Tony Stewart ‘Free Wheeling’ with Newfound Free Time

Born in 1971, Tony Stewart grew up in a robust era of car culture, where manufacturers catered directly to the consumer with unabashedly loud graphics splashed across premium versions of its cars and trucks.

One of the most prominent and iconic graphics packages came from Ford, and it’s one that caught the eye of NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart when he was an 8-year-old racing go-karts in and around his hometown of Columbus, Indiana.

Ford’s Free Wheeling package featured a bright, kaleidoscope color palate that oozed 70s-era swagger. The limited-edition run was available on the F-100, F-150, Bronco, Econoline van and Courier, and even the Pinto Cruising Wagon. But the Free Wheeling version that resonated the most with Stewart was the one on a black Ford Bronco.

“Every year when we went down to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, I would join Edsel Ford and on race morning and we’d judge the Mustang show,” said Stewart, the three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas. “This past year they had a bunch of Ford Broncos there too, and that got me thinking about those Broncos with those cool graphics packages I remember seeing back when I was still racing go-karts. I started looking around on the internet and when I finally found it, I knew I had to have it.”

It is a 1979 Ford Bronco Ranger XLT. The year prior, the Bronco migrated to the F-series chassis, giving it full-size proportions. The big, tall sides and wide hood provided the ideal canvas for those vivid stripes that signified the Free Wheeling edition. The Bronco, in particular, amplified those bright graphics with blacked-out bumpers and mirrors. And the sharp looks were more than skin deep, as the Bronco came with a rumbling, 400 cubic-inch V8 that made its presence known even while sitting idle as it rode on quad, heavy-duty shocks and big, 15-by-8-inch wheels. It was this look that Ford featured prominently in its ads, and has since become a cult classic.

“It looks badass,” Stewart said, “but it’s also pretty simple, especially under the hood. I can work on it, and that’s the fun part. There’s an Advance Auto Parts not far down the road from where I went to high school. I can pick up a case of Mobil 1 synthetic, a filter, and do the oil change myself. I can work on it and tinker with it and, you know, I’ve got plenty of time now.”

Stewart, like the rest of the sporting world, is sidelined due to the coronavirus outbreak. Even after retiring as a fulltime NASCAR driver at the end of the 2016 season, the Hoosier has filled his schedule with nearly 100 sprint car races a year. He’s won 23 of those races across a variety of series since his last NASCAR race at Homestead on Nov. 20, 2016. But not being tied to a schedule for the first time in seemingly forever has provided a glimpse of what resides outside a racetrack.

“The rear roof of the Bronco comes off and, honestly, once the weather gets nice, it’ll probably stay off,” Stewart said. “It’s got captain’s chairs up front, but a big bench seat in the back, and with the roof off, that’ll be awesome. I’ve always thought being able to remove the roof was the coolest thing about these Broncos, and now I’ll get to actually enjoy it.”

As much as Stewart relishes his retro Bronco, he’s acutely aware that a new-generation Bronco is getting ready to debut.

“I’m really looking forward to what the new Bronco will look like,” Stewart said. “We kind of got an idea of what it’ll look like when it ran in the Baja 1000 late last year, but that was more of a prototype than anything. I want to see the real deal.”

Would Stewart like to see that real deal with some retro Free Wheeling stripes?

“I’m sure my ’79 Bronco would make a really good big brother,” Stewart said. “Seeing the new one decked out in black with those retro stripes, it would fit right in.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2020 Atlanta Race Advance

Kevin Harivck will have a new look for Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The No. 4 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will be sponsored by Hunt Brothers Pizza and FIELDS, two longtime supporters of Harvick.

Hunt Brothers Pizza has sponsored Harvick in NASCAR for 11 years and last visited victory lane with him when he won the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta.

Harvick has also won two NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races with Hunt Brothers as a sponsor at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, both in 2011. The company also sponsored him in the non-points NASCAR All-Star Race in 2014 and 2015, which were conducted at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Harvick finished second in both races.

For 2019, Hunt Brothers moved up to the Cup Series for three races and, in 2020, will be on Harvick’s car five times.

With more than 7,800 locations in 30 states, Hunt Brothers Pizza is the nation’s largest brand of made-to-order pizza in the convenience store industry. Hunt Brothers Pizza offers original and thin crust pizzas available as a grab-and-go “Hunk” perfect for today’s on-the-go lifestyle, or as a customizable whole pizza that is an exceptional value with “All Toppings No Extra Charge®.” Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, Hunt Brothers Pizza is family owned and operated with more than 25 years of experience serving great pizza to convenience store shoppers through its store partners. To find a Hunt Brothers Pizza location, download the Hunt Brothers Pizza app by visitingwww.huntbrotherspizza.com/app/

FIELDS has sponsored Harvick in Xfinity Series races in 2017 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, where he finished sixth, and in June 2018 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, where he scored an eighth-place result. Harvick took FIELDS to victory lane in 2017 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race.

FIELDS, one of the Sports Fields Inc., companies, is the preeminent builder of fields and sports parks in the country. FIELDS is committed to “Building Sports Parks of Distinction.” The fields produced facilitate peak team performance and are constructed using the industry’s best resources and embody the essence of durability, precision, technological innovation, service and quality.

By combining the premium quality of the fields with the best in customer care, FIELDS creates sports parks of distinction that wow teams, coaches and guests.

As both Hunt Brothers and FIELDS have won with Harvick, they’re now teaming up in hopes the No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza/FIELDS Ford Mustang will find victory lane at Atlanta.

Harvick has only two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins at Atlanta, but has been strong there since 2008 with 12 top-10 finishes in 15 races. He’s led a series-high 1,197 laps and has led 100 laps in six of the last eight races. He’s also won four of his last six NASCAR Xfinity Series races at the 1.54-mile oval.

Atlanta has always been a special place for Harvick as he scored his first career Cup Series victory there in 2001. Following Dale Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of that year’s Daytona 500, Harvick was named the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing and made his series debut the following weekend at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway, where he finished 14th. On March 11, less than one month since his debut in

NASCAR’s top series and in just his third start, Harvick won his first Cup Series race at Atlanta.

Harvick is hoping that he can take two longtime partners to victory lane in Atlanta. And, as a bonus, it would be the site of his first and 50th NASCAR Cup Series wins.

KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza/FIELDS Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

 

You’ve had a solid start to the year so far. What are your thoughts going to Atlanta?

“I don’t know. As you go there, Atlanta is a place where you expect to run well. As you look at all the differences in cars and changes in tires and the differences we’ve had to face this year, you’ve got to go run the race and wrap your arms around where everything is.”

What do you like about the Atlanta Motor Speedway layout?

“I just love the abrasiveness of the racetrack. It still has a lot of speed for the first three or four laps, but then it has a lot of fall-off and a lot of bumps that give it character. As a driver, you just love the challenge that comes with racing at Atlanta. This is always one that I circle on my calendar as a favorite and I look forward to racing in Atlanta this weekend.”

You were a rookie in 2001 and won your first race at Atlanta. What do you remember about your rookie year?

“Well, it wasn’t supposed to be my rookie year. We didn’t run the Daytona 500, obviously. And then, you know, Dale Earnhardt died, (I) got in the car the next week, I got married. I think 70 or 71 races between the Cup Series and the Busch Series that year. Raced for both championships. Won my first Cup race, we won a Busch Series championship, we won the Cup rookie of the year. But I was so sheltered from everything that was going on. The only real taste I got of the magnitude of the Earnhardt situation, really, I can think back to and say, ‘You know, that was a massive situation.’ Obviously, I know it was, now. But when I think back to that first press conference that we had in Rockingham and the magnitude and the reach of what was in that tent that day, that was really the only thing I was exposed to that year was, ‘Um, wow, this is a huge moment.’ Even winning that first race and I’m not one to go back and just watch the videos and listen to the chatter of the media and the things that are happening. And we were testing either the Busch car or the Cup car or we were racing. We built our first truck that year. I ran that at Richmond. So there were so many things that were moving around that I honestly don’t remember really anything from that year. Other than, you know, I remember building that truck in Ed Berrier’s garage with my Busch team – with Todd Berrier and those guys. After we would get done at work, they’d come over and help me build the truck. But really, everything else is kind of a blur because there was so much happening. And it wound up being a good thing to be sheltered from what was going on and all the talk and all the hype and everything.”

COLE CUSTER – 2020 Atlanta Race Advance

Cole Custer and the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will compete at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday in this season’s second event at an intermediate track. Custer will make his first career NASCAR Cup Series start at the 1.54-mile track in Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500.

Custer heads to Atlanta coming off of his best career Cup Series finish, ninth, earned at Phoenix Raceway. The young driver was also the highest finishing 2020 Rookie of the Year contender. The Haas Automation driver started 16th and battled an intermittent power steering problem along with a tight-handling Mustang and finished ninth in the 316-lap event. It was a solid day for the four-car SHR organization with all four entries finishing in the top-10 in the season’s fourth race.

For the last five seasons, Atlanta was the second race of the season. The track is significant because it’s a 1.5-mile layout and a majority of the tracks on the Cup Series circuit are that length and similarly shaped. If things go well this weekend at Atlanta for Custer and the SHR organization, it bodes well for the team’s competitiveness on the same style of track for the rest of the season.

SHR has two wins at the Georgia track – Kevin Harvick in 2018 and team co-owner Tony Stewart in September 2010. Additionally, the Kannapolis, North Carolina team has amassed four pole awards and a total of nine top-fives and nine top-10s, in 39 starts there.

Custer has three starts at Atlanta in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with two top-10 finishes in three starts. Last year, he captured the pole position and finished second to Christopher Bell. He has one Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series start at Atlanta. He started sixth in 2016 and finished 17th.

In his last nine Xfinity Series starts at 1.5-mile tracks, Custer earned two wins, four top-fives, six top-10s and one pole award. The victories were captured at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. He led a total of 410 laps in the nine starts on his way to an average finishing position of 10.4 and an average starting position of 3.2.

The 22-year-old has made two starts at intermediate tracks behind the wheel of a Cup Series car, both at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The first occurred in March 2018, when he started 30th and finished 25th for the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing team. The second was in his No. 41 Mustang last month, when he started 17th and finished 19th.

“The Xfinity cars have more horsepower than the Cup cars at the bigger tracks, but the Cup cars have a lot more downforce and drag,” Custer said. “The Cup cars are going slower down the straightaways, but much faster in the corners. For me, the biggest difference is getting used to how much speed I can actually carry into the corner with the Cup car, when I’ve been doing something different for three years.”

Haas Automation, founded in 1983 by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1 million-square-foot Oxnard manufacturing facility and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.

Even though Custer had a trio of starts in the Cup Series in 2018, 2020 officially marks his Rookie of the Year campaign in NASCAR’s most prestigious series. He’s competing for the honor with notables Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick. The three have battled against each other in the Xfinity Series and are making the full-time transition to the Cup Series together.

COLE CUSTER, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

What do you do to decompress after a race?

“It’s hard to decompress because all we think about is racing. I try and hang out with friends. We have a lake near the house in North Carolina and I like to go out on the boat with friends as a way to relax. I golf a little here and there, too.”

What is the biggest difference for you between the Xfinity and Cup Series?

“I think, for me, it is getting used to the cars. They are a lot different, especially with the 550 package, and how you work the throttle and everything. How you are going to do that is a lot different than Xfinity. At the same time, you make one little mistake and are a little off in one area, you will lose a ton of spots. Everybody here is pushing it to the limit. Everyone in the top-25 in the Cup Series is probably capable of winning races. It is a matter of trying to perfect every part of it.”

Have you had any pranks pulled on you as a Cup Series rookie?

“Nothing yet, but I’m waiting for it. I feel a guy like (Clint) Bowyer is probably going to be the first one to pull a prank on me. Who wouldn’t pick Bowyer as the first person to do it?”

ARIC ALMIROLA – 2020 Atlanta Race Advance

Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Eckrich Ford team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) hit the first of three consecutive 1.5-mile tracks when they arrive at Atlanta Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 NASCAR Cup Series race. It will prove to be a crucial test for the rest of the season with nine mile-and-a-half tracks on the schedule that follow.

Almirola and the No. 10 team earned their first pole award together last year at Atlanta. On race day, he led 36 laps and finished eighth.

Between last year’s pole and this year’s new crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who has a best finish of third at Atlanta, the No. 10 team is expecting significant speed and results this weekend to kick off the three-race, intermediate-track stretch.

“Drivers love to race at tracks that are old and worn out because it gives us options,” Almirola said. “It seems like the times we go to repaves, it gets very narrow and we can only run right in a single groove. When we go to Atlanta, it’s got a lot of character. It’s rough. It’s bouncy. It’s worn out and you slip and slide. We like having that control of cars sliding around and driving it. We really enjoy tracks like Atlanta.”

Almirola and the team have earned two consecutive top-10s and ran inside the top-five last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. He earned eight bonus points and made gains in the point standings.

The Eckrich driver, who will turn 36 on Saturday, has already outpaced his 2018 success in the first four races. He went on to finish fifth in the championship standings after securing his spot in the semifinal playoff round.

Almirola has career totals of two wins, two poles, 18 top-five finishes, 63 top-10s and 543 laps led in 320 starts. His last win came in October 2018 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

The racing action won’t be the only entertainment this weekend at Atlanta. On Sunday morning, Almirola and SHR co-owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart will visit the campgrounds at the track to surprise and delight the best tailgaters who are grilling up Eckrich meats in preparation for the race.

Founded in 1894, Eckrich, owned by Smithfield Foods, will adorn the No. 10 Ford Mustang this weekend at Atlanta. Eckrich was founded as a local meat market in Fort Wayne, Indiana, by Peter Eckrich, an immigrant from Waldsee, Germany. Eckrich sells high quality smoked sausages, cold cuts, hot dogs, corn dogs, Vienna sausages, breakfast sausages, and bacon.

Almirola continues to provide fans with content from his documentary series Beyond the 10, where fans can get VIP, behind-the-scenes access by subscribing to his YouTube channel. Episodes showcase never-before-seen footage of Almirola at the racetrack, on family trips, and “A Day in the Life” during the week, as well as all that goes into a NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season. Click here to subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.

Almirola looks to build upon the momentum he’s gained over the last two race weekends and bring home a third consecutive top-10. He currently sits eighth in the driver standings, 43 points behind leader and teammate Kevin Harvick.

ARIC ALMIROLA, Driver of the No. 10 Eckrich Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Are you pleased with the progression of the season so far?

“We have found our stride recently as a team and it’s starting to show. We have had a top-10 car in every race this season. Last weekend, we had a fourth- to eighth-place car and raced there all day. We just have to gradually build upon these top-10s and move to top-fives, then move to wins. I know we’re capable of it as a team.

You earned the pole at Atlanta last year and led some laps. Are you confident heading there? 

“We’re definitely confident after running well the last few weekends. We got a pole there last year and ran really well, so there’s nothing but positivity from me. A few more solid runs and we’ll know we’re in it this season as serious competitors.”

CHASE BRISCOE – 2020 NXS Phoenix I Race Report

Event:  LS Tractor 200 (Round 4 of 33)
Series:  NASCAR Xfinity Series
Location:  Phoenix Raceway (1.022-mile oval)
Format:  200 laps, broken into three stages (45 laps/45 laps/110 laps)
Start/Finish:  9th/6th (Running, completed 200 of 200 laps)
Point Standing:  2nd (173 points, 3 behind leader)

Race Winner:  Brandon Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Stage 1 Winner:  Justin Allgaier of JR Motorsports (Chevrolet)
Stage 2 Winner:  Noah Gragson of JR Motorsports (Chevrolet)

Key Moment:

Chase Briscoe featured regularly among the top-five in Saturday’s LS Tractor 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Phoenix Raceway. The driver of the No. 98 Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing started ninth but finished third in both stages of the 200-lap race around the 1.022-mile oval. Briscoe was again running third in the final stage until a caution on lap 129 jumbled the running order. Numerous drivers took the opportunity to pit while others, including Briscoe, opted for track position and stayed out on the racetrack. But when the race restarted on lap 133, those who stayed out were no match for the drivers who pitted and fitted their racecars with fresh tires. Briscoe fell to ninth until the race’s penultimate caution on lap 138 allowed the 25-year-old racer from Mitchell, Indiana, to pit for four tires and fuel. In the final 57 laps, Briscoe worked his way from 22nd and almost back into the top-five, as he was unable to claim fifth in a spirited last-lap battle with Justin Haley. Briscoe ended up sixth, tying his best Xfinity Series finish at Bristol and picking up his third top-10 of the season.

Chase Briscoe, driver of the No. 98 Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

“I think we were definitely better than a sixth-place racecar. We just had a miscommunication when the whole field pitted. My crew chief told me to do what the 7 (Justin Allgaier) and the 9 (Noah Gragson) do, but the 9 pitted and the 7 stayed out, so I stayed out. Then we were at a disadvantage tire-wise. I restarted last and was able to drive to sixth. Overall, it was a good learning weekend for when we come back in November.”

Notes:                   

● Briscoe equaled his previous best finish at Phoenix (sixth), as he finished sixth in last year’s iK9 Service Dog 200.
● Briscoe earned his 33rd top-10 in 54 career Xfinity Series starts and his third top-10 in three Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix.
● Briscoe finished third in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 to earn a total of 16 bonus points.
● Brandon Jones won the LS Tractor 200 to score his second career Xfinity Series win, his first of the season and his first at Phoenix. His margin of victory over second-place Harrison Burton was 3.556 seconds.
● There were seven caution periods for a total of 45 laps.
● Only 17 of the 36 drivers finished on the lead lap.
● Burton leaves Phoenix as the championship leader with a three-point advantage over second-place Briscoe.

Next Up:               

The next event on the Xfinity Series schedule is the EchoPark 250 on Saturday, March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 4 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

CHASE BRISCOE – 2020 NXS Phoenix I Race Advance

Event:  LS Tractor 200 (Round 4 of 33)
Date:  March 7, 2020
Location:  Phoenix Raceway
Layout:  1-mile oval

Chase Briscoe Notes of Interest

 

●  The LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix Raceway is the fourth event on the 33-race NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule. It will mark Briscoe’s 54th career Xfinity Series start and his third at Phoenix.

●  Briscoe comes into Phoenix second in the championship standings, just 10 points behind series leader Harrison Burton despite a 19th-place finish in last Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. In that race, Briscoe led three times for 16 laps and earned 16 stage points before a late-race spin while running second took him out of contention. The points earned in Fontana combined with those from Briscoe’s win Feb. 23 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and his fifth-place finish in the season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway have kept the 25-year-old racer from Mitchell, Indiana, near the top of the standings.

●  Briscoe has two Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix, both coming in 2019 and each resulting in top-10 finishes. His best Xfinity Series result at the 1-mile track was a sixth-place drive last March. And in the series’ most recent visit to the track in November, Briscoe started third and led 14 laps before finishing eighth.

●  Briscoe also has a NASCAR Truck Series start at Phoenix. In November 2017, Briscoe started eighth and finished fourth in his Ford F-150, securing his 13th career top-10. The result served as a prelude to Briscoe’s talent, as he won his first career Truck Series race the very next week in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

●  Prior to his only Truck Series start at Phoenix, Briscoe ran a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at the track in November 2013.

●  Ford Performance Racing School returns to Briscoe’s No. 98 Ford Mustang as the primary sponsor for Phoenix. The last outing for the white-and-blue Mustang came two weeks ago at Las Vegas where Briscoe led five times for a race-high 89 laps en route to his first win of the season and the third of his career. Ford Performance Racing School is the only school to wear the Ford oval, and Ford is the only full-line vehicle manufacturer to offer product-focused experiential driving programs exclusively to the owners of its complete line of performance vehicles, from cars to trucks to SUVs.

●  The No. 98 Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang carries a lineage to Carroll Shelby, an automotive jack-of-all-trades who raced and built performance cars. Shelby won the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans as a driver and founded Shelby American in 1962. There, he took British AC roadsters and fitted them with Ford engines, creating the Shelby Cobra. That relationship with Ford led Shelby to develop the Ford GT40 and win Le Mans in back-to-back seasons as a constructor (1966 and 1967). Ford asked Shelby to take its new Mustang racing in 1965, and he promptly made it a champion. Today, the Shelby name is synonymous with the Ford Mustang, and Shelby’s iconic No. 98 – which he originally raced and then used during his time as a racing constructor – adorns Briscoe’s No. 98 Ford Mustang. In fact, the grille of the No. 98 Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang features the iconic Shelby Cobra badge.

CHASE BRISCOE, Driver of the No. 98 Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang:

 

Phoenix is an important stop on the road to the Xfinity Series championship, as the season finale will take place at the track in November. With a win and a playoff berth already in your possession, how do you use this March visit to Phoenix to prepare for the championship race in November?

“Phoenix this year has more significance than it’s had in the past with it now holding the championship race. Truthfully, I feel like it’s probably my worst track on the schedule. The first race is definitely one that we’re going to need to go out there and learn as much as we can. Fortunately, Kyle Busch is running that race, so I’m going to put my Ford Performance Racing School Mustang behind him in every practice session and just try to learn. I feel like I don’t really understand how to get around there properly, and Kyle’s one of the best ones out there. I’m just going to try to learn from him, if I can. Hopefully, we can hit on something, because it is such an important race now with the championship being decided there at the end of the year.”

At Phoenix, you take the green flag almost in the middle of the tri-oval, which results in some very entertaining restarts. Why are restarts at Phoenix so much more dramatic than at other tracks on the Xfinity Series schedule?

“Restarts at Phoenix are definitely different than any other restart we have all year. It’s probably the only racetrack where you might hear “six-wide” getting into turn one, so the restarts are definitely intense there. You have a lot of options when you head down into turn one because you can run down on the flat by the inside wall, and when they added the traction compound last year, you could run right up by the fence. Phoenix is a place where you can win the race or lose the race on restarts, because once we get going, it’s hard to pass. Restarts are key, and if we can get up front and stay out of trouble on the restarts, we should have a good shot at picking up another win for Ford Performance Racing School.”

CHASE BRISCOE – 2020 NXS Fontana Race Report

Event:  Production Alliance Group 300 (Round 3 of 33)
Series:  NASCAR Xfinity Series
Location:  Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (2-mile oval)
Format:  150 laps, broken into three stages (35 laps/35 laps/80 laps)
Start/Finish:  3rd/19th (Running, completed 148 of 150 laps)
Point Standing:  2nd (126 points, 10 behind leader)

Race Winner:  Harrison Burton of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Stage 1 Winner:  Brandon Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Stage 2 Winner:  Brandon Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)

Key Moment:

Chase Briscoe led three times for 16 laps in the Production Alliance Group 300 Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, but a late-race spin relegated the 25-year-old racer from Mitchell, Indiana, to a 19th-place finish. Briscoe started third in the 150-lap race around the 2-mile oval and proved to be a top-five mainstay, but he and crew chief Richard Boswell continued to improve their No. 98 Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang, and their collective work took hold on lap 97 when Briscoe took the lead for the first time. A spirited battle with rookie Harrison Burton where the duo swapped the lead twice made for some nail-biting moments, but Burton ultimately pulled away on lap 118 after Briscoe got loose off turn two. Briscoe’s No. 98 Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang continued to get looser as the race wore on, and on lap 126 the rear end of his racecar came around off turn four, sending Briscoe spinning into the infield grass. The time it took to get the car refired and fitted with four new tires put Briscoe a lap down, and then a flat tire with three laps to go sent Briscoe further down the leaderboard, with the 19th-place result unrepresentative of his overall performance.

Chase Briscoe, driver of the No. 98 Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing: 

“We had a pretty good Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang and just couldn’t ever get track position early in the race. When we finally got the track position, we had a voltage issue where the motor kept shutting off. I kept overdriving it trying to make up for it and then I just spun out off of four and that buried us, obviously. That one is on me. We definitely had a car capable of winning, or for sure running second at the absolute worst. I don’t even know where we ended up. We will have to just go to Phoenix and try to not do that again.”

Notes:                   

● Briscoe’s 16 laps led were his first laps led at Fontana.
● Briscoe finished second in Stage 1 to earn nine bonus points and fourth in Stage 2 to earn seven more bonus points.
● This was Briscoe’s second Xfinity Series start at Fontana and his 53rd career Xfinity Series start.
● Harrison Burton won the Production Alliance Group 300 to score his first career Xfinity Series win. His margin of victory over second-place Riley Herbst was .455 of a second.
● There were eight caution periods for a total of 36 laps.
● Only 15 of the 36 drivers finished on the lead lap.
● Burton leaves Fontana as the championship leader with a 10-point advantage over second-place Briscoe.

Next Up:               

The next event on the Xfinity Series schedule is the LS Tractor 200 on Saturday, March 7 at Phoenix Raceway. The race starts at 4 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

CHASE BRISCOE – 2020 NXS Fontana Race Advance

Event:            Production Alliance Group 300 (Round 3 of 33)
Date:              Feb. 29, 2020
Location:      Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California
Layout:         2-mile oval

Chase Briscoe Notes of Interest

●  The Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, is the third event on the 33-race NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule. It will mark Briscoe’s 53rd career Xfinity Series start and his second at Fontana.

●  In Briscoe’s only Xfinity Series start at Fontana, which came in last year’s Production Alliance Group 300, he started sixth and finished fifth.

●  Briscoe captured his first win of the season last Sunday in the Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 25-year-old driver from Mitchell, Indiana, led five times for a race-high 89 laps to earn his third career Xfinity Series win and his first at Las Vegas.

●  Briscoe comes into Fontana as the Xfinity Series championship point leader. His victory at Las Vegas combined with his fifth-place finish in the season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway gave Briscoe a seven-point advantage over his nearest championship pursuer, Noah Gragson.

●  In addition to being the title sponsor of the Xfinity Series race at Fontana, Production Alliance Group is the primary sponsor of Briscoe and the No. 98 Ford Mustang from Stewart-Haas Racing. It is the first of three events where the Tustin, California-based premium live-event and creative development company will adorn Briscoe’s No. 98 machine. Production Alliance Group will return with Briscoe May 2 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and Sept. 26 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

●  The No. 98 Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang carries a lineage to Carroll Shelby, an automotive jack-of-all-trades who raced and built performance cars. Shelby won the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans as a driver and founded Shelby American in 1962. There, he took British AC roadsters and fitted them with Ford engines, creating the Shelby Cobra. That relationship with Ford led Shelby to develop the Ford GT40 and win Le Mans in back-to-back seasons as a constructor (1966 and 1967). Ford asked Shelby to take its new Mustang racing in 1965, and he promptly made it a champion. Today, the Shelby name is synonymous with the Ford Mustang, and Shelby’s iconic No. 98 – which he originally raced and then used during his time as a racing constructor – adorns Briscoe’s No. 98 Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang. In fact, the grille of the No. 98 Ford Mustang features the iconic Shelby Cobra badge.

●  DYK?: Before Shelby won Le Mans in 1966, his Ford GT40 won the 1966 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Both of these races were chronicled in the recent Oscar-winning movie Ford v Ferrari, and it is the 1966 Rolex 24 at Daytona that has a connection to Auto Club Speedway. Ford v Ferrari director James Mangold transformed the southern California racetrack into the Daytona road course of the 1960s by creating a historically accurate, digital replica of Daytona and filling it with cheering fans. Artists removed backgrounds from production footage shot at Auto Club Speedway and replaced them with digital replicas of Daytona’s grandstand and its environment, populating the stands with tens of thousands of digital spectators while applying other enhancements to help replicate the look and intensity of the actual race. Actor Matt Damon played Shelby, while Christian Bale played the role of Ken Miles, who drove the Ford GT40 to victory at Daytona. The number of that race-winning car? No. 98, of course.

CHASE BRISCOE, Driver of the No. 98 Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang:

You earned your first win of the season in the second race of the year last Sunday at Las Vegas. How important was that victory for you and the No. 98 Production Alliance Group team?

“It was definitely a team win. Our Ford Mustang was really good out front, but we struggled in dirty air, so the last pit stop was crucial to get back out front. It’s nice to be able to get to victory lane this early in the season – for us and all of the partners we’ve got on board this year. I feel like this is something we can do all year long, and I’m thankful to be the one with the opportunity to drive the No. 98 and work with Richard Boswell (crew chief) and this team. It’s even more fun to be able to start off the West Coast swing with a win to where we can go out to Fontana with Production Alliance Group and just have fun.”

Drivers talk about Fontana being a fun racetrack. What makes it fun?

“It’s one of those tracks that is really fun to go to as a driver. Last year was the first time I ever got to go there, and it was a track I had circled on the schedule for a long time. It’s so slick and worn out. It’s not the same shape or even the size of Homestead, but it races a lot like Homestead where you kind of start off of the wall and, as the run progresses, you get up to the wall. Now that I’ve gotten a lot more experience in the Xfinity Series, I’m looking forward to going back and having a shot at a good run with our Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang, especially with it being such a big weekend for their group. Last year, we were in the top-five and had good speed at the end of the race but, honestly, it took me the whole race to figure out how to run the track, so I’m looking forward to going back there this year with a baseline of where to start.”

You mentioned how the track surface at Fontana is old and worn out – in fact, it’s the oldest surface on the Xfinity Series circuit, dating back to 1996. Seams separate the four main lanes of the track. When you cross over those seams, do they upset the car’s handling?

“I feel like any race we go to the seams really affect us, but it seems like Fontana is the worst. You throw that into how rough that place is and how worn out it is, and it really makes it challenging. But I feel like this is the kind of track that plays into a dirt guy’s background – and I love racing dirt – because it changes so much throughout the race. You have to save your tires because it’s slick and worn out and you want to be there with a shot at the end. For a two-mile racetrack, it requires the most throttle control we have to use out of anywhere we go. Hopefully, we go out there and it’s 100 degrees and really slick.”

COLE CUSTER – 2020 Fontana Race Advance

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series ventures to California this weekend for Sunday’s 400-mile race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Cole Custer will pilot the No. 41 Haas Automation/Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) at the 2-mile oval.

Auto Club Speedway is the second of three races in the 2020 West Coast Swing. Last weekend, Custer raced at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he started 17th after Saturday qualifying was cancelled due to weather and the starting grid was set by owners points, per the NASCAR rule book. The 22-year-old went two laps down at one point in the 267-lap event at the 1.5-mile track, but he was able to return to the lead lap and ultimately finished 19th in the Production Alliance Group/Haas Automation Mustang. The result bettered Custer’s previous Las Vegas Cup Series finish of 25th.

Custer, who is from Ladera Ranch, California, which is located approximately 50 miles south of Fontana, will be making his first Cup Series start at his home track. Two hours west of Fontana, at I-10 Speedway in Blythe, California, Custer won three Late Model stock car events at age 14 in 2012 to become the track’s youngest Late Model winner.

Riding along on the No. 41 Ford Mustang this weekend are two California companies – Haas Automation based in Oxnard, and Production Alliance Group, based in Tustin.

Haas Automation, founded in 1983 by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1 million-square-foot Oxnard manufacturing facility and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.

Production Alliance Group (PAG) will share the No. 41 livery with Haas Automation for the second weekend in a row. PAG is a premium live-event and creative development company. The company’s creative works can been seen at concerts, award shows, sporting events, or corporate events. From the lights to the sound and everything in-between, PAG is the creativity and execution behind it all.

What makes the PAG relationship unique with the No. 41 team is that its President and CEO Dale Sahlin met Custer in victory lane at Auto Club Speedway after Custer won the Production Alliance Group 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race there last March. Sahlin and Custer formed a relationship, which led to PAG increasing its presence within NASCAR to SHR’s Xfinity Series program last season and now to the Cup Series.

Custer has three Fontana appearances in the Xfinity Series, all of which he started within the top-four. He started third in last year’s race and led 29 laps on his way to his first victory at his home track. He took the checkered flag 1.927 seconds ahead of second-place finisher, Kyle Busch.

Even though Custer had a trio of starts in the Cup Series in 2018, 2020 officially marks his Rookie of the Year campaign in NASCAR’s most prestigious series. He’s competing with notables Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick, and the three have battled against each other in the Xfinity Series and are making the full-time transition to the Cup Series together. Custer was the second-highest-finishing rookie at Las Vegas last weekend with his 19th-place finish.

In addition to last year’s win with Custer at Fontana, No. 41 team crew chief Mike Shiplett also won the 2017 Xfinity Series race with driver Kyle Larson. The veteran crew chief led Custer to a career-high seven wins in 2019 Xfinity Series competition – second-most in the series. In total, the crew chief from Amherst, Ohio added six poles with Custer, 17 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s, and 922 laps led in 2019.

 

COLE CUSTER, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Production Alliance Group Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

What do you like about racing at your home track, Auto Club Speedway?

“We won in the Xfinity car there last year, so that was pretty cool. It’s a great track because you’re moving around so much, slipping and sliding.”

What is your most embarrassing moment in a car, be it a racecar or a regular street car?

“I do not have the best track record on the actual road – I’ve been in a couple of car accidents. I hit somebody in a parking lot once at school, and it was bad because everybody saw it. The lady was yelling at me and I think that is probably the one that sticks out the most.”

How are you going to shine among the strong rookie class this year?

“For me, it’s just focusing on myself and whatever problems I encounter, and learning the most that I can. I know I’m not going to do everything perfectly. I’m just going to take it one step at a time.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2020 Fontana Race Advance

Clint Bowyer has some interesting advice for rookie teammate Cole Custer, who makes his NASCAR Cup Series debut at his home track of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California this weekend.

The 22-year-old native of Ladera Ranch, California is Bowyer’s newest teammate at SHR joining the driver lineup that includes veterans Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola. Bowyer’s rookie year in the Cup series came in 2006 season, when he drove the No. 07 car at Richard Childress Racing

“I don’t remember any of it,” joked Bowyer. “I was sponsored by Jack Daniels and that was kind of a fog area in my life, as a matter of fact. So, first thing I would tell him is stay off of the bottle.”

Bowyer actually does remember that season.

“He’ll have this, the shock of looking over, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Jeff Gordon, that’s Tony Stewart,’ and then all of a sudden I remember I’m fixing to pass Tony Stewart. ‘What is going on here?’ And, you know, and then all of a sudden I’m racing Tony Stewart!

“That is a critical moment in which you need to realize you’re a rookie, realize the situation you’re in and get the hell out of Dodge or they’re going to just teach you a lesson. That will happen in his rookie season. Be ready for it. You know one or two things are going to happen. You’re going to learn from it or you’re going to bull up and you’re going to make it hard on yourself. I did both. There’s no question I did both.”

Bowyer said Custer will go through all the trials every other driver goes through to establish himself in the Cup Series, but the key for Custer and any of the notable full-time Cup Series rookies in 2020 is to remain confident.

“You can’t lose your confidence because that’s exactly what’s going to happen,” Bowyer said. “Racing is all – competition is all about confidence, and the first thing that they’re going to try to take from you is your confidence. You have to stay confident, you have to stay focused on the prize and you have to set realistic goals.

“Cole has come out of the Xfinity Series. He won a ton of races last year. That’s exactly what his lifestyle and his brain is trained to think is going to happen. Might happen. But you’ve got to be ready to set realistic goals and not think you’re just going to go out there and dominate every lap and every race. When that happens, when you think that is going to happen, the next thing you know you’re 10 feet over your head and you wreck, and then you take it all away. Now you’ve knocked that confidence down a notch and another notch and another notch. Now you’re trying even harder than you ever were before. Now it’s another notch. Now you’ve rock bottomed and you’re lost.”

Bowyer doesn’t have to worry about confidence going to Auto Club Speedway. He finished sixth at the season-opening Daytona 500 and 12th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend. His SHR No. 14 Ford is 13th in points coming in to Sunday’s race at the ultra-fast, 2-mile California oval where cars are often four- and even five-wide as they battle for all-important track position once the green flag flies.

Drivers know that it’s easier to gain spots in the opening laps than later in the run, when passing is most difficult.

“The restarts at California have always been awesome,” said Bowyer, who added that drivers can choose from among five different racing lines on the D-shaped oval. “I think it’s great for the fans. As a driver, you think I should get up there and race and get as many positions as I can. But, part of you is thinking that maybe I should just be safe this early in the race, hang back a bit and make sure we survive. Problem is, if you hang back and they don’t wreck, you feel stupid.”

Bowyer’s No. 14 Mustang will carry the logos of Rush Truck Centers and Haas Automation this weekend. Rush has been the primary partner for the No. 14 team since Bowyer arrived at SHR in 2017 and has been with the organization since 2010. The Texas-based company has used Bowyer and the team to appeal to NASCAR fans as one way to recruit the technicians it needs to operate the largest network of commercial truck and bus dealerships in the country, with locations in 22 states. According to Rush Truck Centers, the trucking industry is expected to need 200,000 diesel technicians over the next 10 years to keep up with maintenance demands.

Rush Truck Centers wants to make NASCAR fans aware of these opportunities and knows that, with Bowyer’s background working in his dad’s towing service in Emporia Kansas, he understands the importance of keeping trucks up and running. That is why Rush is proud to partner with Bowyer and support the trucks that haul the racecars as well as customers across the country with its total service management package, RushCare Complete. This all-inclusive solution provides dedicated concierge service, vehicle telematics, mobile service, express routine maintenance, real-time service updates and a comprehensive source for all-makes parts.

Haas Automation, owned by SHR co-owner and California native Gene Haas, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. Founded by Haas in 1983, Haas Automation manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are built in the company’s 1.1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in nearby Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.

“I know Rush and Haas will have a lot of guests this weekend,” Bowyer said. “I’d love nothing better than to give them a good run. Heck, I’d let the Haas folks take the trophy back to Oxnard if we win it.”

 

CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

What are your thoughts on Auto Club Speedway?

“The speeds are always very fast at California and, on top of that, the grip level goes away drastically fast. For me, I love that. I love how the track slicks off and you have to focus on the balance. You can’t have that front end turning too good and have that rear end pulling out from under you, and vice versa.”

What are your thoughts about SHR co-owner and California native Gene Haas?

“Everybody knows what Tony (Stewart) brought to the table. Gene is that rock. He is the rock behind all of us. That enables us to go out and perform at our best. It’s never a question of, ‘What does it take financially?’ or anything else. It’s, ‘What does it take to win?’ What does it take to be better? What does it take to find victory lane?’ Those are the questions Gene Haas asks and that’s it. He doesn’t talk about, ‘Well, that was a good top-10 finish.’ You can be proud of a good run somewhere. Maybe that was a track you struggle at, maybe you run fifth or sixth – no call. Winning and winning only is what he does in his industry. It bleeds through to his employees and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”