Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – Team Penske owner Roger Penske has two drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 race for the first time.
Both drivers are former Cup champions. Brad Keselowski won his title in 2012 under the 10-race Chase format. Joey Logano won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to secure the 2018 championship.
So how does a team owner allocate his loyalties between his two drivers as they head for Sunday’s Championship 4 event at Phoenix Raceway?
“I think we run as a team, we win as a team,” said Penske, whose third driver, Ryan Blaney, was eliminated in the Round of 16 of the Playoff. “We know when we go to the race track, if we have three cars, only one is going to win. You have to have that DNA throughout your whole organization. It’s tough. These guys are competitive.
“I think the collaboration, quite honestly, our crew chiefs, we have to the ability to share the information. We want them to. That’s a byproduct of what we do in Indianapolis in the IndyCar Series with our teams sitting together after each practice.
“We can’t do that this year because of the moratorium on getting together (because of the coronavirus pandemic). It’s a team effort. To be in a position with two cars, obviously, is envious as far as I’m concerned. We’ve still got to go out there this weekend and perform, but it’s certainly a team effort.”
Chevrolet has its first shot at a Cup driver’s title for first time since 2016
Chase Elliott qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 race with a victory at Martinsville Speedway in his last chance to advance.
That marks the first time since 2016 that a Chevrolet driver will compete for the championship in NASCAR’s top division. That was the year Jimmie Johnson won his record-tying seventh title.
Elliott isn’t the only representative of the bowtie brand competing during Championship Weekend. Three Chevrolet drivers qualified for the Championship 4 in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series—Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Zane Smith—all representing GMS Racing.
Two Camaro drivers are racing for the NASCAR Xfinity Series title on Saturday, Justin Allgaier of JR Motorsports and Justin Haley of Kaulig Racing. All told, six of the 12 drivers competing for titles this weekend driver Chevrolets.
“We’re really happy this time around,” said Jim Campbell, vice president, performance and motorsports for Chevrolet. “We’re competing in all three of the series, Truck, Xfinity and Cup—three, two, one—three Chevy drivers in the truck race, two in the Xfinity on Saturday and obviously Chase Elliott on Sunday. So three, two, one—ready to go.
In contrast, Cup contender Denny Hamlin is the only Toyota driver in any of the three Championship 4 races.
“For Toyota, this is not really the season that we would expect it to be for us, only having one car in the Cup championship, and then no one competing for a championship in Trucks and Xfinity,” said Ed Laukes, outgoing group vice president of marketing for Toyota North America.
“(That’s)is really not how we normally would end a season. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m retiring, I don’t know.
Owner Rick Hendrick gets emotional over Jimmie Johnson’s final race
On Friday morning, before he jumped on a Zoom conference with reporters, Hendrick swapped stories and reminiscences with Jimmie Johnson, his seven-time champion driver.
Hendrick has gone through significant partings before—with Jeff Gordon, who, more than any other driver, put Hendrick Motorsports on the map; and with Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s long-time most popular driver.
With Johnson racing for the last time as a full-time NASCAR driver on Sunday at Phoenix, the emotions are bubbling to the surface again.
“I get super close to all of my guys,” Hendrick said. “They’re all like family to me. When the realization that this is the last race, whether it’s Terry Labonte, Jeff Gordon… it meant so much to me. Dale, he filled a void. Jimmie, I won’t say I raised him, but he’s been with me his entire career. I’ve watched him as a rookie come up to be a champion.
“The good news is I try to tell myself that I’m going to have a relationship with these guys. It’s not going to end. That’s what Jimmie and I were talking about today. We’re still family. We’re going to do things together. But the emotional side of seeing this history come to an end with all of these guys, it’s been real emotional.”
Johnson’s career with Hendrick has spanned two decades and includes 83 Cup victories—most by far among active drivers—in addition to the seven titles, which included a record streak of five in a row from 2006 through 2010.
“I just have to reflect back to the guy that got on the airplane with me with a T shirt on,” Hendrick said. “I waited at the end of a race to bring him home. Then he becomes the champion, then he gets married, then he has kids.
“I think the thing about Jimmie through all that, he’s the same Jimmie Johnson. Never a cross word with him. Never asked him to do anything that he didn’t do. He’s just a guy, never hear him say anything about anybody else. He’s as close to perfect as you can get to be a competitor that can do what he can do on the racetrack. Just a super individual.”
Bubba Wallace named Comcast Community Champion of the Year
For his work with the Live To Be Different Foundation toward the fostering of social justice, NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace has been named 2020 Comcast Community Champion of the Year, Comcast announced on Friday.
The mission of the foundation is to lift up individuals seeking to fulfill their potential, regardless of race, gender, disabilities or socio-economic status.
Wallace also was an outspoken proponent for the removal of the Confederate flag from any presence in NASCAR racing, which the sanctioning body mandated this season.
“From taking a stand for social justice to fostering an inclusive environment through the Live To Be Different Foundation, Comcast is honored to recognize Bubba Wallace as the 2020 Comcast Community Champion of the Year,” said Matt Lederer, Vice President of Brand Partnerships at Comcast. “Bubba embodies everything this award stands for, and we look forward to standing together as he continues to make a positive impact in our communities and across the sport.”
The Live to Be Different Foundation will receive a $60,000 donation from Comcast in recognition of its outstanding contributions to the community.
“This is a tremendous honor for the Live To Be Different Foundation and me,” Wallace said. “We may be a relatively young organization, but we have lofty goals and high hopes for what we can do in our community. I’m a firm believer that, if we practice those core principles of compassion, love and understanding, we can make an everlasting and positive change. With Comcast’s generosity, we will look to inspire others and help those in need.”