Car of Tomorrow debuts at Bristol

Sunday, March 25, 2007 – Kyle Busch becomes the first winner in a race featuring NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow when the Hendrick Motorsports driver captured the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Seven years in the making, the COT featured a front splitter and rear wing as part of its aerodynamic enhancements as well as numerous structural changes to make the car safer and less costly.

“I’m still not a very big fan of these things; I can’t drive them. They suck,” Busch said following his victory. It was his final win at HMS before his release at season’s end. The win was the 600th in NASCAR for Chevrolet and the auto maker debuted its new Impala SS in conjunction with the arrival of the COT. It was also the 200th overall victory for team owner Rick Hendrick.

NASCAR rolled out the Car of Tomorrow at select events in ’07 before teams began competing full-time with the piece in ‘08. The COT was phased out following the 2012 season.

Keselowski overpowers field at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. –Brad Keselowski thoroughly dominated the race while Kyle Busch saw his two-race win streak snapped and that’s about all you need to know about Sunday’s STP 500 from Martinsville Speedway.

The bumping and banging and close quarters competition fans are accustomed to witnessing on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ shortest venue wasn’t missing entirely, but it was surprisingly limited.

That will occasionally happen at places such as Martinsville, a .533-mile gem of a layout, just as it will happen on the bigger circuits of Texas and Talladega, Darlington and Daytona.

Blame any shortcomings Sunday on Keselowski, who led 446 of the race’s 500 laps. Or his Team Penske pit crew, which got him off pit road with the lead time and time again. Or his No. 2 Ford, which was overtaken only once all afternoon.

Chase Elliott, the only driver to pass Keselowski on the track, finished second in his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

“The stats made it look a little bit more dominant that I think it really was,” Keselowski, 35, said. “I thought Chase was probably the best car most of the day. He passed me there with 150 or so to go and I thought that might be the end of our day, but I was able to learn a few things from him and kind of dissect his strengths and weaknesses.

“We made some adjustments of our own, came back out and were a little bit better. The pit crew did an excellent job all day gaining or retaining our position, which is critical here at this race track.”

The younger Elliott did keep it interesting, pressuring Keselowski throughout the day. Only once, though, was he able to drive around the leader and take control.

That came shortly after the day’s fifth of seven cautions – and Elliott led 49 laps, from 325-373. Keselowski won the subsequent race off pit road during another yellow-flag break, and held serve for the remainder of the race.

“When I did get the lead, I felt like there was a little advantage to being out front and being able to work traffic your way and play off it,” Elliott said. “I tried to move up there (off the bottom) at the end and I don’t know if I could have gotten to him. Maybe if I moved up a little sooner.”

“It’s hard to be good here for 500 laps,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the winner. “Pit road was a big part of it. The … guys were flawless all day.”

Busch entered Sunday’s race after back-to-back wins at ISM (Phoenix) Raceway and Auto Club Speedway but finished third in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin completed the top five.

It’s been that kind of season for NASCAR thus far – Keselowski’s win was the third of the year for Team Penske while JGR drivers have accounted for the other three victories

There’s been no sighting of anyone else in victory lane.

For now, it seems those are the two groups to beat.

Crash sidelines Hamlin four races

Sun., March 24, 2013 – Denny Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his lower spine after contact with Joey Logano on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. He was airlifted to a local hospital where he was kept overnight. The incident took place in Turn 4, following a side-by-side battle for the lead. When the two cars hit, Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota slid down the track and struck the retaining wall front-end first. Logano’s No. 22 Ford slipped up the track, made contact with the outside barrier but was able to continue on.

There were not SAFER barriers in the area where Hamlin’s car hit the wall at that time. The injury would force the JGR driver to miss the next four NASCAR Cup races; in his absence Mark Martin and Brian Vickers handled the driving duties for the team.

Logano managed to finish third but was accosted on pit road after the race by an upset Tony Stewart. Logano had blocked Stewart on the final restart.

It’s a Logano, and a Ford day, at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano will start from the pole Sunday when the STP 500 gets underway here at tiny Martinsville Speedway.

The 28-year-old pushed his No. 22 Team Penske Ford around the .526-mile oval at a speed of 97.83 mph, to nudge fellow ford driver Aric Almirola (97.643 mph) off the top spot in the final round of qualifying for the series’ sixth race of the season.

Logano won here last fall, securing a spot in the Championship 4 where he ultimately won his first Cup championship. He’s already won this season to likely secure a berth in this season’s 16-team playoffs and he finished second a week ago at Auto Club Speedway.

To say he and his team, led by crew chief Todd Gordon, are running well would be an understatement.

But Martinsville, the only track that has hosted NASCAR’s top series since its debut in 1949, has been a bit of a mixed bag for the New England native. Logano has finished in the top 10 in nearly one-half his starts here (nine of 20) but he’s also finished 20th or worse five times.

In qualifying Saturday, he and his team’s efforts were short and sweet … and fast. Logano needed just two laps to land at sixth quickest in the first round and one lap in the second round to remain sixth best. That sent him into the third and final round with remarkably fresh tires.

“That really paid a reward as we got to the third round,” Logano said, noting his team chose not to make any mock qualifying runs during practice. “It’s important to win a pole here – to start up front is obviously safer, but you can also run your (race) pace and (it’s) a safer place on pit road as well.”

Tire conservation in qualifying isn’t exactly the norm at most tracks – but at Martinsville it can be a deciding factor.

“It’s not just one lap like most tracks we go to,” he said, “(where) you lay down one and you’re done. Here, you’ve got to run quite a few laps to be able to lay down a fast one, which makes me run out of breath, by the way. It’s like the most intense qualifying session for me. … We go slower here than anywhere else we go and I’m breathing harder than anywhere else we go, so there must be something to it.”

Ford teams swept the first four spots with Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski third fastest and Kevin Harvick, Almirola’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, fourth.

Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota) was fifth in the final round, after posting the quickest times in the first two rounds.

Logano, who has 22 career wins, hasn’t won a Cup race from the pole since 2016 (at Michigan International Speedway).

No driver has won a Cup race from the pole since Martin Truex captured the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway last summer.

Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson will carry a 64-race winless streak into Sunday’s event. A nine-time winner at Martinsville, Johnson will start 12th.

Kyle Busch could muster only a 14th-best qualifying time for Sunday. Busch, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota in the Cup Series, has won the last two Cup races – at Phoenix and Fontana, Calif.; he also has two wins in the Xfinity Series this season and a win Saturday at Martinsville was his third consecutive Truck Series win.

Opening-lap accident claims life of Staley

Sunday, March 23, 1958 – Gwyn Staley, 30, dies as a result of injuries sustained in a crash that occurred on the opening lap of the 200-lap convertible race held at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway. Staley, a native of North Wilkesboro, N.C., was the younger brother of Enoch Staley, one of NASCAR’s early promotors in the Carolinas and owner of North Wilkesboro Speedway. The younger Staley’s car flipped several times after contact on the first lap, then struck the board fence surrounding the track. He was pinned under his vehicle. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at Richmond Memorial Hospital.

• Staley was third in the National Convertible points standings heading into the Richmond race. He was driving a 1957 Chevrolet owned by Julian Petty, brother of premier series driver Lee Petty. A week before his fatal crash, Staley had finished second to Curtis Turner in a 150-lap Grand National race at Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, N.C.

Enoch Staley named the spring NASCAR race at North Wilkesboro in his brother’s honor – the Gwyn Staley 400 (the Gwyn Staley 160 in ’59-60).

The Richmond race was resumed following Staley’s accident with Joe Weatherly collecting the win.

Jarrett, Fords undaunted by rule changes

Sunday, March 22, 1998 – Dale Jarrett’s victory in the TranSouth 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway was just the second victory for a Ford team in the season’s first five races, but it came on the heels of a second NASCAR rule change aimed at taking away a perceived aerodynamic advantage the auto maker enjoyed on the race track. Earlier that week, officials had instructed Ford teams to decrease the width of the spoilers on the back of their cars by two inches. Eight of the top 10 finishers at Darlington were Fords.

NASCAR had previously required Ford teams to decrease the height of their spoiler from five inches to 4.75 inches after the auto maker swept nine of the top 10 spots at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

At Darlington, spoilers on Ford entries were decreased from 57 inches wide to 55 inches, the same as that on Chevrolet and Pontiac entries. Ford teams placed five or more teams in the top 10 in all of the season’s first five races.

“We built a good race car and all they’ve (NASCAR) done from the second race on is take stuff away from us,” Jarrett said afterward.

Ford drivers led all 293 laps in the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington.

Marlin tops Wallace for legends win at BMS

Saturday, March 21, 2009 – Tennessee’s own Sterling Marlin came out on top in a 35-lap legends race dubbed Scott’s Saturday Night Special at Bristol Motor Speedway. A native of Columbia, Tenn., Marlin bested Rusty Wallace in a race that featured 12 NASCAR “legends” competing in Late Model entries on the high-banked half-mile.

Marlin was still competing in NASCAR’s premier series, although not on a full-time basis.

In addition to Marlin and Wallace, others taking part in the event were: Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Harry Gant, Terry Labonte, Phil Parsons, Jimmy Spencer, Jack Ingram David Green, Larry Pearson and local standout L.D. Ottinger from nearby Newport, Tenn.

Two-time premier series champ and five-time BMS winner David Pearson was the grand marshal.

A final victory for Shepherd

Saturday, March 20, 1993 – Morgan Shepherd wins his fourth career race in NASCAR’s premier series, capturing the weather-delayed Motorcraft Quality Parts 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Driving the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing, Shepherd stretched his final tank of fuel 68 laps en route to the victory.

Ernie Irvan, also stretching fuel, finished second, 23 seconds behind the winner.

The victory was Shepherd’s third at Atlanta, and the final one of his Cup career. He was 51 years old at the time of his win.

A flat tire, the result of running over debris, nearly cost Shepherd the victory – instead it helped seal the win. A stop for tires and fuel on lap 260 was his final trip to the pits for the remainder of the race.

A fierce winter snowstorm forced officials to postpone the race, which had been originally scheduled for Sunday, March 14.

Flock announces departure from NASCAR

Friday, March 19, 1954 – Former series champion Tim Flock (1952) announces that he is leaving NASCAR with the intention of competing in the following year’s Indianapolis 500. The announcement comes just three races into the season’s 37-race schedule and on the heels of a disqualification by NASCAR for Flock’s win on the Daytona Beach & Road Course one month earlier.

Flock, a 17-race winner at the time, had won more NASCAR premier series races than only two other drivers – Herb Thomas (40) and Lee Petty (18). His Daytona victory had come in his only start that season – he skipped races at West Palm Beach, Fla., and Jacksonville, Fla.

Flock broke from NASCAR after he was stripped of his Daytona win. Driving an Oldsmobile 88 for team owner Ernest Woods, Flock set a track record with his 90.4 mph average for the 160-mile race. However, NASCAR officials ruled that the carburetor in his car had been altered, stripped Flock of the win and awarded it to Petty, the runner-up.

“This Flock boy never saw the car ‘til he came to Daytona Beach to drive it for me,” Woods said in a statement issued after the NASCAR ruling. “He is absolved of all blame.”

Flock didn’t make it to Indy, however. Before the NASCAR season ended, he had returned to the series. He would win a second NASCAR championship in 1955 and end his career with 39 victories.

Points leader Martin takes a break

Sunday, March 18, 2007 – After scoring his fourth top-10 finish in the first four races, including a near-victory in the season-opening Daytona 500, NASCAR Cup Series points leader Mark Martin steps out of his No. 01 Chevrolet for a two-race “break.”

Martin, who spent the bulk of his NASCAR career driving for team owner Jack Roush, moved to Ginn Racing for the 2007 season with the understanding that he would not run a full 36-race schedule. After finishes of second, fifth, fifth and 10th in the first four races, Martin was the points leader. And he was also out of the car for the next two races.

Regan Smith stepped to run seven races in Martin’s absence while Aric Almirola drove for the team in five events.

Martin made 24 starts for the season. He scored 11 top-10s and finished 27th in points.