Gong Show put Busch on fast track

“That was my big break,” says Kurt Busch and he’s taking about the “Gong Show,” a system used by NASCAR team owner Jack Roush to identify potential talent for his Truck Series program.

The year was 1999 and Roush was one of a handful of NASCAR owners who fielded teams in all three of NASCAR’s national series – today known as Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Such a system wasn’t new to Roush – he’d used something similar to help identify candidates for his Trans-Am team as far back as the mid-1980s.

The process was one of many routes taken by teams and drivers through the years as owners looked for the next contender while drivers attempted to break out of the local level and make the jump into NASCAR.

Those routes have been as different as the personalities of the drivers themselves.

There has never been a “how-to” manual.

In 1958, Richard Petty was a second-generation racer who only went racing after turning 21 and getting the blessing of his father to follow in his footsteps. The younger Petty went from crewman to driver overnight.

Years later, Ernie Irvan moved east from California, raced Late Models in the Carolinas and worked as a welder to support himself while trying to break into NASCAR.

Midwestern short-track standouts such as Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Alan Kulwicki moved South with little money and no guarantees. Some made it, but only after toiling away with lesser teams in lesser equipment.

Some returned home only to eventually try again. Some went home and simply never returned.

Today, Busch drivers the No. 1 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. He’s a former series champion and has won races at Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing.

In the late ‘90s, Busch was extremely competitive in the Southwest Series and his success caught the eye of Roush officials.

But to earn a spot driving one of the organization’s Fords in the Truck Series, Busch had to beat out other competitors in two rounds of a driver combine at two different tracks.

The first stop was Toledo (Ohio) Speedway, a half-mile asphalt oval.

“When I got there and looked around, it was ‘This guy’s the top Northwest (Series) guy; I’m the top Southwest Series guy; Robert Huffman, the Goody’s Dash series champion …,” Busch said. There were others as well, most from the west coast, at least one from the Modified ranks.

Each driver got a set of tires for a one-hour practice session, followed by a fresh set of tires and a 50-lap solo run.

“It was random pill draw for who went first; then they would put the truck back to their baseline setup for each person,” Busch said. “In the interim there were interviews, how you interacted with the crew, how you jumped in and just fit in with all of it. They watched every move.

“That day at Toledo, I almost wrecked the truck on lap 1; I didn’t know Trucks had that much horsepower.

“At the end of my 50 laps, I had the fastest lap, but I burned off the tires the quickest. I was lucky to get a second invite back. They had almost drawn a line through my name.”

At Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., for stop No. 2, Busch found himself competing with a new group of drivers.

“They told us that day, ‘One of you is getting the ride after today,’” he said.

“I went into this one way looser, way calmer, comfortable. I wasn’t confident but I was comfortable.”

Busch said his slowest lap “was everyone else’s fastest in a 20-lap run. I knew hands-down that I smoked it. I called my dad and said “I nailed it. If I don’t get the job it’s because I’m too young, I don’t quite know all the media stuff ….’”

But when he spoke with team president Geoff Smith a few days later, Busch said Smith asked, “How do you like Detroit weather?”

“I moved to Detroit and ran with the truck team.”

Roush continued the Gong Show program for several years. At one point it was filmed and packaged by the Discovery Channel as “Roush Racing: Driver X.”

Other teams had driver development programs as well, although not nearly as formal as Roush’s effort.

Hendrick Motorsports used its No. 5 Xfinity Series entry to develop drivers – Kyle Busch split seat time with Boston Reid and Blake Feese while also running Cup at HMS in 2005. The endeavor was short-lived – it quickly turned expensive after Reid and Feese were involved in multiple accidents that season.

In addition to his Cup operation, Ray Evernham fielded a developmental entry in the Xfinity Series for three years (2005-07), using a variety of drivers.

Today it’s the automakers – Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota – that have moved into the driver development arena.

NASCAR is involved in the developmental process as well – its Drive for Diversity program is run through Rev Racing and helps develop female and minority drivers in the K&N Pro Series and Whelen All-American Series. Current Cup drivers Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace came up through the D4D program.

But for the most part, few individual teams have “tryouts” similar to Roush’s Gong Show, where drivers go head-to-head with one another in hopes of landing a ride.

In what some say happens far too often today, if a driver can bring funding to the table, regardless of his experience, he can find a team that will put him behind the wheel.

“Now what we have are owners looking around for money. ‘Which kid has the most money, I want him to come and drive for me,’” Busch said. “That’s the unfortunate part about where our sport is right now.”

Toyota leading driver development push

It’s a well-known story but it bears repeating when discussing the state of today’s driver development programs in NASCAR.

Kyle Larson was a hot shot racer competing in sprint cars when Toyota officials whisked him away to Chicagoland Speedway in the late 2000s and began introducing him to the automaker’s various Cup Series teams.

There was no push from Toyota toward those organizations to sign the youngster, although it was clear that introductions were made in hopes of kindling interest in the California kid.

No Toyota team bit, and Larson was eventually signed by Chevrolet team owner Chip Ganassi.

Today Larson is seen not only as the one who got away, but as the project/prodigy that kickstarted the Toyota driver development program in NASCAR.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) USA, called it an “ah-ha moment.”

Larson wasn’t the last driver groomed by Toyota who didn’t stick around. But he clearly has been the most prominent.

Now 26 and still at Ganassi, he has five wins in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series and is considered a championship contender with the start of each new racing season. He has qualified for the series’ 16-team playoff the last three seasons.

Jack Irving is the director of team and support services for TRD. It’s his job to help locate potential candidates, track driver progress and assist those who have the ability to advance.

“You can’t help but lose Larson and then look around and watch him kick the hell out of you and think ‘Man, we probably should have kept him,’” Irving said.

Jack Irving is the director of team and support services for Toyota Racing Development. (Photo credit – Toyota Racing)

• THE PIPELINE •

Three automakers, Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota, are currently involved in NASCAR and each has its own unique approach to driver development.

Toyota appears to have the most detailed process, with a feeder system that identifies potential candidates as young as, well, there really doesn’t seem to be an age limitation. If you show promise as a racer, chances are someone from Toyota or Toyota Racing Development has noticed you or heard about you and is following your progress at this very moment. You might be 12, you might be 20. You might be aware of their interest or you might not.

Ford officials currently work closely with Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske, two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series organizations that also field Xfinity Series teams. Talks concerning involvement in lower series are said to be on-going. The auto maker still has a foot in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series as well, through an affiliation with ThorSport Racing.

Chevrolet’s program at this time consists of a relationship with Drivers Edge Development, a platform launched just this year by JR Motorsports and GMS Racing. Six drivers are enrolled in the program and are competing in five series – Late Model, ARCA, K&N, the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“Everybody has a different philosophy on where they are with it,” TRD’s Irving said of the various development programs. “I think there are ebbs and flows.

“I think there is this weird, ‘We’re completely out of the box different,’” he said of Toyota’s approach. “We’re not. We’re just doing it now and they did it 15 years ago, 10 years ago.”

Toyota engages with approximately 20 kids on a consistent basis, and many more to a lesser degree. “We probably actively have decent knowledge on a good 100 kids,” he said, noting that number is for pre-teen projects alone.

“The longer we go the more we are learning and the more we’re layering on to the program. I think at this point I feel like we’re in a good spot but we’re still so far away from where we want to be.

“People talk about the program with admiration – we’re years away from being really good at it.”

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, said Ford officials are pleased with the progress made in his company’s driver development program for one simple reason.

“Because two years ago we didn’t have one,” he noted.

“Is it to the level that we want it to be? No, absolutely not,” Rushbrook said. “That’s something that we want to continue to be working on.

“We are happy with the balance that we have with Chase (Briscoe) and Cole (Custer) and Austin (Cindric) running in Xfinity. I think that’s going to be a great combination with those three drivers. And as drivers and as teams, I think there will be some collaboration between Stewart-Haas (Racing) and (Team) Penske at the Xfinity level.”

Custer, 21, is in his third full season of Xfinity Series competition with Stewart-Haas Racing. Second in the 2018 standings and a two-time winner in the series, he pilots the No. 00 SHR Ford.

Cindric, 20, finished eighth in points last season driving for Team Penske while Briscoe made a dozen of his 17 starts last year in the No. 60 entry out of Roush Fenway Racing.

Cindric has resumed his duties with Penske for ’19 and Briscoe has landed a ride at SHR as that organization has added a second full-time Xfinity Series entry.

As part of a team building exercise, Ford put the three drivers, along with 24-year-old Ty Majeski, in Mustang GT4 entries at Daytona in January for the Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Rushbrook said the four will likely compete “at the end of the year at Road Atlanta just to continue that team building as well as driver skill building for road course racing.”

It is not yet known just how extensive the Chevrolet involvement will be with the Drivers Edge Development program. In a release announcing the effort, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, JRM general manager, said the program “is going to be critical to the future of the sport and our race team.”

“The fact that you have JRM, GMS and Chevrolet getting this off the ground speaks to that importance,” she said.

JRM is co-owned by Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick and works closely with the Cup Series organization to develop and train talent inside and outside the car.

The six drivers in the Drivers Edge system at this time are Xfinity Series drivers Noah Gragson, John Hunter Nemechek and Zane Smith; Truck Series driver Sheldon Creek; Sam Mayer, who is scheduled for Truck Series, K&N, ARCA and Late Model starts; and Adam Lemke in Late Models.

The Toyota roster is deep and includes associations with numerous teams and drivers at different levels.

“We started developing this network of relationships not just with teams at that (NASCAR) level but with Super Late Models, in ARCA, in K&N, the Venturinis, the McAnallys,” Wilson said. “Kyle Busch Motorsports runs a great Super Late Model program.”

Venturini Motorsports and Bill McAnally Racing provide entry points for racers, particularly those making the transition from dirt to asphalt.

Hailie Deegan, competing for McAnally, won this year’s season-opening NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Las Vegas. It was her second career victory in the series – she became the series’ first female winner last year when she won at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway while also competing for McAnally.

A day after the Vegas victory, Deegan, 17, announced a six-race ARCA schedule with Venturini Motorsports in addition to the K&N effort.

DGR-Crosley is another organization that acts as a feeder system for Toyota talent. The group fields entries in a variety of racing series, from Late Model up to the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Toyota also uses the program to develop relationships with sponsors. Wilson said companies such as JBL, Safelite and Exxon Mobile, “were interested in grassroots racing as well.

“The perception that we are behind the scenes stroking checks and pulling strings is not accurate,” Wilson said. “We couldn’t do this without these B-to-B (business to business) partnerships that we have developed.”

• NO GUARANTEES •

A driver development program can be a fickle endeavor. Not only is it extremely costly and time consuming to operate, but there is no guarantee of a return for the time, effort and finances invested.

Even the best-case scenario, that can’t-miss prospects are found and developed at each level, carries certain risks.

What happens when that talent is ready to advance and there isn’t a seat available? What happens if after putting all that effort into developing a driver, he or she decides to sign with another manufacturer? How many development drivers are too many? How few are too few?

Rushbrook said it’s “a balance we need to strike” when considering numbers.

“The way we’ve approached it is … from top down,” he said. “We want to make sure we have drivers at the Xfinity level to have that opportunity, so they are ready to come into Cup when there’s an opportunity.

“Then the question is when do we extend below that so that we’re reaching into ARCA and K&N?”

The addition of ThorSport for 2018 kept Ford’s presence in the Truck Series, filling a gap created when Brad Keselowski Racing closed its doors at the end of the ’17 season. While the organization has a pair of veterans in former series champions Matt Crafton and the just-returned Johnny Sauter, it also fields an entry for 22-year-old Ben Rhodes.

Myatt Snider, 24, won the series rookie of the year title last season while racing for ThorSport and is slated for a partial schedule this year.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions,” Rushbrook said. “We like a lot of the teams that are running Ford at those different series … it’s just a matter of, when do we formally engage with them so that we’ve got drivers signed at that level to come up through into the Truck and Xfinity (level)?”

The loss of a driver is a risk but some say there still are positives that come from the experience.

“I don’t think there is a huge negative between us if it hasn’t worked for whatever reason,” TRD’s Irving said. “But I think our goal was pure from the minute that we started. It was just to make it better for the kids and better for the sport.

“Ultimately, if they win races and they’re in a Toyotas, great. If they win races and they’re in somebody else’s well, at least we helped.

“One of the things we were told from the start was that drivers break your heart so there’s no point in developing drivers and I completely disagree with that.

“At some point, whoever did develop Jeff Gordon did a great job for the sport. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t end up with you. It doesn’t matter that Kasey Kahne didn’t end up with you. It’s going to suck if William Byron wins Cup races, but it was great that we were with him the year we were with him. And hopefully his view on us is as positive as our view is on him. And if we’ve done our job then I think it will be.”

Gordon, the four-time Cup champion and 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, competed for Bill Davis Racing, a Ford team at the time, in the Xfinity Series in 1991-92. But by the end of the ’92 season he had moved to Hendrick Motorsports, a Chevrolet organization, to begin his Cup career.

Kahne’s story is similar – in 2002 he competed for Robert Yates Racing and in ’03 Akins Motorsports, both Ford organizations, in the Xfinity Series. When he made the move to Cup the following year, however, it was with Evernham Motorsports, one of a handful of organizations helping to bring Dodge back to NASCAR.

Byron is the one of the most recent notables to jump ship – after winning seven times for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2016, Byron moved to JR Motorsports the following year where he won the Xfinity Series title. He was moved up to Cup in ’18, where he took over the No. 24 previously driven by Gordon at HMS.

• WHAT’S NEXT? •

“One thing that they’ve been really good at is every step along the way, they’ve told me I’m going to get X, and then I get X plus five, or whatever that number is,” said Christopher Bell.

Bell is in his second full season of Xfinity Series competition with Joe Gibbs Racing. He won the Gander Outdoors Truck Series title in 2017 competing for Kyle Busch Motorsports, then won seven times in NXS competition last year driving the No. 20 Toyota for JGR.

“When we first did our deal in 2015, (Toyota officials) said ‘OK, we’re going Late Model racing’ and they gave me a schedule of 20 Late Model races,” Bell recalled. “And then the next thing you know, mid-June they’re like ‘Hey, you want to go Truck racing?’ So I ended up getting 20 Late Model races and then I think five Truck races.”

Actually, he ran seven Truck races that year. And the same thing happened after he moved into the Truck series fulltime. “Come mid-March or mid-April,” he said, “they’re like, ‘Oh hey, by the way, we got you a couple of Xfinity races.’

“They’ve always done more than what that told me and that’s something I’m thankful for.”

Bell is just one driver who likely will be looking to take that next step up to Cup in 2020.

Custer is in his third full season in the Xfinity Series; Tyler Reddick won the Xfinity title in ’18; Cindric and Brandon Jones have multiple years in the series. Are any of them ready to move up? Will there be seats available if they do?

Not everything is working in their favor.

Today’s Cup fields are smaller – in 2016 the size of the starting field was cut from 43 to 40 at each of the 36 points races. That means fewer seats are available today as the overall number of teams has dropped. The number of teams with charters, guaranteeing them spots in the starting lineup each week, has remained at 36 but the number of teams competing for those four open spots has fluctuated. Starting fields of fewer than 40 cars is no longer uncommon.

Also, the average age of the drivers in those starting lineups is younger. In 1998 the average age of the starting field for the Daytona 500 was 38. Ten years later it was 32. Fewer drivers are closer to retirement and that also means fewer seats are coming open.

“What would be great, honestly what would be awesome,” Irving said, “I would love nothing more than to have that competition (for talent). That at some point if I miss (on a prospect), then they’re taking them. I think that would be fascinating. It would be our program racing their program and trying to develop the best talent. I would love that. That would be the best thing for the sport, the best thing for us competitively.

“I do think we will get to that point.”

Edwards tap sends Keselowski airborne

Sun., March 7, 2010 – Kurt Busch won the race but that wasn’t what most folks were talking about following the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With three laps remaining, Carl Edwards, running more than 150 laps down to the leader, intentionally hit Brad Keselowski, causing the Team Penske driver’s Dodge to spin and come up off the track. After tumbling over and striking the wall with the driver’s side A-pillar and roof, the car landed upright. Keselowski was shaken but unhurt.

The incident came after contact between Edwards, piloting the No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, and Keselowski earlier in the race sent Edwards to the garage and resulted in the loss of multiple laps while repairs were made to his car. Almost a year earlier, contact between the two on the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway had sent Edwards’ car flying off the ground and into the catch fence. Keselowski, driving for Phoenix Racing at that time, scored his first Cup Series win.

“If they’re going to allow people to intentionally wreck each other at tracks this fast,” Keselowski said, “we will hurt someone either in the cars or in the grandstands.”

“Brad knows the deal between him and I … the scary part was his car went airborne,” Edwards offered.

NASCAR’s response? “I would say there seems to be a history between those two drivers. I’m not going to go any further into it right now,” Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition for NASCAR, said afterward.

Anticipating a faster pace at ISM

Worth noting: For the fourth consecutive week, Monster Energy NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will be competing with a different rules package. After the superspeedway package that was used for the final time in the season-opening Daytona 500, and after using the smaller tapered spacer (0.922-inch opening) at Atlanta (minus aero ducts) and Las Vegas (with aero ducts), teams will use the larger (1.17-inch) spacer for this week’s stop at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

The spacer change will result in a gain of 200 horsepower, from 550 to 750 horsepower.

What does that mean? For one thing, it means a tire change from the folks at Goodyear in relation to what’s previously been run at ISM. According to information provided by the tire supplier, it will be the first time teams in Cup (as well as Xfinity) have run this particular tire code.

Greg Stucker, director of racing for Goodyear, said that when the package was tested last fall at the 1-mile track, “teams were considerably faster than we’ve seen in recent years.”

“With the extra downforce … much of that speed comes through the corners, which generates higher loading on the tires,” Stucker said.

Goodyear provides teams with recommended tire pressures prior to each race weekend. Stucker said they should be especially mindful of those numbers this weekend.

“Running below our minimums can cause the sidewall … to flex more and over deflect,” he said, “generating more heat, higher wear and fall-off and even damaging the tire to the point of air loss.”

Drivers Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard participated in the ’18 tire test.

Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet) has 35 career poles but none since 2016. Three of the 35 came at Phoenix and he holds the current ISM track qualifying record of 143.158 mph set in 2015.

Speaking of track qualifying records, did you know Kurt Busch holds the most among drivers competing on the Cup series’ current 23 tracks? The Chip Ganassi Racing driver holds the record at Las Vegas (196.328 mph), Texas (200.919) and Charlotte Motor Speedways.

Actually, Busch holds two qualifying marks at CMS – his lap of 198.771 mph in October of ’14 stands as the record for the 1.5-mile layout; he also has the distinction of holding the track record for the Roval at CMS, establishing it prior to the inaugural race last year with his pole-winning lap of 106.868 mph.

There are a handful of drivers who have finished in the top 10 in two of the season’s first three Cup races, but only one who has finished in the top 10 in all three.

Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota) finished second at Daytona, sixth at Atlanta and third at Las Vegas. He has two career victories at IMS and a nifty average finishing position of 11.1.

A year ago, Joey Logano was the only driver to post consecutive top-10 finishes in the first three races. The Team Penske driver went on to win the championship.

Weatherly awarded short Concord win

Tues., March 6, 1962 – Norfolk, Va., native Joe Weatherly is declared the winner of the previous Saturday’s NASCAR Grand National race at Concord (N.C.) Speedway even though only 76 of the race’s 200 laps were completed when rain forced officials to halt the event. The race was initially slated to be resumed the following Saturday.

A race isn’t official today until two of the three “stages” have been completed, a format change announced in Jan. of 2017. Prior to that change, races were not considered official until reaching the halfway point of the advertised distance.

Competitors in the 1962 race were reportedly paid 50 percent of the advertised purse. Because of the ruling, NASCAR and track operator Bruton Smith added another race at Concord, also won by Weatherly, on May 6.

• Weatherly had led all 78 laps (39 miles) after starting on the pole. Richard Petty was credited with second while Ralph Earnhardt was third in the 20-car field.

The victory was the 15th of Weatherly’s career and his second of the ’62 season.

It’s more than a numbers game

I’m beginning to grow slightly weary of numbers but I’m confident it will pass.

This much horsepower, that much horsepower. The spoiler is this big, the splitter is that big.

Television ratings, attendance figures, green-flag passes … it’s become a bit much.

NASCAR is about more than just numbers, good or bad.

NASCAR is about personalities. Personalities sell the sport. Give me some strong figures, folks to care about and folks who fans can cheer for and root against, and I don’t care if the race has 20 cautions or not the first one.

People care about people.

Lee and Pops and Little Joe and Buck. The King and the Silver Fox and BP and Buddy and Tiny. The Intimidator and Rusty and Wonderboy and Swervin’ Irvan and Sterlin’ and Jaws. The Iceman and Special K, Davey and DJ and is it any wonder the sport became so incredibly popular?

Those folks weren’t setting records in terms of green-flag passes. Or if that was the case, no one knew it at the time.

NASCAR remains popular today. Maybe less so but popular just the same. There are personalities out there, strong ones, but they’re often overshadowed by the noise.

Instead we talk of numbers. And rules packages.

Decades from now, will we tell stories about Kevin and Kyle, Jimmie and Brad, Joey and Clint, Martin and Ricky and Kurt and Denny?

I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think so.

Numbers don’t tell the entire story. They have their place, but their place is not out front, used to sell the sport or to denigrate it.

Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the first for NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series teams with what’s considered the “full” 2019 rules package. All the aerodynamic bells and whistles.

Was the racing better? The numbers say it was – there were record numbers of green-flag passes for the lead (47) and green-flag passes overall (3,345) for the 1.5-mile track.

Those are good things, but do those numbers really register with most fans?

I don’t judge a race by numbers. The TV ratings may show that more people watched Sunday’s race or that fewer people watched Sunday’s race. Those numbers won’t impact my opinion of what I saw take place. Was I entertained? That’s the question.

Did the rules package accomplish everything I expected? Yes, but my expectations were that the racing would be better than before but not out of this world.

There is nothing wrong with better.

It will continue to improve. It will also fall short at some venues. That’s how it’s been forever and how it will continue to be.

The rules package shouldn’t have been the big story on Sunday. There was so much more – Joey Logano winning and Kyle Busch going for a weekend sweep and after three races is it time for some teams to begin to worry? Is it time for others to shake things up?

Numbers aren’t a bad thing. They just aren’t the only thing.

OTD: Donnie vs. Cale, Part II

Sun., March 4, 1979 – Two weeks after they were embroiled in a crash and subsequent fight that aired live on national television at the end of the Daytona 500, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough were involved in another incident, this time at North Carolina Motor Speedway. The two NASCAR competitors crashed while battling for the lead just 10 laps into the Carolina 500.

Eight cars were swept up in the accident. NASCAR officials ruled it a “racing incident.”

Yarborough managed to continue, eventually finishing 18th in the 35-car field. The damage ended Allison’s day and the driver of owner Hoss Ellington’s No. 1 Chevrolet was credited with a 30th-place finish.

Points leader Darrell Waltrip, one of those involved in the wreck, said afterward, “Somebody ought to drag Cale out of his car and whip his butt.” Allison called it simply “a racing accident.”

Donnie’s brother, Bobby, was the race winner and the only driver to complete all 492 laps.

Reduced penalty for Earnhardt

Mon., March 3, 1986 – NASCAR officials reduced a penalty and fine levied against driver Dale Earnhardt for his actions in the final laps of the Feb. 23 Miller High Life 400 at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway. The Richard Childress Racing driver had initially been placed on probation for one year under a $10,000 bond and fined $5,000 for contact with Darrell Waltrip. Following a meeting of the NASCAR appeals committee held at Charlotte Douglas Airport, Earnhardt’s penalty was reduced to a $3,000 fine.

At the time, Earnhardt’s $5,000 fine and $10,000 bond (required to pay before he could resume competition) was the harshest penalty levied against a driver since Curtis Turner and Tim Flock were banned from the sport in 1961.

Waltrip passed Earnhardt with three laps remaining but contact from Earnhardt sent both cars into the guardrail in Turn 3 before the lap was completed.

Kyle Petty slipped through the wreckage to score the win, his first in NASCAR’s premier series.

On This Date: March 1

For the past year I have posted NASCAR items on my pay site, www.patreon.com/kennybruce, that featured something of note that had occurred on that particular day – only years earlier.

The posts began March 1, 2018 and ended Feb. 28, 2019.

It was a learning experience, very worthwhile, and I now have a rather substantial file of information on drivers, tracks, races … plus a decent amount of odd news (pace car crashes and a race that included Bill France Sr., and Bill Jr. in the lineup, for example).

With the interest in such things growing, based on what I’ve noticed on social media lately, it’s a simple turnaround to post those daily items here on kennybruce.net each day. I hope you enjoy. – kb

Tuesday, March 1, 1955: NASCAR officials declared Tim Flock the winner of the Grand National race held Feb. 27 on the Daytona Beach & Road Course. Local favorite Fireball Roberts, who was initially declared the winner, was disqualified after altered push rods were discovered in the engine of his 1955 Buick.

Ironically, Flock had been disqualified the previous year after an apparent win for a technical violation as well.

The disqualification put Roberts last in the 48-car field. Lee Petty, Ray Duhigg, Curtis Turner and Fonty Flock completed the top five.

Flock, driving the No. 300 Chrysler for team owner Cark Kiekhaefer, earned $2,350 for the win and led all 39 laps around the 4.1-mile beach and road course. It was his 18th career win in NASCAR’s premier series.

JGR extends Busch, M&M’s deals

Kyle Busch’s contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing is complete, the signing was announced Thursday via social media, and sponsorship is a done deal as well, with Mars, Inc. brand M&M’s also extending its agreement to fund the No. 18 Toyota in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The news comes just four days after Busch competed in his 500th Cup Series race, finishing sixth at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The three have been aligned since 2008 when Busch began competing for JGR following three full seasons at Hendrick Motorsports. In that time, Busch has won 47 points races and the 2015 series championship.

He is the only driver who has qualified for the title-determining Championship 4 every year since 2015.

The 33-year-old said earlier this season that contract talks were nearly complete.

“Racing for more than a decade with such an iconic team and sponsor has been incredible and knowing that we can continue this winning relationship is very special,” Busch said in the statement announcing the extensions.

Mars, Inc., has been a staple in NASCAR since at least 1997 when the company sponsored the No. 36 Pontiac driven by Derrike Cope and fielded by team owner Nelson Bowers. At that time, and for the next several years, the company promoted its Skittles brand through its NASCAR relationship.

M&M’s became the focus in ’99 – Ernie Irvan had taken over the driving duties for the team by then, replacing Cope.

Terms of the agreements were not disclosed, with the length of driver and sponsor contract extensions described as “multi-year.”

“As a team owner, the hope is to find partners and drivers that help us grow as an organization, and Kyle Busch and Mars, Incorporated have done exactly that,” Joe Gibbs, founder of JGR, said. “We have one of the longest partnerships in all of sports, and that really speaks to the strength of the understanding and respect we have for one another.”

Joe Gibbs Racing fields four full-time entries in NASCAR’s top series. In addition to the No. 18 Toyota fielded for Busch, it also fields the No. 11 for driver Denny Hamlin with sponsorship from FedEx, the No. 20 for Erik Jones (multiple sponsors, including DeWalt and Sport Clips), and the No. 19 for Martin Truex Jr. (Bass Pro for 24 of 36 points races in ‘19).

The organization also fields multiple entries in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.