Saturday, August 25, 2018

PixelatedPICK: Gragson Ready to Shift Some Gears in Canada

Noah Gragson is eager for a strong run in Canada.
Since the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has the weekend off, I’ve split up the PixelatedPICK this weekend between the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series.

Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, Bill Elliott was my Saturday pick in the Xfinity Series race at Road America. Bill had an up and down day, including some significant contact midway through the race that affected the car’s performance. A late race spin sent him to the back, but he fought back and finished 20th.

Bill Elliott finished 20th at Road America on Saturday.
RELATED >> PixelatedPICK: Awesome Bill Rides Again

Moving to Sunday, the truckers head north of the border to race once again at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. This race marks the first race in round one of the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs.

My PixelatedPICK for this race is Noah Gragson. The Las Vegas born racer competes for Kyle Busch Motorsports and is in this year’s playoffs thanks to his win at Kansas back in May. With the win, and 22 playoff points, Gragson is seeded third in the championship standings coming into the weekend. Kyle Busch Motorsports has previously won in Canada with driver Erik Jones during the 2015 campaign. Gragson is looking for a strong start into this season’s playoffs with a solid run in Canada.

“We’ve got some good tracks coming up. We have Canada and then Vegas. Those are two really good tracks for us — we led laps there last year and finished second and then went to Vegas earlier this year and had a pretty strong run — led some laps as well. Really pumped up to get to those first two tracks and then you have the wildcard — Talladega. That one — that’s an odd ball. The first two hopefully we can pick up a win and lock ourselves in. I feel really comfortable with my Kyle Busch Motorsports Safelite AutoGlass team going into the playoffs.”

Gragson has won twice at Miller Motorsports Park.
Although Gragson is more well known for his super late model prowess, he has three previous road course victories in the K&N Pro Series before making the jump up to trucks.

“I think I’m a regular racer — NASCAR driver — who really enjoys going to the road courses. Some guys they don’t like going to the road course because it’s different, but I love out braking people, downshifting, upshifting, going left and right and sawing on the wheel. It’s a lot of fun the road courses, I picked it up quick racing Legend Cars and have really enjoyed it ever since. Won three K&N road-course races – actually in a row, within eight days. So, I’ve run up front — finished second to Chase Elliott at Sonoma in the K&N race, he passed me with two to go. Really feel comfortable going into the road-course race, it’s a lot of fun and I’m ready to get out there and shift some gears.”

This weekend, Gragson has had solid speed. He topped the leaderboard in the first practice session, then followed that up with seventh in practice two. In qualifying, Gragson was within a half second of pole sitter Ben Rhodes and line up on the outside of row number one. In comparison, third place qualifier Myatt Snider was well over a second behind Rhodes.

Gragson crashes at Dover in May.
Gragson has been solid throughout the season, but notably has run into trouble in the late stages of races, most notably contact with outside wall after a failed attempt at side-drafting Johnny Sauter with two laps to go at Dover in May.

Dramatics aside, Gragson has been very consistent this year, scoring six top fives and twelve top tens in 15 of the 16 races run this season. He qualified, but was unable to compete in Pocono due to illness. Despite missing the race, his overall performance this year has shown him to be a contender week in and week out, making him a sure fire favorite this weekend.

Each week PixelatedSPEED will pick one driver, or team, as the PixelatedPICK. No fantasy rosters, leagues, budgets, or any of that other inflated fantasy stuff... just one driver... win or lose... for the fun of it!  If you've made it this far into the post, thank you. Please consider sharing this content on the interwebs and following PixelatedSPEED on Facebook and Twitter and joining in on the conversation. &

PixelatedPICK: Awesome Bill Rides Again

Bill Elliott will pilot the number 23 car at Road America.
In 1983, Bill Elliott scored his first NASCAR Cup Series victory, at the now defunct and long buried road course, Riverside International Raceway. It was the first of 44 wins in a career spanning over four decades.

He won the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship and has two Daytona 500 victories plus a Brickyard 400 to his credit. Oh, by the way, he won the Winston Million in 1985 with victories at Daytona, Talladega and Darlington.

Awesome Bill from Dawsonville is also the fastest driver to ever qualify for a NASCAR race, after hitting over 212 mph at Talladega in 1987.

Elliott stepped away from full time racing following the 2003 season but has continued to dabble with part time entries in the Cup Series.

This weekend, the 16-Time Most Popular Driver straps into the number 23 IMS Connect Chevy for GMS Racing at Road America in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, only a couple of weeks after son Chase Elliott scored his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at the road course in Watkins Glen, NY.

SEE ALSO >> THE DIGEST: Chase at the Glen, France DUI, Silly Season Rumors & More

In truth, Elliott does not have the pedigree in the Xfinity Series. He’s been out of NASCAR’s top three series for a number of years, and in 43 starts only has one win. But that doesn’t matter.

Having Bill Elliott entered into this weekend’s race is a boon for the sport. Building on the momentum of his son’s first win, the connections of both Elliott’s first wins being a road courses, the rise in popularity of NASCAR road course racing and the fact that this is an off week for the Cup Series all factor into making this a huge storyline to follow, even if his chances of winning are slim.

Elliott can have a great showing at the Wisconsin road course, however. GMS Racing has proven to produce quality race cars and has shown glimpses of success in the Xfinity Series while being the reigning Champions in the Truck Series and strong contenders to repeat. The team is in the midst of moving up to the Cup Series and has a multitude of talented employees lead by veteran racer Mike Beam.

Oh, and they’ve got Bill Elliott racing for them this week… who is pretty darn Awesome, indeed.

So, this week’s pick to win is an Xfinity Series special with Bill Elliott to win at Road America.

Each week PixelatedSPEED will pick one driver, or team, as the PixelatedPICK. No fantasy rosters, leagues, budgets, or any of that other inflated fantasy stuff... just one driver, win or loose... for the fun of it!  If you've made it this far into the post, thank you. Please consider sharing this content on the interwebs and following PixelatedSPEED on Facebook and Twitter and joining in on the conversation. &

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Kyle Busch Motorsports to the Cup Series?

Could Kyle Busch Motorsports make the jump up to the NASCAR Cup Series? There is a theory out there in rumorville that says it can.

While this is pure speculation, it is an interesting theory and peaked my interest. A user in the NASCAR Reddit community put this out there, and claims to have a source in the garage area. To reiterate, this is not fact at this time, but simply something to think about during this busy silly season.

Here is what we already widely know.

A few days ago, news about the possible departure of Kurt Busch from Stewart Hass Racing emerged as well as rumblings about the possible shutdown of Furniture Row Racing after sponsor 5 Hour Energy announced that they would be leaving at the end of the season.

For Kurt, the popular rumor at present is that he leaves SHR, and takes sponsor Monster Energy to Chip Ganassi Racing, supplanting Jamie McMurray in the number 1 car.

Martin Truex Jr.’s deal is more up in the air. He said during media availability this week that he is unsure of his status with Furniture Row Racing, stating that sponsorship was the key. Meanwhile, FRR owner Barney Visser issued a statement saying that the team would in fact be in business for 2019. However, as the conclusion of the season draws near, Truex, the 2017 Cup Series Champion, remains unsigned for next year.

A possible spot for Truex to land would be the number 95 car at Leavine Family Racing, after the departure of Kasey Kahne who announced his retirement following the season. Leavine has announced that they are moving away from Chevy next year and are highly thought to be going to Toyota. This keeps Truex in the Toyota camp.

But Truex isn’t the only driver that could be on the way to LFR. Joe Gibbs Racing is yet again in a situation where they have more drivers in their stable than they have cars to fill. Many in the garage have begun trying to see where Christopher Bell could fit in the Cup roster in 2019. One thought is as a potential candidate for the LFR 95 car. This is unlikely, however, as Bell told the media that he will continue to drive for JGR in the Xfinity Series next season.

Now that you have the current known rumors, let’s start venturing out a bit with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

The KBM rumor sees Kyle Busch leaving Joe Gibbs Racing and starting a new Cup team under the KBM banner alongside brother Kurt. Did I forget to mention that this is technically a contract year for Kyle? It is, and while a re-signing is still the most plausible scenario, it makes this theory possible.

Such a move wouldn’t be the first time the brothers have raced under the same banner in NASCAR. In 2012, KBM fielded a full time entry in the Nationwide Series that both Kyle and Kurt shared, with Kurt garnering a victory for the team at Richmond. The KBM Nationwide Series effort proved to not be the success that either Busch was searching for, plus there was strong rumor that Joe Gibbs was very unhappy having Kyle competing against him at that time. This led to KBM dissolving their Nationwide program. Granted, for this theory to work, Joe Gibbs would need to be onboard with having KBM competing against him, but in this grand era of technical alliances, this doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Speaking of alliances, we got alliances. Should Furniture Row Racing fold, we could see that alliance move over to Kyle Busch Motorsports and perhaps an additional deal with Leavine Family Racing for Christopher Bell.

With Kyle driving for his own team, under this scenario we could see Martin Truex going to the 18 car with Joe Gibbs.

Charters? We got charters. Under this scenario KBM would pick up the charter from Furniture Row, and possibly a second from the sale of BK Racing.

Sponsors? We got sponsors. This rumors sees Monster Energy coming over with Kurt from Stewart Hass, and Kyle seeing a larger participation from the partnerships he as already formed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Off base? Probably. Like I said from the start, this is purely speculation; a complete what if scenario. ESPN’s Bob Pockrass reported on his Twitter account that that KBM is not going Cup racing.

“Talked to a person in the know last night and was told KBM not going Cup racing,” tweeted Pockrass.

While unlikely, I hope this theory gets folks talking about the addition of Kyle Busch Motorsports into the Cup Series. Having KBM as a mainstay in the Truck Series has been a huge positive mark to the sport; just look at all the talent that has passed through that team and ended up in Cup; Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace come to mind.

The NASCAR Cup Series needs more teams, and needs them now. With field sizes dwindling, it’s imperative that new owners enter the top tier series. I’m not stating this as a fan of any particular team either. I’d love to see ThorSport make an entrance, or JR Motorsports. There are plenty of teams out there, just not many opportunities for those teams to get to the top step. Of the possible teams that could make that step, however, Kyle Busch Motorsports seems poised to be the most viable.

The DIGEST: Issue 2. Retirees, Trophies, Silly Season Hype and More!

There must be something strange in the water as this week three of racing’s big names all announced there departures from the sport. Also, the silly season rumor mill continues to churn as questions arise about the reigning Cup Series Champion’s future. Plus, trophies!

Kasey Kahne to Retire at the end of 2018 Season

The biggest story of the week in the NASCAR world had to be Kasey Kahne’s surprise announcement that he will be stepping away from full time NASCAR racing after the conclusion of the 2018 season.

Kahne moved over to the number 95 Leavine Family Racing stable after six years, and lackluster results, at Hendrick Motorsports. The Enumclaw, WA native has decided that he’s had enough of the Cup Series grind and is ready to pursue other things in life.

“It’s all that I really think about when we are having fun, when we’re — whatever it may be — I’m still there. I’m still thinking about racing, and I think it just gets to be a lot. Twenty-five years later, it’s just a lot, and it will be nice to not have that on my mind full-time. So that’s kind of my biggest reason is just to think more about him (son, Tanner), think about other things in life and things that I want to do, achieve, and just not be so deep into racing for a little bit.”

Aside from time with his family, Kahne is going to be able to spend more time with his World of Outlaws sprint car team. Kasey Kahne Racing recently scored a huge victory with driver Brad Sweet at the Knoxville Nationals.

“I feel like I’ll definitely do a little bit more. Our teams are very good,” said Kahne.

“Last week with Brad Sweet winning the Knoxville Nationals was a huge part for KKR. It was a dream for a lot of us to win that race. It was special to be there and cheer him on.”

“I still love that race. And that’s where I started or where I learned how to drive. I could see myself doing 40-50 sprint car races next year.”

Kahne, a former USAC Champion, began his NASCAR Cup Series career in 2004 with Evernham Motorsports. After winning the Rookie of the Year title that year, he went to score his first victory in 2005 at Richmond before scoring six wins in 2006.

Kahne has won the Coke 600 twice, and won last year’s Brickyard 400.

Elliott Sadler to Retire at the End of 2018 Season

Emporia, VA’s Elliott Sadler announced this week that after a span of over two decades, he will be ending his full time NASCAR career at the end of this season.

Sadler began racing in the NASCAR Busch Series in 1995, running four season before moving up to the Winston Cup Series in 1999 with Wood Brothers Racing. His first Cup Series win came in 2001 at Bristol; the first win for the Wood Brothers in eight years.

Sadler moved to Robert Yates Racing in 2003, picking up a victory at Texas in 2004. He continued to race in the Cup Series for Yates, Evernham, and Petty Motorsports through the 2009 season.

In 2010, Sadler and sponsor One Main Financial began racing for Kevin Harvick Inc. in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. After the shutdown of KHI, Sadler continued on under the Richard Childress Racing banner for the next two seasons before taking his sponsor with him to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. Sadler spent the 2015 season racing for Roush Fenway Racing.

In 2016, Sadler moved to JR Motorsports, and has been a championship contender ever since.

Sadler was named the Grand Marshall of the Xfinity Series race at Bristol this past week, and gave one the best commands to start a race seen in recent years.

Truex Switching Teams in ‘19 Possible

As the 2018 NASCAR silly season ramps up, rumors have began circulating around the future of 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Martin Truex Jr.

It was announced a couple of weeks ago that Furniture Row Racing sponsor 5 Hour Energy would be leaving at the end of the year, leaving about half of the number 78 car’s 2019 season open and without sponsorship. FRR owner Barney Visser has stated that he does not wish to once again fund the team out of his own pocket, has he had done since the founding of the team in 2005. However, in a statement released this week, he said that the team will continue in 2019.

"Furniture Row Racing continues to develop sponsorship opportunities for 2019 and beyond. ... Furniture Row Racing not fielding a team in 2019 is not an option and we have every intention of continuing to build on our success for years to come."

Even so, Truex has yet to sign a new contract for next season. When asked about how sure he was about his return to the 78 team next season, he couldn’t answer with confidence.

"That's hard to put a number on," Truex said after practice at Bristol Motor Speedway. "Honestly, I really don't know. I think in another week or two, I'll have a better answer for you, a better percentage.

"Right now, we need sponsorship. That's as simple as it gets. So it's hard to say. Is there a 50 percent chance we get that in a couple weeks or is there a 100 percent chance or is there 2 percent, I don't know. I can tell you that everything really is based upon that."

Should Truex be unable to come to terms at Furniture Row, there are rumors circulating about where he could land, including the soon-to-be vacated seat in the number 95 at Leavine Family Racing after Kasey Kahne retires at the end of this season.

Regular Season Trophies Unveiled

NASCAR unveiled the trophies to be presented to each series’ regular season champions earlier this week.

The two foot trophies feature an engraved spire for each of the various series’ regular season races. This accolade is presented to each regular season champion alongside the other, more pivotal award, 15 additional playoff points.

The first driver to receive his trophy was Johnny Sauter after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Bristol on Thursday and claiming the 2018 regular season title.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will crown it’s regular season champion at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis while the Xfinity Series will conclude their regular season the following week in Las Vegas.

Glenn Jarrett Signs Off at Michigan

Glenn Jarrett, son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Ned Jarrett, and brother of NASCAR Champion Dale Jarrett, hung up his microphone following the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan.

Jarrett is a former NASCAR driver himself, having run 10 races from 1978 to 1983. He then moved to the NASCAR Busch Series, making 67 starts from 1983 to 1993.

Jarrett is most well known as a pit report for TNN Motorsports through the 1990s and early 2000’s. Following the end of the TNN era, Jarrett moved on to SPEED Channel. Jarrett was a common go-to reporter when networks needed an extra hand during weekends where the same network carried events in multiple locations.

SEE ALSO >> Jim Noble Leaves Tradin’ Paint >>

Glenn Jarrett finished out his career as a reporter for the Motor Racing Network.

Jarrett offered his appreciation to the racing community on his Twitter account.

Low Entry Count Forces Cancellation of Berlin 251

The week started without the annual Battle at Berlin 251. This event has traditionally been contested the Monday following the Cup race at Michigan but this was canceled due to a low entry count.

Berlin Raceway officials cited the low entry counts to the abundance of other races in the area, including the Kalamazoo Klash, and the upcoming championship runs causing teams and drivers to rethink making the trip to Marne, Michigan this year.

The event is planned to return in 2019.

MORE >> Looking Back at My Trip to the Berlin 251 >>

“Thanks to everyone for all the comments and well wishes last night...the fans, the drivers and team members,my comrades at MRN and everyone involved in our sport made this an incredible ride...I'm a lucky guy..I will miss all of you.”

The Digest is a weekly recap of top stories and tidbits from the previous week in the world of motorsports. If you've made it this far into the post, thank you. Please consider sharing this content on the interwebs and following PixelatedSPEED on Facebook and Twitter and joining in on the conversation.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

VIDEO: Hendrick Motorsports to Present Life of a Race Car

"From design to the racetrack, Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet are giving you an inside look at how a race car comes to life."

Today, Hendrick Motorsports announced the launch of a new web show called "Life of a Race Car." The six part series will feature the life cycle of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Chevy Camaro  ZL1.

The show will air exclusively on Facebook Watch, starting on Thursday, August 23rd.

This is not the first time Hendrick Motorsports has brought original content to Facebook and streaming partners.

In 2017, Hendrick Motorsports partnered with Rated Red to produce a mini-series centered around the then lineup of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, and Chase Elliott. The series was called "Road to Race Day and was featured on the now defunct Go90 streaming network owned by Verizon Wireless.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I plan on providing reactionary coverage of each episode during the run. I really enjoyed "Road to Race Day" and feel like this type of content has been missing in the NASCAR TV landscape since the demise of the Speed Channel.

Life of a Race Car Airings:

  • August 23
  • August 30
  • September 6
  • September 13
  • September 20
  • September 27 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Jim Noble Leaves Tradin' Paint

Jim Noble interviews Darrell Waltrip for PRN.
Listeners of the mid-day SiriusXM show, Tradin’ Paint may have noticed the recent absence of host Jim Noble. Noble had hosted the popular NASCAR talk show for over seven years alongside co-hosts Buddy Baker and Chocolate Myers.

On August 10th, 2018, Noble issued a statement via his Twitter account explaining his departure.

“It is with many mixed emotions that I write this note - after more than seven years hosting a regular show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, it is time to step aside…
I will be embarking on a new challenge and opportunity that will be announced shortly, but in the meantime, I just want to say thanks. Thanks to the many, many listeners who welcomed me into your homes, cars, offices, and other assorted places - meeting some of you in person, hearing from our regulars on the show, and interacting with you on social media - I cherish the fact that you have allowed me to be a small part of your lives.
Thanks also to the drivers, crew members and team officials who almost unfailingly gave their time and expertise towards making the show more interesting with their presence. I learned a lot from you - we didn’t always agree, buy your passion for your sport is unmatched!
Thanks to my colleagues at SiriusXM. I don’t think most of you realize what a balancing act it is to report on the sport fairly, give your opinion when necessary, and have to deal with the fallout no matter which way you come down on a particular issue. Pete Pistone, Mike Bagley, Dave Moody, Brad Gille, Claire B, Pat Patterson...yes, even you Mojo! - you all have my permanent respect for the job you do and the waters you have to navigate. Also, Daniel Norwood, Mike Mazvinsky and Steve Cohen have not only been bosses, but friends at the same time. That is a very rare situation in today’s media landscape, and I owe a lot them as well.
Finally, my co-hosts. I have been blessed to serve with two icons of the sport - the late, great Buddy Baker, and my brother, Chocolate Myers. These two have done so much more for me than I can possibly recount here - opened doors, told me stories, advised, counseled, entertained… it has truly been an honor to work side by side with these great me. Choc, your donuts are on the way!
I hope to around the sport from time to time down the road - still plan to be at the track for many PRN broadcasts, and will be filling in once and a while on various SiriusXM channels. So in closing… I’ll see you down the road… and thank you all - for everything!”

The same day, Noble announced that he would assume the role of play-by-play voice for the Wofford College Terriers.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of the Wofford family - have admired from afar for many years, and to be a part of the team now is an absolute honor and privilege!”

No official announcement from SiriusXM NASCAR has been made to address who will assume the hosting role on Tradin’ Paint full time. Instead, the show description on the SiriusXM NASCAR webpage mentions a “rotating cast of NASCAR insiders” alongside host Myers.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Looking Back at My Trip to the Berlin 251

Kyle Busch at the 2011 Rowdy's Revenge 251
Berlin Raceway announced last week that due to a poor entry count, the 2018 running of the Battle at Berlin 251 would be canceled. The race was scheduled for Monday, August 13th. The reason seems to be attributed to the pure abundance of racing in the area combined with teams preparing for championship runs late in the season. Although being one of the higher paying events of the year, many teams could not justify the trip for the Monday night special event in Marne, Michigan.

“This is unfortunate and something that we have never experienced before, but we just can’t hold an event like this with 10 or 11 cars.” said Berlin Raceway General Manager Nick Mesman. “Not only us here at Berlin but our sponsors, spectators and fellow competitors have very high expectations for this event and we felt it wasn’t fair to our fans nor our sponsors and racers to experience anything less.”

The cancelation of this marquee event for this year brought back memories of when I was on the grounds for the Battle at Berlin’s predecessor event, the Rowdy’s Revenge 251, in 2011. That year, the event was plagued with bad weather, and the race was postponed to the following day.

Brian Ickler at Berlin in 2011.
For those that are unaware, the Rowdy’s Revenge 251 got its name from the event’s promoter, Kyle “Rowdy” Busch and his car number 51. Busch had two super late models entered into the race, one for himself and one for fellow Kyle Busch Motorsports driver, Brian Ickler. Naturally, both were fast.

There was a who’s who of super late model drivers in attendance as well. Johnny Benson, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, and Ryan Blaney just to name a few. Suffice it to say with talent like Johnny VanDoorn, Brian Campbell and Bubba Pollard racing, the field was stacked.

Stepping back a bit, the lead up to event was interesting for me. This was the first time I was attending a race outside of the Deep South. For the event, my primary duty was as a photographer for By this time I had covered the Snowball Derby, The Rattler, and several smaller events in my region. Although a rookie, I was now really part of the team and ready to tackle the challenge of a new venue.

The first day was the practice day and, as most are, was very busy. It was also eye-opening. I had never been to Berlin Raceway before, so being at a new track, around new people and not having the familiarity I was accustomed to having on my home terf, was interesting to say the least. I quickly found my groove, however, and was soon introducing myself to anyone and everyone. At first I looked for people from my area that had also made the trip, like Hunter Robbins and Allen Karnes. I then began familiarizing myself with the faces of drivers I’d never seen in person before, and it wasn’t long before I was darting from spot to spot looking for the best photo I could get.

Berlin Raceway is a tad on the odd side with its layout. The racing surface as a slight kink coming out of turn two, and the pit entry is in the middle of turns one and two. The way the pits are laid out, cars are pitted on both sides of three lanes as well as a side lane perpendicular to the rest. The traffic flow was odd, but manageable as long as you paid attention to where you were going.

I began finding the spots to get the best speed shots around the track and soon found myself next to the guard rail on the backstretch shooting photos beside Dave Blaney, who was spotting for and working with son Ryan and the family run super late model team.

Dave Blaney spots for son Ryan at Berlin in 2011.
Dave was awesome to hang around. Just like anyone else at the race track, he was consumed with doing whatever it took to go faster, but also gave a healthy dose of smartass comments along the way. Whatever the young Ryan was doing on track at that moment was starting to irritate Dave, but instead of getting angry, he just made fun of the boy instead.

The biggest story I was a part of on the initial day was young Erik Jones, who had crashed his primary race car and was preparing the backup. Looking back, I really had no idea how many future stars I was surrounded by. In the moment, they were merely the racers of the day. Today, I realize I was helping to document the early portions of their careers.

The next day was supposed to be raceday, and started out promising. While the skies were threatening, the mood at the track very optimistic. The first part of the day progressed as scheduled. Rounds of practice all leading up to qualifying then feature racing.

Midway through the day, I had the privilege of getting to experience what was not only the highlight of my trip, but a career highlight as well. I got to have lunch with Kyle Busch and the Kyle Busch Motorsports crew!

Myself and one of my colleagues were invited to join the team for burgers that they were cooking in their pit. It was purely coincidental and totally awesome. On the surface, it was just a group of bubbas eating some burgers in their pit area, but looking back, it was much more.

Many people dislike Kyle Busch for all the antics he has been a part of throughout his career. He is the sport’s most polarizing driver. His fans are diehards and his haters hate him harder than perhaps any other driver. He is criticized constantly for doing exactly what is expected of him; winning anything and everything by any means necessary. Many of the negativity surrounding Busch is warranted, but in that moment, on that day, all I witnessed was a group of racers doing what racers do and enjoying every minute of it.

Kyle was candid with us, even though we were members of the same media that tends to sensationalize anything he does. He didn’t hold back. He was relaxed, and even fun to be around. Granted, I’m sure that this event being his race, with his name, and being the race’s odds on favorite to win, played heavily into the Las Vegas native’s demeanor. But my is this.My While most effectively saw an asshole, in that moment I saw just a regular dude trying to eat a hamburger and go on to win a race later on that day.

To this day, when I watch Kyle Busch, I think back on the day I got to eat lunch with him. It was an awesome experience for me and will most likely always allow me to be able to see him from both sides of the coin; the true diehard racer, and the media-sensationalized/fan hated bad boy of NASCAR. It's an interesting perspective to have that most will never enjoy.

With lunch over, the day continued -- again as scheduled… until super late model qualifying. That’s when mother nature decided that she would add in her two cents, or in this case -- buckets and buckets of rain. The skies finally opened up and would not relent, leading to the cancelation of the remainder of the day’s schedule with a postponement to the next day. For me, that was the worst possible news I could receive.

With non-refundable plane ticket back to Pensacola, I had no choice but to head back while most of the crew remained to cover the race on the next day. My Rowdy 251 was over.

Kyle Busch celebrates winning the Rowdy's Revenge 251 in 2011.
I returned home in time to be able to listen to the radio broadcast of the race that evening. I was annoying, but as a whole the experience was awesome. Kyle Busch went on to pick up the win in the race adorned with his name, besting Johnny Benson. Busch had battled with Johnny VanDoorn throughout the bulk of the event, which was thrilling to listen to on the radio broadcast.

Jumping back to the present day, this year’s running of the event has been canceled. It wasn’t mother nature’s doing, but instead a plethora of racing in the surrounding area, such as the Kalamazoo Klash, Dixeland 250 and a myriad of regional and track championship runs. Berlin Raceway plans to resume the running of the Battle at Berlin 251 in 2019 and beyond.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

THE DIGEST: Chase at the Glen, France DUI, Silly Season Rumors & More

Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR Media
What a week in the world of NASCAR racing! This week’s edition of The Digest runs the gamut of a first time winner’s exuberance to the pitfalls of the a CEO in turmoil. Sprinkled in for good measure are plenty of silly season rumors with a new car as the cherry on top.

Chase Elliott Scores First Cup Victory

In his third full time NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series season, Dawsonville, Georgia’s Chase Elliott finally found his way into the winner’s circle by claiming the victory in the Go Bowling at the Glen in Watkins Glen, New York. Elliott held off a stout Martin Truex Jr, who ran out of gas on the final lap after the two raced neck and neck throughout the final stage of the race. This was Elliott’s first win in 99 career starts, after having previously scored eight runner-up finishes.

Elliott was strong throughout the weekend, having topped the leaderboard at the end of final practice and qualifying a solid third place. Elliott continued to show his strength on Sunday leading 52 of the scheduled 90 laps and winning Stage 2 en route to the eventual win.

“Holy cow, what a thrill,” Chase Elliott said in victory lane. “Golly, I don’t know what to say. Just so thrilled, so emotional, so much relief. Working on three years and hadn’t won one. I came here with a great opportunity today and was I was able to get it done.”

The Georgia native almost gave it all away in turn one of the final lap.

"I started to wheel-hop, and I knocked it out of gear in order not to spin out, and luckily I had a big enough gap where he (Truex) couldn't get me; but what a day!"

While Elliott found himself at the top of the heap come the checkered flag, he was only a single caution flag away from possibly having to deal with Kyle Busch. Busch had perhaps the best car in the field, but after a fueling blunder on pit road he found himself restarting the race from the 24th position.

"Every year we come here, we have a fast car and fail to execute,” said Busch. “Whether that's just called bad luck or whatever. Last year we had a lug nut get stuck in the caliper. This year we had fueling problems. It never ceases to amaze me."

 Busch charged through the field and ended up third.

"It was a heck of a lot harder than it should have been," he said. "But that was the predicament we were put in, and we had to go to work. I certainly gave Joe (Gibbs) his money's worthy today."

Brian France Out as NASCAR CEO After DUI

Kyle Busch’s early dominance, Chase Elliott’s breakthrough, pit road mishaps from multiple teams, and tight competition throughout the entire field made this year’s race at Watkins Glen perhaps the best show of 2018 thus far and maybe even the best Cup Series race ever held at the New York road course.

That is what should’ve dominated the NASCAR news scene on Monday, however the poor choice of NASCAR CEO Brian France instead took center stage after the top NASCAR executive was arrested for a DUI in the Hamptons on Sunday night.

Related: France DUI Shows Need for New NASCAR CEO

After being released on Monday from the Sag Harbor Police Department, France quickly issued a statement.

“I apologize to our fans, our industry and my family for the impact of my actions last night. Effective immediately, I will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from my position to focus on my personal affairs.”

Soon afterward, NASCAR also issued a statement echoing Brian France’s leave of absence and announcing that Jim France, uncle to Brian and brother to the late NASCAR leader Bill France Jr, would take the helm of the sanctioning body in the interim.

In the wake of the France’s arrest, the NASCAR world has been left with questions concerning exactly who will be leading the sport into the future. At this time it is unclear if NASCAR will have Brian France resume his duties once his personal affairs are in order, or if the sport will look toward introducing new leadership at its top level.

Stewart Open to Another Indy 500 Run

Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart talked with reporters this week during the unveil of the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Ford Mustang. He said that he’d be open to another opportunity at racing in the Indianapolis 500.

"I’d want to do at least one race before that," Stewart said. "I’ve been there and ran it. If I go, I’m not going just to run it. I don’t want to be a sideshow like Danica (Patrick) was at Indy this year. If I go, I want to go feeling like I got the same opportunity to win that everybody else in the field does.

"It’s an insult to those guys who do it every week to just show up and think you’re going to be as good as those guys. They are on the their game. They know their cars. They know how they need their cars to feel in traffic to be good in the race. It'd be foolish to think you can just show up and be competitive and think I was going to win."

Stewart did not reveal any hard plans or details, but has simply left the door open for a return to the festivities during the month of May in Indy.

Ford Unveils 2019 Cup Series Mustang

Ford Performance unveiled the 2019 Ford Mustang to be entered into competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Thursday. The new car replaces the Fusion, which as been in competition for over a decade in NASCAR’s premier series.

Ford has seen an uptick in performance this season as rival Chevrolet has struggled with the introduction of their newest body style, the Camaro.

The introduction of the Camaro came just as NASCAR was transitioning to an optical-scan-based inspection system and a fresh aero rules package for 2018. As a result, Chevy as seen a significant drop in its performance this season, with only two victories after 22 races thus far… the season opening Daytona 500 and last week’s race at Watkins Glen.

It remains to be seen how the new Mustang will stack up, but the hope for Blue Oval loyalists is that having a season of experience with the optical scanners in inspection, and a return (more or less) of this year’s areo package for next year will benefit the transition for Fusion to Mustang and limit the growing pains in 2019.

Silly Season Questions Building Up

The rumor mills are really beginning to crank up as we enter the end of the NASCAR regular season. The dominos are stacked and waiting to for the first to fall in a series of moves that will set the stage for the 2019 season.

Early in the week Bob Leavine, owner at Leavine Family Racing, confirmed to reporters that the team was looking to retain driver Kasey Kahne in 2019. While there is a strong likelihood that Kahne will return to the 95 seat, the big speculation is that LFR will move from Chevy to Toyota next season. The team has informed suppliers Richard Childress Racing that they will not be continuing their partnership after the conclusion of the 2018 season. It has also been confirmed that Leavine is in talks with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.

AJ Allmendinger
It was also announced that JTG-Daugherty Racing will move from Earnhardt Childress Racing engines to Hendrick engines after this season. JTG-Daugherty left the RCR technical alliance for Hendrick after last season.

Richard Childress said Sunday in Watkins Glen that replacements would be found for the departure of Leavine Family Racing from the technical alliance and JTG-Daugherty from the engine program next year.

“We’re good,” Childress said. “We’ve got replacements for all of them but one, so we’re fine.”

Speaking of JTG-Daugherty Racing, after several less than stellar seasons and too many missed opportunities to capitalize on raceday, it looks as though AJ Allmendinger may be heading out of the 47 car after this year. Adam Stern, motorsports reporter at the Sports Business Journal has reported that JTG-Daugherty is evaluating its driver lineup for 2019 with speculation that Ryan Preece or Daniel Hemric could be tapped to drive the 47 car.

The biggest bombshell of the week in silly season news came with rumors of Kurt Busch leaving Stewart-Hass Racing with sponsor Monster Energy and heading over to Chip Ganassi Racing, replacing Jamie McMurray. All parties have been pretty quiet about the possible changes, aside from Busch saying, “I’ve talked to a bunch of teams.” A possible replacement for Busch in the SHR 41 car could be in the form of Cole Custer, who currently races for the team in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The Digest is a weekly recap of top stories and tidbits from the previous week in the world of motorsports. If you've made it this far into the post, thank you. Please consider sharing this content on the interwebs and following PixelatedSPEED on Facebook and Twitter and joining in on the conversation.

Monday, August 6, 2018

France DUI Shows Need for New NASCAR CEO

Photo from Sag Harbor Village Police Department.
I thought that today I’d be writing about how great the weekend’s racing at Watkins Glen was, or about the very popular breakout win by Chase Elliott. That’s what I expected to write about; that’s what I wanted to write about. I suppose I’ll get to those posts soon enough, but first I have to write about another sad state of affairs in our sport.

During my lunch break today at work I checked my phone, thinking I’d see more of what I left Sunday with… posts about Elliott and the weekend at the Glen. Instead, five posts in a row from five different media outlets all with the same breaking news story. Brian France, CEO of NASCAR, arrested for DUI and drug possession.

As I am sure you are all well of by now, Brian France was pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign in Sag Harbor, NY on Sunday night (August 5, 2018). He failed a field sobriety test, and was found with five oxycodone pills in his possession. France was then arrested and processed before being released on his own recognisance Monday morning. France was charged with aggravated DUI which means he was more than double over the legal limit.

France released a statement to the press today as follows.

“I apologize to our fans, our industry and my family for the impact of my actions last night. Effective immediately, I will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from my position to focus on my personal affairs.”

NASCAR also released a statement that effective immediately, NASCAR Vice Chairman and Executive Vice President Jim France has assumed the role of interim chairman and chief executive officer.

This news comes after a string of great racing and on track successes over the course of the last six weeks or so. Instead of the constant debate over rules infractions and NASCAR’s impending doom and gloom scenarios (take your pick, there are so many), fans have been imbattled in contest over “The Big Three” and the miles of great racing from Chicago, Pocono, Iowa, and Watkins Glen. Sure, talk about using paint schemes to trick optical scanners and post-qualifying tech inspection failures have slipped their way into the fray, but have seemingly been brushed aside by the freight train of tight competition during this summer stretch.

That is, until today. Now, after what was arguably the best race of the year thus far, and perhaps the best stock car race at Watkins Glen in its history, we are again sinking in a quagmire of uncertainty about the future of our sport. The actions of the sport’s top executive have dashed the good vibes and placed into question what the next move will be.

Now, the NASCAR Board of Directors have a decision to make. Is now the time to make a bold, permanent change in the leadership of NASCAR?  According to the overwhelming majority of posts and comment threads today across social media, that answer is a resounding yes.

Brian France has done some great things for NASCAR during his tenure. He was instrumental in the development of the current television partnerships that honed in the presentation of the sport from a smattering of networks to an equal distribution between two broadcast partners.

He was also a lead representative in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program, helping close the divide and bring in multinational drivers and crew.

France has also played his part in making his time as NASCAR’s top dog the safest era so far in stock car racing. NASCAR has not had a driver fatality during a sanctioned event since Dale Earnhardt’s passing in 2001.

However, with the good comes a cornucopia of bad.

During France’s time as CEO, NASCAR has seen continual drops in attendance and viewership, albit part of a larger problem that travels beyond the scope of this sport yet ultimately still falls onto the shoulders of the sports senior man. The ill-fated Car of Tomorrow proved to be a much safer race car, but the athstetics took a nosedive with fan popularity and gave the sport a bit of a black eye in the process. Remember the wing, folks?

NASCAR has seen a polarizing change in the way champions are crowned, evolving from a solely points based championship to an elimination based championship. (I personally am for the most part in favor of the championship format, but a large swath of the fanbase are not.).

Most noticeable is how unnoticable France has been in general. During a period when NASCAR has needed a face, a captain to steer the ship, France has been absent and unreachable to the fanbase and media. Not having a leader that gives the sport a feeling of stability and direction has only added to the problem and as a result many feel that the NASCAR ship is sinking fast.

Family ties to NASCAR as a company may have been the glue that has prevented Lesa France Kennedy and Jim France, the actual co-owners of NASCAR, from taking a hard stance on making a change. Perhaps now, egged on by Brain’s own stupidity, they can usher in a new era of leadership and institute an individual that can take the wheel and right the ship before it's too late to correct the course the sport is currently on.

Now is the time to see Brain France end his tenure, not indefinitely, but permanently.

A new, fresh face is needed in NASCAR’s front office. A new leader that will put to bed rumors of a NASCAR sell off by bringing in partners that can bring long term stability back to the premier series. We need a leader that will welcome new team owners, new (or old) venues and new fans. We need leadership that will push to move our sport beyond the status quo and bring in ideas and idea makers that can grow the sport. Most importantly, we need a leader that is present and not just in front of the camera for vanity’s sake, but for the sake of the sport.

I know that I haven’t offered much in terms of a true solution here, but I really feel that I have echoed the very real concerns of the fanbase. We, the people of NASCAR, are ready for a change. Not a new race format, not a new points structure, hell not even as much a new car… but instead, we the people of NASCAR want a new leader, and the opportunity to make that happen was brought before the sport on Sunday night in Sag Harbor, NY.

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