New era for JGR includes Edwards, Suarez, and new sponsors

As a new era begins, an old tradition ceases.

The worst-kept secret in NASCAR was confirmed Tuesday morning at a press conference held by Joe Gibbs Racing. Carl Edwards is set to join the organization in 2015, driving the No. 19. Arris Group Inc., a communications manufacturer that’s new to the sport, will serve as primary sponsor for 17 races.

This ends the long partnership between Edwards and Roush-Fenway Racing. Though the news has been known for months, the truth is that RFR is lacking. With two of their top drivers moving to JGR (Matt Kenseth jumped aboard in 2013), the race team is light-years away from its glory days. The team has been a NASCAR staple and isn’t up to par with the changing times.

Arris will also be on a JGR car full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series; the announcement included Daniel Suarez, who will run the entire NNS schedule and some of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races. The company will also be on the hood of a NASCAR Mexico Series machine. This is the first time a sponsor has extended into four series.

Suarez will also have support from Escuderia TELMEX, a Mexican telecommunications company that takes interest in Suarez and his Hispanic background.

Though bittersweet, the announcement brings exciting news that two new sponsors are diving into the sport. NASCAR was lacking in that area, so this is a great sight for not only JGR but for the entire NASCAR community.

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One year after cancer diagnosis, Byrnes looks back on life


(Credit: Fox Sports)


It’s a word that holds a variety of meanings to people across the world. Some associate it with fear, others think of flooding medical bills. When asked what the word ‘cancer’ meant to him, Steve Byrnes’ answer was simple: “Fight.”

Last fall, the host of Race Hub was diagnosed with head and neck cancer that spread to his throat and lymph nodes. It was a day that changed his life –and how he looked at that life—forever.


How Byrnes ended up covering NASCAR was a self-described “accident.” After playing football at James Madison University, he transferred to the University of Maryland, majoring in broadcasting. Charleston, South Carolina became his home when he landed a job as a sport anchor. That’s when racing entered the picture.

“One of my friends moved to Charlotte, and he called me, saying they were looking for someone to host a NASCAR program…I got the job and started working at Sunbelt Video in 1995.”

Sunbelt Video, a small company with “not even 10 people there,” went through multiple transitions before settling into its current form as the NASCAR Media Group. Byrnes and that handful of people became the frontrunners for reporting on the series and its personalities.

“Only half the races were televised,” he pointed out. “We were sometimes the only cameras there if TV wasn’t covering the event. It made for connections with drivers. You know, this was the time before motor homes, so a lot of the times, we’d share hotels with the drivers…some of my best conversations came from sitting around the hotel pool with Neil Bonnett and his crew.”

That simpler era led to a unique friendship with one of the sport’s largest personalities, Dale Earnhardt.

Byrnes said, “My relationship with Dale Earnhardt was pretty unusual…it was a much more personal relationship. One time, Dale asked me what kind of VCR to buy…I understood his personality and his friendships. With him, he could wrap his arm around you one day, and the next he wouldn’t even look at you. I accepted him and his personality, and I think that’s what made us close.”

“The thing with Earnhardt was…his big thing with him was respect. In his mind, respect on the racetrack was earned. In life, it was the same way. [Earnhardt] had this big regret about not finishing high school. So, the way he looked at people had nothing to do with education or profession. He treated everyone the same.”

It is advice that Byrnes thinks about every day while doing his job. Being the face of Race Hub isn’t easy work. Juggling that with his new role as a NASCAR Camping World Truck commentator? It’s a trip.

“When Rick [Allen, FS1’s lead NCWTS commentator] left, it was difficult because he was so immersed in the Truck series. He’s a great guy, a good friend of mine, but it just got complicated [for him to balance responsibilities].”

Allen was doing juggling of his own; along with his Fox obligations, he began hosting NASCAR America on NBCSN. Signed on to join their NASCAR on NBC coverage in 2015, it soon turned into a hassle. Byrnes stepped in, splitting the race load with fellow FS1 broadcaster Adam Alexander.

His transition was more about the content than the dynamic. “It was a huge transition in not covering [the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series]. In 1995, I was at the first Truck race at Phoenix. I remember I really enjoyed it, and I was a Truck reporter before I moved to Fox in the late ‘90s. But [being in the booth] requires a different skill set. When you’re doing play-by-play, you see the entire track, the race as a whole. The other thing is that, on Race Hub, the time for each segment is very restrictive. During the race, things are pretty organic.”

It is a role he is thrilled to take on, even after a difficult year.


“One day, I was on Race Hub, and one day, I wasn’t.”

Cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes requires immediate attention, and that’s what happened; Byrnes took chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. It resulted in his wife, Karen, becoming his caretaker.

Despite the rigorous treatments, his faith never wavered.

“I wasn’t going to let cancer take away my happiness. I went to every one of [his son] Bryson’s football games. It didn’t matter how sick I was, I wanted to be there. There were times me and my wife would just sit on the couch and watch funny movies all day. [Cancer] puts perspective on what is and isn’t important.”

Everything in his career –pit reporting, hosting, things that took over his thoughts constantly—paled in comparison to his family. Out of the bad came something good, and he wants to share that good with other survivors. “I want people to know your biggest resource is people who have fought the same battle. It’s not a death sentence.”

“You have to be grateful for every single day. I felt that way during treatment, and I still feel that way now. It’s about having a grateful heart.”

Steve Byrnes fought hard and came out victorious, returning to TV and taking on an extra broadcasting position. Though it may be overwhelming at times, there’s no doubt that he’s thankful he has the opportunity to take that on.

Cancer. It changed him for the better.

Stewart under investigation after fatal Sprint Car incident, will not race at Watkins Glen

(Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

(Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

Tony Stewart is currently under investigation by police regarding a fatal incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York.

Late Saturday night, Stewart was racing in a dirt track event and battling with driver Kevin Ward Jr. Ward went into the wall and crashed, bringing out a caution flag. As the remaining cars paraded around, Ward exited his car and advanced down the track to express his displeasure.

Stewart drove past the driver, and Ward was pulled underneath the Sprint Car, dragged, and then released. Track safety crews rushed onto the scene, and the event was quickly cancelled. Fans were ushered out of the track as Stewart, who had stopped on-track after the incident, went back to his rig and loaded up his machine. Police soon arrived.

The incident occurred around 10:30 p.m., and the Ontario County Sherriff didn’t make a statement until 3:00 a.m., informing the media that Ward had succumbed to his injuries. He was 20 years-old.  The announcement came half an hour after fan video surfaced.

Sunday morning drew a reaction out of Stewart-Haas Racing as vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli told the media Stewart would not race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Watkins Glen International.

“I support Tony Stewart. I think I’ve shown that over the past 14 years,” he said.

NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith is slated to drive the No. 14 instead.

Stewart’s presence at dirt tracks has been questioned since his wreck at Southern Iowa Speedway one year ago. After breaking his leg in a horrific accident, the three-time Sprint Cup champion returned to Sprint Car racing last month. It is unknown when he’ll return to NASCAR competition.

No criminal charges are pending at this time due to it being an active investigation.

Nationwide victory gives Ambrose needed momentum for Chase

Road course racing is a thrill ride. The NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen International lived up to the hype.

Brad Keselowski won the race one year ago, and he sat on the pole for the Zippo 200. He led multiple times throughout the race, but greed got the best of him. During a heated battle with Kyle Busch, the No. 22 slid through the grass. He didn’t lose much physical ground, but a mental setback was now in play. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion finished fourth.

Though Keselowski’s car was exceptionally good, everyone recognized Marcos Ambrose as the frontrunner. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver entered the event with two things on his mind: gaining momentum for the Cup event and winning. The extra track time would aid his quest for a spot in The Chase for the Sprint Cup. Oh, and a win is a good cherry on top.

After various scuffles with both Busch and Joey Logano, Ambrose led the field to the checkered flag. The win is his fifth NNS road course victory, making him the new record holder. It’s also his fourth-straight NNS win. As the celebration went on, the question rose: can he win on Sunday? It’s obvious he has the skills to get it done, but the competition level in the top tier is vastly greater. He’ll have to pull off a flawless run to claim a coveted spot.

On the top of Nationwide regulars, Trevor Bayne definitely tops the headlines, and not for a good reason. The No. 6 was involved in many incidents today, conjuring negative responses from fellow drivers and fans. He didn’t understand what he was going wrong. Although it was hard to watch, his road course tactics earned him a thirteenth-place finish.

It was a gorgeous day for a race at Watkins Glen, and the road course format is even more glorious. Will we see more thrills and spills Sunday afternoon?


Point Standings after the Zippo 200

1. Chase Elliott (–)
2. Regan Smith (-12)
3. Elliott Sadler (-13)
3. Ty Dillon (-13)
5. Brian Scott (-45)
6. Trevor Bayne (-48)
7. Brendan Gaughan (-151)
7. Chris Buescher (-151)
9. Ryan Reed (-182)
10. James Buescher (-185)

Earnhardt Jr.’s Pocono win paints a championship picture

(Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

(Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Someone better get a broom. And the championship trophy.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited victory lane again at Pocono Raceway, winning both events at the track this year. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led the final fourteen laps on his way to his third checkered flag of 2014. Crew chief Steve Letarte’s slight fuel strategy gamble ended up earning the No. 88 team the jackpot.

The win comes after a vital announcement; team owner Rick Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. made known that Greg Ives will crew chief in 2015. Letarte will aid NBC in the booth when their NASCAR coverage kicks up. The Farewell Tour was already in full-swing, and now it has full intentions to go out with a bang.

If the team keeps it up, it’s Earnhardt Jr.’s year. Why? Because it’s finally different. His personal life, the team dynamic, the HMS power have all changed for the better. Letarte leaving only adds fuel to the fire.

There’s no stopping Earnhardt Jr.; he’s racing toward his first championship.

The race in general was a thrill ride, kicking Pocono’s dull stereotype to the curb. It all peaked when a thirteen-car wreck occurred, taking out Chase hopefuls Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, along with Brian Vickers, Aric Almirola, and many other notables. The backwards day continued with reigning champ Jimmie Johnson hitting the wall twice and ending his day in the garage.

Many contenders tried to win. Jeff Gordon was running high off his Brickyard victory. Joey Logano, stout as well. Heck, even Kevin Harvick came back with a vengeance from multiple issues.

Nobody could run down the No. 88. They should get use to that once the playoffs come around.

Point Standings after the 400 (asterisk indicates number of wins)

1. Jeff Gordon (–)**
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-17)***
3. Brad Keselowski (-70)***
4. Matt Kenseth (-89)
5. Ryan Newman (-115)
6. Jimmie Johnson (-124)***
6. Joey Logano (-124)**
8. Carl Edwards (-139)**
9. Clint Bowyer (-140)
10. Kyle Busch (-146)*
12. Kyle Larson (-162)
13. Greg Biffle (-167)
14. Kasey Kahne (-168)
15. Austin Dillon (-169)
16. Paul Menard (-195)

Ives to move into Cup slot, while Wheeler fills in for Grubb

Wednesday is a crazy day to be a crew chief.

An afternoon press conference with Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and former Jimmie Johnson engineer Greg Ives revealed the crew chief plans for 2015; Ives will replace Steve Letarte on the pit box as the later goes into a broadcasting role at NBC. Ives, who currently crew chiefs for JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, was the lead engineer on the No. 48 car for five of its six championship seasons. This now leaves a spot on the JRM side to be filled.

This move shows that HMS isn’t messing around; Ives was the right-hand man to Chad Knaus and is an intelligent force. With him making the calls, the No. 88 team will be set to upstage the fantastic run they’re having in 2014.

Just after this reveal, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that engineer Mike Wheeler will fill-in for Darian Grubb for the next six weeks. This comes a day after NASCAR announced harsh penalties to Grubb and the No. 11 team following the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Post-race inspection found that the team had messed with block-off plates that are used in rear firewalls.

The violation fell within the definition of a P5-level penalty, which is defined in the rule book as: “Approved parts that fail or are improperly installed to fail in their intended use of great importance (e.g.; rear wheel well panels that fail and allow air evacuation in the trunk area; oil box cover that fails and allows air evacuation in the driver compartment; shifter boot cover that fails and allows air evacuation through the floor pan).

Not only is Grubb suspended for six races, he has been fined $125,000 and is on probation for the next six months. A loss of 75 driver and owner points was also involved.

The turn of events gives Wheeler a great opportunity, and it will be interesting to see what results follow.

For both situations, it seems like a lot of spotlight goes along with the role of being a crew chief. Happy Wednesday.

Fifth Brickyard 400 victory shows Gordon isn’t winding down

(Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Coming into Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon was reminded of his age. Twenty years since his win in the inaugural Brickyard 400. Two decades. If that doesn’t make more gray hairs appear, nothing will.

The gray hair is the only thing people see, it seems. Murmurs of retirement have entered the air following a strong youth movement. A living legend is now a ‘has been’ to some, just finishing his time in the No. 24 before a younger driver slips in.

To anyone who thoroughly believes that: get your head checked.

At the ripe age of 43, Gordon won the 2014 Brickyard 400. It is his 90th career win and fifth Brickyard victory. It came at the expense of teammate Kasey Kahne with 17 laps to go. The restart shoved No. 24 to the outside, yet he slipped past leader Kahne and took off. Kahne would fade, succumbing to fuel mileage miscalculations on the final lap.

The eldest member at Hendrick Motorsports fought and outraced the youthful. That’s pretty good for a so-called ‘has been.’

HMS is shaping up to be prominent force in The Chase, which is only six weeks away. Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson all have multiple wins, locking them into NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Kahne is still on the outside looking in, suffering from the dreaded Fourth Car Syndrome. Because of the No. 5’s close call, many fans of the driver are upset about Gordon’s lack of team spirit, so to say. Some went as far as saying they’d rather have Kahne back at Red Bull Racing, his one-season stop before joining the Hendrick organization.

Gordon wasn’t going to give Kahne anything. He had pure desire running through his veins, the word ‘retirement’ echoing in his head. Gordon wanted it, maybe even more than Kahne.

The driver of the No. 24 car may be an old dog, but every dog has his day. The day of the 2014 Brickyard 400 was Gordon’s.

Point Standings after the Brickyard 400 (asterisk denotes number of victories)

1. Jeff Gordon (–)**
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-24)**
3. Brad Keselowski (-51)***
4. Matt Kenseth (-56)
5. Jimmie Johnson (-89)***
6. Kyle Busch (-108)*
7. Ryan Newman (-11)
8. Carl Edwards (-114)**
9. Joey Logano (-126)**
10. Clint Bowyer (-140)
11. Denny Hamlin (-145)*
12. Kevin Harvick (-152)**
13. Kyle Larson (-155)
14. Austin Dillon (-158)
15. Kasey Kahne (-162)
16. Paul Menard (-166)