Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Remembering Barney Hall
He often said he had the best job in racing and the best seat in the house and maybe that's true, but the folks on the other end of the airwaves probably disagreed on the latter point.
Wherever one might be while listening to Barney Hall "call" a race was the best seat and that might be sitting at home or riding down the highway.
Regardless of where the action was getting ready to unfold, all one had to hear was "And the pace car's about to ease off onto pit road" to know that you were in the capable, comfortable hands of Barney Hall.
The legendary announcer for Motor Racing Network passed away Tuesday. He was 83.
"Give a call," and "up on the wheel" were just two of the many signature, go-to phrases coined by Hall, uttered with the ease and confidence bred from a career that spanned more than five decades.
He informed listeners as to what was taking place on the track, but also entertained with stories that only a true insider would know. And Hall knew plenty. He didn't just have the ear of the listener, but that of the industry as well, due in large part to the respect he showed to others and the respect he had for his craft.
Industry leaders confided in him. Drivers and owners sought his advice. His influence greatly overshadowed his slight frame, yet he would never admit as much. He was just a little ol' radio announcer from Elkin, North Carolina, doing his best to inform and entertain.
He was on the air for some of NASCAR's biggest events, but was always hard-pressed to pick a favorite. Prior to his 2007 induction into the National Motorsports Hall of Fame, Hall recalled Dale Earnhardt's final victory, a stirring, come-from-behind win at Talladega, "but I also remember some of Richard (Petty's) finishes at Daytona," he said at the time.
"It was personally satisfying to me when David Pearson won the Daytona 500 and Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500. Because I knew both of them extremely well and I knew how much it meant to them despite the fact that they downplayed it, said 'if we never get a career win at Daytona it ain't no big deal,' because it was a big deal. I know how much it meant to them."
What he didn't know was just what a big deal he was, and how much he meant to everyone else.
"Barney will be forever the original voice of NASCAR," Petty, a seven-time premier series champion, said in a statement issued Wednesday. "He may not have been there at the first race, but he was at a lot of them and is a pioneer of the sport. He helped grow the sport nationally. He made it come to life, gave it excitement and made everyone feel like they were right there at the track, even if you weren't."
Hall called his last race two years ago, the annual summer stop at Daytona International Speedway, but continued to contribute to MRN productions.
His presence at the track was sorely missed, but in the last year or so, I've noticed something that seems to sum up how folks felt about him and what he meant to them. It's on those occasions when strolling through the garage one can hear the track P.A. announcer drop in a snippet of some long-ago race.
Fans pause. And listen. And smile. As Barney's familiar voice calls the action and the leaders charge toward the finish line once more.
So grieve at his passing, but smile when you think of all the pleasure Barney Hall brought to so many for so long.
Few Left Unscathed at Talladega
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Raise your hand if your favorite driver wasn't involved in at least one crash Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway
Chances are, he or she was. The GEICO 500 was one of those races … let's see, how best to describe it?
Wild? Yes. Intense? Yes. Explosive? Yes. Insane and I don't know why we continue to race there? Well …
It is and they do, and as long as they do, drivers and fans will continue coming back.
Multicar crashes certainly aren't anything new at Talladega; the 2.66-mile track has been the site of such incidents almost from the very day the track hosted its first NASCAR-sanctioned race back in 1969.
As Sunday's race wore on, the number of cars involved in one melee or another continued to mount. Three cars, then three more, then seven, and they're probably still adding up all the ones involved in the latter stages of the event. What was it, 21 cars caught up in an incident on Lap 161? That's more than half the starting field.
The crews that were able to push their cars back to the garage after the race were the fortunate ones.
There were far too many that arrived there on the back end of a wrecker, then were cut, lifted, twisted and rolled onto the team haulers for transport back to the various race shops.
It probably wasn't worth the effort, judging by the looks of several.
"Body shops are gonna be plenty busy this week," one crewman said.
No one was seriously injured, and for that we should all be thankful. Ever-evolving safety measures did their jobs, but that probably wasn't going through the mind of Chris Buescher when his Front Row Racing Ford tumbled down the backstretch.
Or Matt Kenseth when his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota took flight, then flipped and slid on its top, the asphalt grinding sheet metal into nothingness.
Or Danica Patrick, whose Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet smashed into the inside wall with great force, buckling the SAFER barrier.
"Racing has always been that balance of daredevils and chess players," race winner Brad Keselowski said. "Some weekends we're chess players, some weekends we're daredevils. This has always been the more daredevil style of track, which probably offsets some of the tracks that we go to where we're the chess player.
"That's what makes the NASCAR season so much fun and so unique."
Those who win tend to see things in a positive light. But without watching replays of the incidents, the Team Penske driver admitted it would be unwise to comment on individual situations.
"I went flying last year at Daytona, and that's not fun," third-place finisher Austin Dillon recalled. "For guys that haven't done it, it's just not a fun thing to be a part of. I don't know how to fix it personally. I know NASCAR will put their efforts towards fixing it. … They've made the car safer. That's the reason why we're walking away from these crashes."
Chances are, there's no "fix" for such things. Driver after driver has noted that such incidents are expected, if not quite accepted.
"I hate it," defending series champion Kyle Busch said afterward. "I'd much rather sit at home."
Already a winner this season, Busch noted, "I don't need to be here."
Sour grapes? Hardly. Busch finished second.
And on a day when the garage was quickly filling with torn-up race car after torn-up race car, second didn't seem so bad.
Fans wandered through the garage, a few stopping to collect the occasional piece left behind.
Darkness was descending as teams wrapped up their auto-surgery. Rain was on the way.
But the big storm had already passed.
600 Miles of Remembrance
CONCORD, N.C. -- For the second consecutive year, the names displayed across the windshields of the cars that will take the green flag in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET, FOX) will be unfamiliar to most race fans.
Gone are the names of Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski and Kenseth emblazoned across the tops of the vehicles. There is no Stewart, Busch or Logano.
They have been replaced on this Memorial Day weekend with the names of Lynch, Taylor, Massarelli and Miranda. Carter, Jablonsky, Ramseyer and Gonzales. It's a long list. It's too long of a list.
Including grand marshal vehicles and two pace cars, 44 of the vehicles here at Charlotte Motor Speedway will carry the names of fallen members of the United States military.
Army. Navy. Marines. Air Force.
Pilot. Gunner. Seal. Ranger.
Their ranks varied. Their job did not. They were soldiers. They made the ultimate sacrifice.
It's 600 Miles of Remembrance in the eyes of the NASCAR community. It's a lifetime of memories to those who knew them.
NASCAR officials worked with the Honor and Remember organization to pair fallen servicemen and women and their families with teams where no direct affiliations existed. But most of those we honor today at CMS had ties to NASCAR, through relationships with drivers or crewmen, sponsors or owners.
Graham Molatch, the jack man for Chip Ganassi Racing's No. 42 Chevrolet with driver Kyle Larson, is a former Navy Seal. Larson's car carries the name of fellow Seal Denis Miranda. The two were roommates serving in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2010 when Miranda died in a helicopter crash.
"Denis was just a great person and I'm really, really honored to have a chance to have (him) on our car," Molatch said Saturday at CMS. "It means a lot to me. I think it means a lot to the guys on the team that we get to support Denis' name and his family. …
"They should be acknowledged more than just once a year but it is great … to display their names. It's an honor for me personally, and a great honor for his family."
Jimmy Woolard was a childhood friend of team co-owner Jack Roush. Woolard, whose name is carried on the No. 17 Ford of driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. this weekend, was killed in action during the Vietnam War.
Master Sergeant Paul Karpowich was a family friend of Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet for driver Tony Stewart.
PFC John Borbonus was a classmate of driver Brian Scott(Richard Petty Motorsports) in Boise, Idaho.
There are others. Too many others.
Their photos are strikingly similar, most showing vibrant, smiling faces, full of life.
Some were on their first mission; many had been a part of multiple deployments.
There are those who left behind wives and young children. For others, family life would have come later.
Later never arrived.
There are those who left behind mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. We honor them today every bit as much as we do those who are no longer with us.
You may not recognize their names. But you should know why those names are there.
It's the very least we can do.
Perspective, Patience Weigh on Earnhardt Jr. Decision
After weeks of rehabilitation, hope and determination, the end result is this -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not return to compete in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series this season.
Sidelined for the past six races after suffering a concussion-related injury earlier this season, Earnhardt will remain out of his Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet for the final 12 races of 2016.
Instead, the 41-year-old will continue to focus on his recovery in hopes of returning to competition next season.
On Friday, HMS officials announced that the sport's most popular driver "has not been medically cleared to compete" for the remainder of the season. Previously, Earnhardt has been visiting doctors every two weeks to evaluate his progress.
It's obviously a disappointing development for Earnhardt, his fans, his team and the Hendrick Motorsports organization.
But it's ultimately the best decision.
Even if he were able to return to the driver's seat later this year, there is little to gain for Earnhardt and his team at this point. Out of Chase contention and with a rules package that will change during the brief offseason, there's no reason, from a competitive standpoint, for him to climb back in the car.
There could be some residual benefits but overall there's too little to be gained and too much at stake to attempt a hasty return.
From a health standpoint, the time away from the car and out of the limelight will allow Earnhardt to focus solely on his continued recovery.
Work versus health? Weighed against one another, there's simply no compelling reason for his season to end in any other fashion.
He isn't leaving HMS in a difficult position from a driver standpoint -- Alex Bowman and Jeff Gordon have filled in admirably during Earnhardt's absence and will no doubt continue to do so.
While time out of the car might be a concern for a driver hoping to keep his ride, Earnhardt has no such worries. He is the winner of 26 premier series events, including a pair of Daytona 500 victories, and has reigned as the series' most popular driver for 13 consecutive years.
He has qualified for NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup eight times overall and each of the past five seasons.
Even in difficult economic times, sponsors have been willing to align themselves with Earnhardt, understanding the immense impact and exposure doing so brings.
This latest development has only spurred talk of how much longer Earnhardt will continue to compete. He'll turn 42 later this year and now sidelined for a second time in four years, some have suggested that it is perhaps time for him to close the door on his driving career entirely.
Away from Hendrick Motorsports, he is a team co-owner, fielding three NASCAR XFINITY Series teams through his JR Motorsports operation. The group has been involved all the way down to the grassroots level as well, fielding Late Model entries for up-and-coming competitors.
On the personal side, marriage to fiancée Amy Reimann awaits.
All good, sound reasons, perhaps, to consider a future outside the car.
Yet only Earnhardt knows if such a decision has been made.
Throughout his lengthy rehabilitation process, he has continued to speak of returning to competition. All the way from the talk of a contract extension with HMS before the most recent incident right up until Friday's announcement, when he was quoted as saying "I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February."
Only time will tell if that plan eventually becomes a reality. For now, though, that is the goal.
From the day officials first announced he would not be in the car at New Hampshire earlier this season, everyone involved has stressed the importance of patience. His doctors, team owner Rick Hendrick and Earnhardt himself have placed his health as the top priority. Not his ability behind the wheel or his manner with sponsors or his relationship with his fans.
As important as each might be, Earnhardt's health and well-being continue to be the focus.
Patience. It's worth remembering as a driver's career hangs in the balance.
Understanding, but not Agreement
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- NASCAR held a Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, but somebody forgot to tell three of the four teams for Joe Gibbs Racing.
For Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, this wasn't a race. It was an inconvenience.
The Hellmann's 500 featured a 40-car starting field. Only 37 rolled off with hopes of a win or at least a good showing. The JGR trio had absolutely no intentions of trying to win. Or run up front.
I understand why it was done, but I don't agree with it.
I understand they were thinking big picture, as in championship.
None of the three had a win, automatically earning themselves a spot in the Round of 8. Any mishap at Talladega could sink their title hopes. And past restrictor-plate races this year had produced mixed results.
All three finished in the top 15 in the Daytona 500; Busch added runner-up finishes at Talladega in the spring and Daytona in July. But Kenseth and Edwards were knocked out of contention in the other two and maybe that was enough.
But for the three JGR teams to ride around in the back of the field all day? I’d feel embarrassed to collect a paycheck for that one. Donate it to charity. Let some good come of it.
It was clear from the start that going to the back was the gameplan. Kenseth had qualified third, Edwards 13th and Busch 14th on the previous day. Why did they even bother? Before the green flag had dropped they began falling back through the field, taking up residence in the rear.
It's not the first time teams have used such tactics. There have been many occasions in the past when teams have dropped back early in the race in an attempt to avoid getting caught in the type of multi-car crashes that are so common at the 2.66-mile track.
But on most occasions, those moves are only temporary. As the end of the race has neared, those teams would begin inching their way forward, working together in hopes of getting to the front unscathed and allowing them to battle for the win.
Sometimes it paid off; sometimes it didn't.
How was this any different? It was different because there was no intention of going forward, just going.
Racing at Daytona and Talladega has evolved more than at any other track the series visits each year. For years, drivers could "slingshot" their way past another competitor thanks to the draft; the lead spot wasn't the preferred position in the final laps of a race. As it became more difficult to pass without the aid of another, pack drafting was the norm, with one line of cars getting a run on another and the lineup shuffling several times each lap.
Remember tandem drafting? One car literally pushing another around the track, the front car having almost no control and the rear car no clue what was ahead?
Thankfully, those days are no more.
There have been times in the past, both before the Chase and even after it was implemented, when drivers had enough of a points cushion that finishing in a particular position guaranteed advancement or a title. That was back in the "it was a good points day" era and I thought we had moved past that.
You can argue that what the JGR teams did was a product of the Chase. There is simply too great a risk for too little reward, particularly at a place as dangerous as Talladega.
Denny Hamlin, the one JGR driver that did actually race, sided with his teammates, saying that the three had "built their (points) cushion.
"They've done their jobs well the first two (races)," he said. "They had the liberty to do that. So they played it smart. It's all about (the) championship, it's not about coming out here and winning Talladega for those guys."
Perhaps it would have been different if the three had been in a situation where they had little chance of winning because their cars weren't competitive. Under such circumstances, it would have been their only choice.
But those weren't the circumstances.
To their credit, none of the three seemed particularly pleased with having to ride around in the back all day. Kenseth said it "goes against everything you want to do as a race car driver."
Busch called it "frustrating." Edwards said it was "stressful."
The upside, if you're a JGR fan, is that all four teams now move on to the next round.
Where, hopefully, riding around in the back won't be an option.