AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Kyle Busch has gotten in a lot of trouble this season, earning himself a reputation as NASCAR's biggest troublemaker. But if you take a long, hard look back at the history of this sport, you see that Busch has plenty of company in the trouble department.
Grading the performances for the penultimate Chase for the Championship race on Sunday at Phoenix:
It will hang over all that transpires this weekend at Talladega: the death of Dan Wheldon. Every Sprint Cup driver has seen the horrific video of the wreck that took the life of the two-time Indy 500 winner last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the IndyCar season finale. Seven days later, NASCAR is stopping at its fastest -- and most dangerous -- track.
He was a picture of contentment that day in May as he lounged on a couch in his office at Kevin Harvick Inc. in Kernersville, N.C. Kevin Harvick smiled and laughed as he recounted how he'd won races at Fontana and Martinsville earlier in the season, of how he'd developed a reputation for being the best closer in NASCAR by consistently turning his fastest laps at the end of races. Back then, Harvick had every reason to believe that 2011 would be the year he'd capture his first Sprint Cup championship.
ELBURN, Ill. -- This year's Daytona 500 marked the somber 10-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death. That dark day, Feb. 18, 2001, ultimately led NASCAR officials to mandate the use of the Head and Neck Support (HANS) device to prevent basilar skull fractures. Since that time, the use of the HANS device has saved numerous drivers in all forms of racing, and while the data cannot quantify how many lives it has saved because that would be attempting to prove a negative, the 10 years since that "Black Sunday" have ushered in a remarkable era of safety in all forms of racing.
In the midst of all the Danica-mania swirling around NASCAR, it is easy to forget that there are two women who have been fixtures in auto racing since the earliest days of the sport.
It has all the ingredients to be the most compelling of any All-Star event.
Daytona 500 stories in the SI Vault
Dale Earnhardt entered the 1995 season with the opportunity to surpass Richard Petty and become the all-time leader with eight Sprint Cup championships and to join Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win three in a row.
Zach Bernard's tribute to Dale Earnhardt Sr. is anything but subtle. The tattoo of the iconic red and black No. 3 along with angel wings, a halo and "Dale" in script letters underneath it stretches across his upper right arm.
Even after the passage of 34 years, the crash remains among the scariest in the history of Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Close your eyes and imagine it's Sunday afternoon in sun-splashed Florida. In 10 minutes or so the green flag will be unfurled, unleashing the 43-car field at this year's Daytona 500. As polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. prepares to climb into his red-and-white No. 8 Budweiser Chevy, his car owner, sporting that signature bushy mustache of his, approaches and says, "This is our race to win, son. Just cruise around for the first 400 miles or so. Don't make any stupid mistakes. Work with your teammates, our M-boys: Martin [Truex], Mark [Martin], and Matt [Kenseth]. You can't win this by yourself. You know that. You've gotta have one of them get on your tail and push you through traffic. Remember, see the air, feel the air. Then, with 10 laps to go, turn it loose, boy. Don't back to down to nobody! You've seen me do it and I've seen you do it. Now let's kick some ass!"
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's tragic death, SI.com's Bruce Martin and Brant James spoke to four people who knew the racing icon best. What follows are heartfelt responses from longtime Earnhardt team owner Richard Childress, gasman Danny "Chocolate" Myers and friends Punchy Whitaker and Humphy Wheeler, former president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Of particular note is their memories of the day he died and why they think there'll never be another driver like him.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. stories in the SI Vault
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Sitting on a cooler outside his hauler at Daytona International Speedway, Kevin Harvick was a placid figure amid bustling activity, internally and externally. Adorned in a new red-and-black Budweiser fire suit, he was embarking on his 11th season at NASCAR's highest level, now as the pitch man for one of the sport's most iconic sponsors, and yet another tie to the Earnhardt legacy that once made him so ill at ease.
The official end of 2010 also brings with it an important anniversary for this column. It was at this time one year ago the SI.com Mailbag was born, created off a couple of old e-mails I'd been keeping in the Hoarders episode that served as my inbox.
Jeff Gordon's car ... is ... candy apple red?
It wasn't supposed to end this way for Mark Martin.
NASCAR's regular season finale Saturday night was supposed to be a no-holds-barred, sparks-flying affair at Richmond that got fans all charged up for the Chase.
It's back to school and back to work for most Americans Tuesday, but the return engagement NASCAR's watching with an eagle eye looms 48 hours away: The NFL. How will a league whose Hall of Fame game preseason ratings nearly matched the Daytona 500 affect viewership heading into the Chase? A strong Sunday night show at Atlanta gives the sport much-needed momentum, but will the recent dramas and wide-open title race -- albeit still stuck with Jimmie Johnson as the favorite -- be enough to captivate America from turning on the pigskin instead?
For years, NASCAR has undergone a seamless transition at the top. In the '90s, Dale Earnhardt was king, followed by Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and now four-time champ Jimmie Johnson. So it's only natural that the next young superstar coming up the ranks to challenge Johnson is ...
This year, NASCAR's made it clear that its new policy of "Let Boys Be Boys" revolves around getting drivers to show emotion on and off the track. Comedy, drama, tears ... anything but political correctness will do.
Recent court fights over the videotape of a killer whale attack at SeaWorld in Florida and a writer's request for investigative photos of a slain Georgia hiker's body are rekindling a familiar debate.
After a momentary pause for breath last weekend, we're back to the serious stuff this Sunday at one of the very best tracks in the sport: Bristol Motor Speedway. Thunder Valley, as it's known, is a half-mile (well, 0.533-mile) concrete bullring with 26-30 degrees of banking in the corners, so there's little-to-no-room for error at any point during the 500-lap race. Just the slightest slip can wreak havoc not just on your own ride, but those of your competitors, as well.
LAS VEGAS -- It doesn't matter if it's Las Vegas or Los Caminos, when you gamble against Jimmie Johnson ... you come up snake eyes.
MOORESVILLE, North Carolina -- When NASCAR officials announced that their attitude about officiating races in 2010 will be "Have at it, boys," one of the first thoughts that came to the mind of this skeptic was: "Haven't we seen this before?"
Austin Dillon understands the mystique. He did, after all, grow up around it as the grandson of Richard Childress, who won six Cup championships with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in that still-iconic black No. 3 car.
Happy Holidays! Hopefully by the time you're reading this, your shopping is done, the presents are wrapped and you're sitting back and congratulating yourself on a job well done. I sure hope so ... that could be one less person I have to fight in line come Christmas Eve.
1. Dale Earnhardt's fatal wreck at Daytona (Feb. 18, 2001)
With two races left, all eyes are focused on the two-man battle between Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin for the Sprint Cup. But let's not forget that there are 41 other drivers and teams looking to end the season on a high note. Yes, holding up the year-end trophy is a beautiful thing, but those who can't still want to finish the year smiling, come Homestead.
Sometimes, the first class can be the easiest to pick. By and large, the NASCAR Hall of Fame's list of its inaugural five comes devoid of any big surprises, names with an A+ grade attached to their careers inside the sport. Legends known on a national scale, both Frances, Junior Johnson, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt are the Babe Ruths of their sport, directly responsible for its growth from its regional roots to a national craze.
A small news story has me thinking big things about NASCAR this week. And to think, it all revolves around something as simple as a number.
These lists are not mere compilations of all-time bests in their respective sports but all-time bests at quickening the pulse and evoking a visceral response from those fortunate enough to have witnessed their artistry.
The induction of NASCAR's first Hall of Fame class in Charlotte next May has already become the source of great conjecture, fueled by the release last week of the names of the 25 nominees for five precious spots.
NASCAR's Hall of Fame will begin the process of selecting its inaugural five inductees Thursday when 25 nominees are unveiled. It will be prestigious to make the list, virtually a guarantee of future membership, and it will be interesting to see who doesn't make the cut -- those forgotten by the passage of time.
Beneath short black hair and with his ears sticking out, Kurt Busch bears at least some resemblance to Spock from Star Trek. And for the past few seasons, Kyle Busch's older brother was as quiet and analytical as Leonard Nimoy's character.
The holidays are a giving time of year, one in which everyone has their eyes on a gift of their dreams. So, it's time to have a little fun and present my NASCAR Wish List for your favorite drivers this offseason. These may not be on their list for Santa ... but they should be ...
It's rare for a "commissioner" of a major sport to criticize its champion -- especially one with the type of squeaky clean image that Jimmie Johnson's built through the years. So, it was more than a little jolting when Brian France spit out Tuesday what many in the know have been afraid to say: Johnson's success isn't exactly the spark the Cup Series has been looking for.
What is to be said for those NASCAR fans whose guilty souls are cracked open by Deputy Travis Junior?
Saturday night in the All-Star Race, 32-time winner Dale Jarrett is set to officially retire from Sprint Cup racing. And when he hangs up the helmet for good, the sport will have all but finished off a seismic shift from an image of gray-haired glory to that of 20-something superstars.
There is a bronze statue in Rockefeller Center, Atlas bearing the world upon his shoulders.
Here are the five keys to winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
The memory is burned into the minds for those who witnessed it while thousands of fans cheered wildly as an Earnhardt drove to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kevin Harvick admitted that he sometimes watches the end of an NFL game on FOX just so he can see his thrilling side-by-side victory over Mark Martin in last year's Daytona 500 during the signoff montage.
For three decades, since the first Daytona 500 in 1959, NASCAR'S top series had been obsessed with speed. But after Bobby Allison flipped his car into Talladega's grandstand fence in 1987, a wreck that injured several spectators, the sport decided enough was enough. Racing at the superspeedways, with cars lapping at more than 200 mph, had gotten too dangerous. Thus the '88 Daytona 500 was the first race of a new era, when superspeedway events would be run with carburetor restrictor plates. With his power limited, Bobby Allison's average winning speed of 137.531 mph that year was nearly 40 mph slower than that of the previous year's winner, Bill Elliott.
The 1990s saw the arrival of new stars, including Jeff Gordon, but the decade belonged to one man: Dale Earnhardt. He'd been one of the upstarts in the '80s, challenging David Pearson and Richard Petty, but in the '90s Earnhardt was a throwback. With his take-no-prisoners driving style, the Intimidator won four titles, 35 races and legions of fans, many of whom looked at him and saw themselves. "I think everybody is angry about having to drive in urban areas," said Lowe's Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler. "They hate the traffic with a passion. Earnhardt drives through traffic too, and he won't put up with anything. So Earnhardt is playing out their fantasies."
The safety revolution that began in the 1960s came full circle, but not before NASCAR lost a legend. On Feb. 18, 2001, seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt perished when his car slammed into the Turn 4 wall on the last lap of the Daytona 500. He was the fourth driver to die in a nine-month span, and the outcry from fans spurred a safety study that changed the sport. NASCAR would soon mandate that all drivers wear head-and-neck support (HANS) devices and would require all oval tracks to install steel and foam energy reduction (SAFER) barriers. In '07 NASCAR introduced the Car of Tomorrow, which featured several more subtle changes designed to protect the driver. To date, the Intimidator's death is the last in a Cup race.
NASCAR's sanctioning body finds itself in a rather perplexing situation as the season approaches, just two weeks after chairman Brian France emphasized going "back to the basics" in his state of the sport address.
(CHARLOTTE, NC) -- Can't believe it, but it's that time already. The 26th annual NASCAR Sprint media tour starts today (Jan. 21) in Charlotte.
Jimmie Johnson has already proved to be one of the greatest drivers in the history of stock car racing. Unfortunately, NASCAR needs more from the 2007 Nextel Cup champion than the qualities that make Johnson excellent on the track.
If NASCAR history is any indication, Jimmie Johnson is just two races away from becoming the first driver to win back-to-back Nextel Cup championships since 1998. The past tells us that Jeff Gordon, the last repeat champion and the driver in the best position to dethrone Johnson, faces an uphill battle.
Auto racing is part of the fabric of the United States. As the nation pauses to celebrate its birthday, it is a good time to remember some patriotic times in racing. Here's a list of great red, while and blue moments.
Jeff Gordon climbed into the legendary black No. 3 Chevy of Dale Earnhardt Sr., anxious to mash the gas and turn a few laps at Daytona International Speedway.
It's time to stop focusing on the rowdy fans at Talladega and concentrate on acknowledging a defining moment in NASCAR history.
April showers. They're an annual event at Talladega: Jeff Gordon takes the checkered flag, and immediately, hundreds of fans dressed in Earnhardt-red rain beer cans down onto the track.
Why does Dale Earnhardt Jr. want controlling interest in DEI?
Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. win a championship at DEI?
Here are five intriguing pieces of news from last Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Jeff Gordon's post-victory lap tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt was a perfect example that, even in NASCAR, opposites attract.
It was a moment that would have been unthinkable -- blasphemous, actually -- to a whole lot of NASCAR fans back in 1992 when the cocky California kid first showed up on the Cup circuit. With his win in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway Saturday night, Jeff Gordon tied Dale Earnhardt for sixth place on the all-time career victory list with 76 Cup series checkered flags. Gordon will no doubt go on to surpass that total -- maybe next week at Talladega -- and he might just add another Cup title this season as well, which would move him to within two of Earnhardt's record total of seven. But the linking of little Jeff Gordon and Big E on that all-time wins list (print out the page from the record book this week and frame it) is a watershed occasion for NASCAR.
Forget the wine and cheese. With one simple move in Mexico City, Juan Pablo Montoya proved that he's a quick study and on his way to becoming a top-notch NASCAR driver. Montoya bumped into teammate Scott Pruett with eight laps left in the Telcel-Motorola 200 Busch race, then drove around the spinning Pruett in a maneuver that would have made the late Dale Earnhardt proud. The Colombian rookie easily won the race in only his eighth NASCAR start (three Cup, five Busch).
Three years ago NASCAR seemingly had trouble filling out a full starting grid. Now there aren't enough spots to go around.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Six years ago on the closing lap of the Daytona 500 Richard Childress, NASCAR and all NASCAR fans suffered the biggest loss in the history of the series due to the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt. Childress seriously questioned giving up.
What does it take to win the Daytona 500?
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Ticker) - After Dale Earnhardt Jr. indicated he wanted "majority ownership" in the DEI NASCAR team on Thursday, it was time for DEI officials to air their side before Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout.
Anna Nicole Smith spent much of her life in front of the cameras, and more pictures of the model/reality star are likely to surface now that she's dead. But a law passed after a race car driver's death should ensure that her autopsy photos are never published.
The heart of the contract dispute between Teresa Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. came to light today when Dale Jr. told a group of journalists at Daytona International Speedway, "I want majority ownership." In being asked to clarify his wishes, one writer asked, "Over 50 percent?"
Here's a modest proposal to get past the war of words and back to racing at Dale Earnhardt Inc. How about a spinoff -- making two companies out of it?
The first shots of the 2007 NASCAR season have been fired.
Discipline. Intense preparation. Experience. Mental toughness.
When he first laid eyes on Jeff Gordon, Lou Savelli wondered whether he had made a terrible mistake. The president of Du Pont's automotive-finishes division, Savelli had just staked about $11 milli...