Speedway Digest Staff
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On FOX Sports 1’s NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES practice telecast Wednesday morning, Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) co-owner Michael Waltrip addressed the morning’s news that MWR and Clint Bowyer have mutually agreed to separate at the conclusion of the 2015 NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES season and that the organization no longer will field full-time cars in 2016.
Waltrip, on the air Wednesday in his role as a FOX NASCAR analyst, shared his thoughts with play-by-play announcer Adam Alexander and analyst Phil Parsons. Below is a transcript from the exchange:
Alexander: What more can you tell us as this news is just breaking this morning?
Waltrip: “Well, it’s a sad day for MWR obviously. I love the culture we’ve built there. Our sponsors – they’re not sponsors; they’re partners. And our employees are our teammates. We just have the perfect workplace, and unfortunately in 2016, we’re not going to be racing there. My hope is somebody wants to have a really nice shop full of really cool people that work together well and want to have a race team and we can provide that for them. Rob is going to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing going forward. Rob and I are best buddies. He’s done an amazing job of stabilizing MWR in the beginning and then we raced for a championship -- finished second in 2012. So, my heart goes out to all the employees, all the people that worked at MWR. Hopefully, somebody wants to have a team and they can have it right there at our place.”
Parsons: A lot of people may say MWR started in 2007. MWR really started behind your house in the garage back in the ‘90s. How hard is that for you after being in this as an owner for around 20 years now?Waltrip: “Our first race was here (Bristol Motor Speedway) in 1994 with Jeff Green. We towed in here with Rodney Silver, a flatbed trailer, unloaded our car and ran third that day. And won Nationwide/XFINITY races behind our house and competed in the Cup Series. We made the Daytona 500 with Kenny Wallace in a car we built in Sherrills Ford (N.C.) behind my house. That grew to Michael Waltrip Racing and we raced for a championship, like I said, Chase berths, race wins. I’m thankful. I’m happy. It’s a great run that we’ve had. We’ll just see what’s next.”
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So far in a wildcard month of racing that includes three road races in four weeks, Elliott has consecutive top-10 finishes, tallied by a seventh-place effort at Watkins Glen International and a fifth-place run at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Next up is Bristol, a track where in three NXS starts Elliott has never finished outside the top 10. Bristol has been an important track for Elliott, whose championship hopes were bolstered by a third-place finish at the bullring last August en route to claiming the 2014 title.
With 12 races to go, Elliott will see an array of track sizes to round out the season, which will further test his adaptability. Six of the remaining courses are 1.5-mile surfaces, while the rest consist of Bristol (.533-mile), Road America (4.048-mile), Darlington (1.336-mile), Richmond (.75-mile), and Dover and Phoenix (both classified as 1-mile facilities). Elliott and the No. 9 team know that consistently strong runs over this stretch are key to keeping their championship dreams alive.
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For the Wood Brothers, returning to Bristol after a four-year absence is like a homecoming of sorts.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said his family’s race team was a regular participant at Bristol back in the day because races there were considered among the more prestigious on the circuit.
“It’s the same today,” Wood said. “We haven’t been there since 2011, and we’re looking forward to being back.”
Bristol holds a special place in Wood’s heart as it was the first track he went to and was allowed to be among the men in the pit area. It was the 1967 Volunteer 500, and NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Cale Yarborough was driving the No. 21 Ford.
“I rode over there in the truck with my Dad,” Wood recalled. “We got there before daylight on Thursday and had to wait in line to sign in.”
Once inside the track, Glen Wood told his son he had some important people he needed to meet.
“He took me across the infield and introduced me to Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Maurice Petty and Dale Inman,” Wood said. “They were the first racing people I’d met other than the men who drove our race cars.”
Wood said Maurice Petty gave him a playful pop to the chest, while Inman shook his hand while squeezing his arm so hard he went to his knees in an initiation of sorts to the racing fraternity.
Throughout their time in NASCAR, the Woods have been big rivals of the Pettys but also have enjoyed a close friendship. Inman, a cousin of Richard and Maurice Petty who; like all three Pettys, along with Wood’s father and uncle Leonard, is a member of the Hall of Fame.
“Dale and I talk every week, and he’s always the first person I go find when I get to the race track,” Wood said
Wood said his team’s return to Bristol is a much anticipated one now that the Woods have an alliance with Team Penske, which has run exceptionally well at Bristol over the years and especially in the past few races there.
Roger Penske has 11 Cup wins at Bristol, and Team Penske’s two current drivers, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, finished 1-2 in last year’s night race.
The Woods’ driver Ryan Blaney has found success there as well, winning in both Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races, including last year’s Food City 300 where he beat Kyle Busch, winning in a Team Penske Mustang.
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend,” Wood said. “Even though we’ve won the spring race before, we seem to race better in the night race.
But a lot of things can happen there. You need to stay out of other people’s troubles and try to not have any of your own.
It’s kind of like going off to war when the race starts because the biggest thing is trying to survive until the end.”
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Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is known as quite the candy man himself. He’s wearing the bright, red colors of Skittles this weekend at the half-mile bullring known as Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, while also sporting the colorful and iconic candy brands throughout the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with fellow Mars products such as M&M’S Crispy and SNICKERS.
As Busch has proven in just the 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races he’s competed in thus far in 2015, the candy man can. After suffering leg and foot injuries at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February, Busch was forced to sit out the first 11 races of the season. What he has done since his return is nothing short of amazing. In those 12 starts, Busch has racked up four wins, five top-five finishes and six top-10s and has put himself in position to punch his ticket to this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs. With his four wins, all Busch now needs to do is stay in the top-30 in driver points. Last weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, he expanded the margin to 31st-place Cole Whitt to 23 points with three regular-season races remaining.
Another thing the candy man can do is win races in bunches at northeast Tennessee’s “Thunder Valley,” site of Saturday’s annual Irwin Tools Night Race. Busch has five Sprint Cup wins at Bristol while also recording eight top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 20 career Sprint Cup starts. Amazingly enough, Busch won three of the four Sprint Cup races at the .533-mile short track in 2009 and 2010.
The driver of the Skittles Camry will look to repeat an impressive feat that occurred during that stretch, when he posted the first “triple” in NASCAR history by winning the Sprint Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Truck Series races that week. Busch will again compete in all three races this week, starting with Wednesday’s Truck Series race, as he makes his only attempt at all three races in a weekend during the 2015 season.
While Busch is a factor any time he travels to Bristol, it’s interesting to note Busch didn’t immediately take to the place. During his rookie year in 2005, he posted finishes of 28th and 33rd. But his record since then at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” has been impressive to say the least. After bringing home finishes of eighth and second in 2006, Busch captured his first Bristol Sprint Cup win in March 2007. The track was resurfaced after that race and, from 2008 to 2011, nobody has been better at the concrete short track than Busch. He scored four wins and six top-10s from 2008 until another change to the track surface prior to the August 2012 race weekend. Busch is looking to recapture the magic from his four years of dominance there on the current surface.So as Busch goes for his sixth career Sprint Cup win at Bristol Saturday night, the candy man flying the red Skittles colors certainly can add another Bristol trophy to the collection during what has already been an amazing season of tragedy to triumph.
The defending Sprint Cup champion looked to have the car to beat at Bristol in April. He started fourth and led 184 laps but found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as he was collected in a lap-311 accident when Jimmie Johnson, Jeb Burton and David Ragan spun directly in front of him while Harvick was running third. Harvick finished 38th – one of his only three finishes outside the top-10 through the first 23 races of 2015.
The Bakersfield, California native is no stranger to victory lane at Bristol, however. In fact, he has won there in each of NASCAR’s three touring series.
He scored a Sprint Cup victory at Bristol in April 2005, when he started 13th and led 109 of 500 laps and beat Elliott Sadler to the finish line by 4.652 seconds. He has five NASCAR Xfinity Series wins there with his most recent coming in March 2009, when he started 13th and led 46 laps to beat runner-up Carl Edwards by 0.798 of a second. He also visited victory lane in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Bristol in August 2011, when he started sixth, led 103 of 200 laps and beat Johnny Sauter by 0.434 of a second.
The Sprint Cup points leader has consistently run and finished in the top-five throughout the season with a chance to win nearly every weekend. He has two wins and nine second-place finishes, three times he’s finished third, and twice he’s finished fourth. He has also scored top-10s in 20 of 23 Sprint Cup races and, in the three races he finished outside the top-10, he had an unfortunate issue arise while leading the race.
Harvick would like to add his third Sprint Cup win at Bristol Saturday night. He scored his first of the year in the season’s third race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and his second the very next week at Phoenix International Raceway.
Harvick clinched his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoff field with his eighth-place finish July 11 at Kentucky, guaranteeing a top-30 finish in the driver points after race No. 26 Sept. 12 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. He only needs to attempt to qualify for the remaining three regular-season Sprint Cup events to make it official.
Twenty-three races into 2015, Harvick has a series-best 16 top-five finishes to go with his 20 top-10s, and he sits atop the driver standings with 866 points. The No. 4 Chevrolet SS has led a series-high 1,406 laps with an average finish of 7.8. The 1,406 laps led are 685 more than the next-closest competitor – 721 by his SHR teammate Kurt Busch.
Harvick has led at least one lap in 19 of 23 Sprint Cup races in 2015, including a streak of 14 in a row from March 1at Atlanta Motor Speedway through June 14 at Michigan. The staggering number of laps led and the 14 consecutive races with laps led is among numerous other impressive numbers Harvick has compiled this season.
He leads several other statistical categories: 120.2 driver rating, 33 bonus points, 877 fastest laps run, 22.8 percent of fastest laps run, 23.2 percent of laps led, 1,802.35 miles led, 5,485 laps in the top-15, and average running position of 7.44 in addition to his average finish of 7.8.
While Harvick and the No. 4 team are locked into the Chase field by points and wins, gaining bonus points for additional wins is now their top priority through the next three races, starting this weekend at Bristol.
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