at the end of the 100-mile race.

Yarborough, who started fifth in the No. 06 Ford, finished three laps ahead of runner-up Putney. He took the lead at lap 183 and led the final 18 circuits.

The race, No. 28 of 55 contested that season, had originally been scheduled for Saturday, June 26 but was halted after just 12 laps due to rain. Polesitter Dick Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa was leading when the race was halted.

Had it not been for the rain delay, Yarborough would not have competed in the event. The rain kept the Timmonsville, S.C. resident from flying from Charlotte, N.C. to Valdosta and another driver, Sam McQuagg, qualified the entry and started the race. When officials postponed the race until Sunday, Yarborough reportedly drove all night to get to Valdosta, arriving at the track some four hours before the race resumed. Rather than pick up the race at lap 13, officials re-started the race to be run in its entirety. Had it been resumed instead, McQuagg would have gotten credit for the victory since he was the driver of record when the race began on Saturday.

Fitting finish for Stewart at Sonoma

Sunday, June 26, 2016 – Three-time NASCAR premier series champion Tony Stewart won for the 39th and final time of his career, capturing the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.

Stewart led the final 22 laps around the 1.99-mile, 11-turn course but briefly lost the top spot, and nearly the race, on the very last lap when Denny Hamlin shot past in Turn 7. Stewart regrouped and chased Hamlin down, then overtook the Joe Gibbs Racing driver in the final turn.

The victory was Stewart’s first since June 2, 2013 and ended a streak of 84 starts without a win.

It was his third career win at Sonoma and his eighth on a road course.

Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

The win kept Stewart’s hopes of qualifying for NASCAR’s playoffs alive by meeting one of two qualifiers. The second, that he be in the top 30 in driver point standings by the cutoff, was eventually accomplished as well.

An injury suffered while driving a sand buggy in January of that year had resulted in Stewart missing the season’s first eight races.

A first for Florian and Ford at Dayton

Sunday, June 25, 1950 – Jimmy Florian scored his first and only victory in NASCAR’s premier series in his fourth start, winning the 200-lap race at Dayton (Ohio) Speedway. Florian, 27, led 40 laps, including the final 32, in his No. 27 Ford. Dick Linder, Buck Barr, Curtis Turner and Art Lamey rounded out the top five.

Florian’s win was also the first for Ford in NASCAR competition. It would be five years and 190 races before another Ford made it into the winner’s circle.

Florian also holds the distinction of being the only NASCAR premier series driver to win while competing shirtless. NASCAR safety standards still had a long way to go in ’50.

The race was also the first in the series to be contested on asphalt. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there were reports of nearly 30 tire failures.