Chase Elliott ends week of misery with overdue Cup victory

Chase Elliott ends week of misery with overdue Cup victory
Chase Elliott gets out of his car after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Concord, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

By JENNA FRYER
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Chase Elliott’s streak of bitter defeats in NASCAR’s frantic first push of rescheduled races finally ended with his first Cup victory of the season.

Elliott won Thursday night in the rain-delayed event at Charlotte Motor Speedway to close a brutal 12 days for NASCAR. The event, postponed Wednesday night, was the fourth Cup race since the series resumed racing May 17.

Elliott had two frustrating losses in that span, including defeat Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600 when a caution flew two laps from the finish with Elliott leading.

“Man, it’s been a tough week for sure,” Elliott said. “We’ve had some tough losses but that deal on Sunday night was a heart-breaker.”

Elliott’s frustration began last week — three Cup races ago — when he was trying to race for the lead at Darlington Raceway and was wrecked by Kyle Busch.

Chase Elliott crosses the finish line as he wins a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Concord, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Then he had the 600 checkered flag in site until a caution caused by his own teammate. Elliott pitted from the lead, took four tires and couldn’t get back to the front in the two-lap overtime sprint.

There was little suspense in this one. Elliott reeled in Kevin Harvick with 27 laps remaining and closed out the victory. Elliott also won the Truck Series race Tuesday night at Charlotte to give him a pair of victories in a four-race stretch at the track a few minutes away from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters.

“It’s not the Coke 600, but any win in the Cup series is really hard to get,” Elliott said. “I just really appreciate everybody at Hendrick Motorsports across the street here. Everybody’s been working really hard.”

Elliott was charging hard on Harvick with about 35 laps remaining when he asked if he had enough fuel to make it to the finish. Crew chief Alan Gustafson replied, “Yup. Go hard.”

Elliott did just that. But after passing Harvick, with nothing but clear track in front of him, Elliott couldn’t help but feel haunted by Sunday night.

“I was just waiting for the caution to come out,” he said. “If the caution didn’t come out, I was thinking I was probably going to break something or I was going to crash. After the last last couple weeks, surely it was going to go green until the end.

“Hopefully we’re back on the right path.”

Denny Hamlin finished second in a Toyota with three crew members sitting at home under suspension for an infraction Sunday night. His crew chief, car chief and engineer earned automatic four-race suspensions when a piece of tungsten fell off Hamlin’s car on a pace lap.

Because NASCAR is holding all its events as one day shows without qualifying or practice, Hamlin said his Joe Gibbs Racing team was able to push through the upheaval.

“The one day format makes it easier for us,” Hamlin said. “If we had qualifying it would definitely hurt. But under these circumstances that we are in it doesn’t hurt that bad.”

Ryan Blaney was third in a Ford for Team Penske, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for JTG-Daughtery Racing, a tremendous boost after a bad resumption of the season. Stenhouse wrecked on the first lap of the first race and finished last, then was 25th and 24th before Thursday.

Blaney, who is one of Elliott’s closest friends, has been hosting NASCAR’s most popular driver as the sport has raced four times in five nights at Charlotte. He said Elliott was able to refocus on the Truck Series race after losing the 600, then after beating Busch to earn a $100,000 bounty, Elliott shifted his attention to the Cup race.

“We talked about the race and that is just bad luck. He has had a lot of back luck,” Blaney said. “With the 600, that stunk for him. We talked aobut it that night but he was ready for the Trucks race. We did talk and there was a couple hours of it. But he moved on and showed he could win two in a row.”

Hamlin thought all the focus on Elliott’s losses was overblown.

“Sometimes cautions are not going to fall your way,” Hamlin said. “I think everyone feels bad because it is Chase and everyone loves him.”

Asked if he felt sorry for Elliott, Hamlin answered with a definitive “No.”

Elliott’s victory was the first for a Chevrolet driver in NASCAR’s return to Cup racing. Harvick won the first race back in a Ford, Hamlin won the second race in a Toyota and Brad Keselowski won the 600 in a Ford.

But Elliott and his Hendrick teammates have been very strong since the series came back from a 10-week shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic. Elliott, Alex Bowman, William Byron and seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson have all led laps — a huge boost for a team that has been rebuilding for much of the last three seasons.

The rescheduled Thursday event was disrupted by lightning and rain for nearly 75 minutes after 30 laps had been completed.

NASCAR next goes to Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee on Sunday for a fifth Cup race in 15 days as the series attempts to reschedule eight events in a frantic stretch of racing through Southern states.

Georgia’s Smart: Players will be safer working out on campus

Georgia’s Smart: Players will be safer working out on campus
FILE – In this March 19, 2019, file photo, Georgia coach Kirby Smart speaks with the media on the first day of spring NCAA college football practice, in Athens, Ga. As he prepares to welcome his players back to campus, Georgia coach Kirby Smart says they’ll be safer working out in supervised conditions but are free to stay away if they don’t feel comfortable. He also urged fans to take necessary precautions against the coronavirus if they “want to have a football season.” (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP, File)

By PAUL NEWBERRY

ATLANTA (AP) — As he prepares to welcome his players back to campus, Georgia coach Kirby Smart insisted Thursday that they’ll be safer working out under the school’s supervision than on their own.

Smart also called on fans to comply with guidelines for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, warning that a spike in cases could ruin any hopes of playing football in the fall.

“The longer this thing has gone on, the more people begin to relax and say, ‘Well, this won’t affect me,’” Smart said from Athens during a video call with reporters. “The last thing we need right now, if people want to have a football season or any athletic season, is to have another flare-up.”

The Southeastern Conference voted last week to reopen athletic facilities for voluntary workouts beginning June 8, lifting a ban that had been in effect since the sports world shut down in March.

Smart said no one will be forced to return to campus if they don’t feel safe.

“There’s obviously some apprehension and questions, but they have those same questions whether they are in Huntsville or in Macon or in Columbus,” he said. “I know that our facility is one of the safest, and we certainly have the ability to care for that facility better than a lot of places they can go back home.”

Smart pointed to a rigid protocol set up the Georgia’s longtime director of sports medicine, Ron Courson, one of the nation’s most respected athletic trainers. The Bulldogs will work in small groups, giving them plenty of room to spread out in the school’s spacious weight room.

A cleaning crew will go through the facility after each session. The locker rooms will not be used.

“They’ll work out in smaller groups than traditionally before, probably 20 or so guys to a group, and of the 20 that come in, they’ll be subdivided into groups of seven,” Smart said. “So you’re looking at a seven-person rotation in a 1,200-square-foot weight room and they’ll be spaced out.”

Also, Georgia is planning to test and give a full medical screening to every player.

“It’s not going to be the normal,” Smart said. “It’s going to be completely different.”

While the workouts are supposedly on a voluntary basis, many have scoffed at the notion that a player competing for a starting job would not return to campus because of health or safety concerns.

“There is no pressure,” Smart said. “But if you ask these players, every one of them, to a man, is going to tell you they’ve been working out at home. I would argue that the home environment — whether that’s a local gym or the local high school or their backyard, anywhere they’re working out — is not more safe than one that is professionally cleaned and monitored and taken care of by our staff.

“As a parent, I would certainly feel much better about my son or daughter going to work in that environment than where they’re working out currently.”

If a player does test positive, he will have the choice of returning home or being quarantined on campus. Contact tracing will allow the school to determine if anyone else has been infected, Smart said.

“We are not looking really far out of what is going to happen in the season,” the coach added. “We are looking at June and the immediate issues there.”

Smart declined to say whether he thinks the season actually will be played, or how it might look. NASCAR has resumed racing without fans in the stands, a model that nearly every other sport seems resigned to follow.

“We’ve got three months,” Smart said. “I’m very optimistic we’ll have fans in the stands, but to what extent, I have no clue and I don’t really want to speculate.”

Georgia will ensure that players are aware of safety guidelines such as masks and social distancing, which help to limit the coronavirus from spreading.

“We’re going to educate our players, because I promise you, there are some of our players that don’t feel vulnerable,” Smart said. “They feel like they’re not vulnerable because of what they’ve heard, or because they think they have superpowers.

“We’re going to have education sessions, even when they get back, to give us the best opportunity to have a season.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com

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BULLDOGS QB COMPETITION HEATS UP

BULLDOGS QB COMPETITION HEATS UP
Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

BUCK BELUE
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – A couple of weeks ago, I was forecasting where USC transfer quarterback JT Daniels could end up in the Deep South. Georgia was not on my list, but it was for JT! Wow! What a surprise.

Suddenly, Coach Kirby Smart has a talented, deep and very crowded QB room.

Daniels arrives in Athens still hoping to get a transfer waiver and immediate eligibility. JT has 3 years of eligibility at UGA.

FILE – Georgia head coach Kirby Smart walks the turf after an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State. Georgia won 31-3. (FILE AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Coach Smart will not hesitate to create big-time competition at the quarterback spot. A lot of coaches aren’t comfortable playing it that way. They are scared of it dividing the team. Not Kirby. His message: Come compete. We will go with the best QB. Period.

I’m educated guessing that Jamie Newman is the guy this season. Plug and play the experienced graduate.

But next spring, the competition heats up, with JT Daniels, Carson Beck, D’Wan Mathis and maybe Brock Vandagriff battling it out for the job. The winner of that intense competition could have a multi-year run as the Georgia quarterback. The losers probably look to transfer.

This is going to be a huge story line to follow.

The JT Daniels story line is interesting. He played at one of California’s legendary high school football programs (Mater Dei) and took the job as a freshman. And he ended up graduating early (skipped his senior year) to sign with USC. In that 2018 recruiting class he was the #2 rated pro-style QB, behind Trevor Lawrence. At USC, JT wins the starting job as a freshman and starts 11 games.

My video analysis: JT can spin it! Not prototypical size (6’2” 200), but he can make all the throws. Pocket presence was above average. Not a runner, but moves around well. Really seems to be advanced, as far as the Football IQ. Good understanding of passing concepts & coverage. Good with pre-snap reads and makes quick post-snap decisions. Put him in the “Pure Passer” category.

Dudes like this are not concerned with competition or depth charts. He believes he is the best quarterback and he will be out to show it. Game on, Carson Beck. Wonder what Brock Vandagriff is thinking right now? Things have gotten really interesting at the UGA QB position.

More about the Georgia Bulldogs on “The Buck & Kincade Show,” weekdays from Noon-3, on 680 The Fan.

UGA Gets QB Help: USC transfer JT Daniels Athens bound

UGA Gets QB Help: USC transfer JT Daniels Athens bound
PHOTO: Kyusung Gong – Associated Press

DAN MATHEWS
680 THE FAN – Kirby Smart’s Thursday got a lot better, when he received news that USC transfer JT Daniels would be heading to his program.

Check out the Twitter Announcement from JT Daniels here: https://twitter.com/jtdaniels06/status/1266098115578220544?s=20

Daniels comes to Athens, after starting all 11 games of his freshman season in 2018. He threw for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during that freshman campaign. Daniels would only play one game in 2019, before being sidelined the rest of the season with a knee injury. Daniels was eventually replaced by Trojans standout Kedon Slovis.

It is unknown at this time, if Daniels will be eligible to play in 2020. The Bulldogs do already have Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman coming to campus this season. Experts believe that Newman is likely going to be the starter for UGA this season.

Former NFL quarterback Brock Huard is a current college football analyst for Fox Sports and has been able to see a good amount of Daniels’ games on the west coast. He tells me that he’s looking forward to seeing what the former Trojan signal-caller looks like in red and black.

“JT reminds me an awful lot of Jay Cutler,” Huard said. “Plenty of arm talent to go around and a personality that will keep people talking.  Kirby’s culture and system will demand the most from JT and it will be sink or swim with Monken as well. This should be a phenomenal story to watch unfold.”

All of the sudden, Smart looks to have a quarterback room that is all of the sudden crowded. Last season, the Dawgs had to scramble to find QB’s to back up Jake Fromm. They had to bring back former walk-on Stetson Bennett from the junior college level and signed dual-threat four-star D’Wan Mathis in their class of 2019. Mathis missed all of last season, after having a brain cyst removed.

Newman and Daniels are also joined in the quarterback shuffle by 2020 four-star QB signee Carson Beck. As of right now, Georgia has 247Sports.com‘s second ranked dual-threat quarterback for 2021, Brock Vandgriff committed.

From my opinion, Daniels will have every opportunity to earn the starting job in 2021. I do not believe that the NCAA will grant him immediate eligibility. So, that would likely mean that he’ll enter next season as a redshirt junior.

Like Jake Bentley did when he went to South Carolina, Daniels re-classified and entered Southern Cal’s program a year early in 2018. He was the nation’s second ranked pro-style quarterback for that recruiting cycle, behind eventual Clemson signee Trevor Lawrence.

This is a huge pickup for the Bulldogs. It also shows me that Kirby Smart is not going caught off guard at the quarterback position, like he was in 2019. He likely anticipates that someone or multiple QB’s will eventually look for opportunities elsewhere.

 

Oxendine Law – High Profile Celebrity Divorces

Oxendine Law – High Profile Celebrity Divorces

With the end of “The Last Dance,” we find tons of information about Michael Jordan’s career, but little about his divorce with his wife Juanita. Jarrod Oxendine joins Cellini & Dimino to talk about what’s involved with high profile divorces like this and others.

High Profile Divorces

With the end of “The Last Dance,” we find tons of information about Michael Jordan’s career, but little about his divorce with his wife Juanita. Jarrod Oxendine joins Cellini & Dimino to talk about what’s involved with high profile divorces like this and others.

 

HBCUs work to return to sports amid new coronavirus

HBCUs work to return to sports amid new coronavirus
FILE – In this Sept. 26, 2015, file photo, Southern drum major Keith Morgan, of New Orleans, performs with the band during a halftime show an NCAA college football game against Georgia in Athens, Ga. HBCUs across the country earn some money from television contracts. But the primary source of revenue from football comes from putting fans in the stands. Programs could take a huge financial hit if fans are banned from football games this fall. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

By KRISTIE RIEKEN

In the 100 years since the Southwestern Athletic Conference was formed, the conference home for some of the nation’s most storied historically black colleges and universities has always found a way to do more with less.

So far, schools in the SWAC have avoided the salary cuts, furloughs and elimination of sports that institutions elsewhere have resorted to as the coronavirus shut down sports.

As the days tick by with no clear answer for what a football season might look like this year, SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland is certain of one thing.

“If we don’t have fans in the stands, from a revenue perspective it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to have a football season,” he said.

Teams in the SWAC as well as many other HBCUs across the country play in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Schools at this level earn some money from television contracts, but nothing like the multimillion-dollar deals for the Power Five.

In the SWAC, the main source of revenue from football comes from putting fans in the stands and there are no substitutes for that at schools that often have limited resources. The conference has led the FCS in average home attendance in 42 of the past 43 years at events where fans are entertained not only by the game, but the showmanship of their marching bands.

This fall, packing fans into stadiums at the 10 SWAC schools in five states from Texas to Alabama just might not be an option even if campuses are open.

McClelland said no decision has been made on the possibility of playing without fans.

“But I can tell you (in) the Southwestern Athletic Conference playing without fans would be a huge detriment to our overall business model, something we’d have to look at very significantly,” he said. “Because if we don’t have fans in the stands, it’s going to be difficult for us to pay the bills to put on our program.”

There are 107 HBCUs scattered across the country, and 21 of them play Division I sports, fielding teams in as few as 14 to as many as 18 sports each. Almost 6,000 students participate in sports at those institutions and thousands more play at the smaller HBCUs around the nation.

Prairie View A&M, which is located about 50 miles from Houston, led all HBCUs in sports revenue in 2018 by generating $18.6 million, according to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. But that revenue ranks 149th among all college sports teams.

To put it in perspective, the 21 Division I HBCUs generated about $214 million in revenue in 2018, while the University of Texas out-earned those schools alone, leading the nation in sports revenue with more than $219 million that year.

In the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, another conference with HBCUs that include Howard and Florida A&M, Commissioner Dennis Thomas oversees a committee looking at how sports can return at its schools.

“The intercollegiate world does not know what the forecast is going to be in September,” Thomas said. “We all are looking at different scenarios, different models. We all are trying to do our best to formulate financial policies, student-athlete policies just in case that we have a situation in the fall where it might be a reduced fall schedule.”

FILE – In this Dec. 21, 2019, file photo, North Carolina A&T coach Sam Washington is doused by defensive back Jalon Bethea during the final seconds of the Celebration Bowl NCAA college football game against Alcorn State, in Atlanta. Teams in the SWAC as well as many other HBCUs across the country play in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Schools at this level earn some money from television contracts, but nothing like the multimillion-dollar deals for the Power Five. In the SWAC, the main source of revenue from football comes from putting fans in the stands and there are no substitutes for that at schools that often have limited resources. (John Amis/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

Another concern for the FCS conferences: If football returns but non-conference games are canceled, smaller schools could lose a fortune. Many of these schools earn significant amount of money to line up against Bowl Subdivision schools early in the season.

The SWAC has several such games on the schedule this year. Alcorn State, winner of the last two SWAC championships, is scheduled to open the season at Auburn on Sept. 5 with a team led by coach Fred McNair, brother of late Titans star Steve McNair, who also starred for the Braves.

Prairie View is set to visit TCU on Sept. 12 and Louisiana Tech on Sept. 19. Interim athletic director Alicia Pete said if the Panthers can’t play those two games, the department would be forced to slash the budget. She’s already spoken with the school’s volleyball and soccer coaches to warn that they might have to cut their schedules to conference games only.

She also asked coaches of all 16 sports to submit plans with 20% budget cuts, just in case.

“If we’re not able to have our game guarantees that’s really going to impact our budget,” Pete said.

In the MEAC, some of the game-guarantee contests come on Sept. 12 when Bethune-Cookman has a trip to South Florida and Howard is set to visit Arkansas State. Thomas said his conference can’t worry about the cancellation of those games yet.

“It’s premature at this time simply because I think around the end of May or first of June we will get some lucidity in terms of what the fall will look like,” he said. “But if you were to extrapolate the impact of those guaranteed games for FCS, it would have a significant financial impact.”

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association is home to 12 HBCUs in five states that play Division II sports. Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said the schools in her conference haven’t had to make any cuts yet, but noted the financial challenges of fielding the required 10 sports.

The pandemic also caused the CIAA to rethink its business model of distributing any extra funds it has at the end of the year to its schools to provide scholarships. The league routinely funnels about $1 million each year to schools for that purpose.

“We don’t keep a fund balance because that money goes back,” said McWilliams, who has been CIAA commissioner since 2012. “So, I think there’s a lot of conversations we’ll have with our board about whether we should be reserving some of those dollars a lot better.”

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Woods, Manning win a TV charity match as good as real thing

Woods, Manning win a TV charity match as good as real thing
FILE – In this April 3, 2018, file photo, Tiger Woods, left, and Phil Mickelson share a laugh on the 11th tee box while playing a practice round for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. The match involved Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and more importantly, a $10 million donation for COVID-19 relief efforts, along with plenty of bragging rights in a star-powered foursome May 24 at Medalist Golf Club. Woods and Peyton Manning ultimately beat Mickelson and Tom Brady. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

By DOUG FERGUSON

Tom Brady delivered the shot of the match that made it easy to forget the rest of his swings. Tiger Woods didn’t miss a fairway and earned a small measure of revenge against Phil Mickelson.

The PGA Tour is set to return in just over two weeks, and it has a tough act to follow.

In the second and final charity match that brought live golf to TV, this exhibition was as entertaining as the real thing.

Woods lagged a long birdie putt close enough that his partner, Peyton Manning, didn’t have to putt. That secured a 1-up victory over Mickelson and Brady in “The Match: Champions for Charity.”

The goal was to raise $10 million or more for COVID-19 relief funds, and online donations sent money climbing toward about twice that much.

This made-for-TV exhibition would have been worth pay-per-view, the model Woods and Mickelson used for a $9 million winner-take-all match in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend in 2018 that Mickelson won in a playoff under lights. It felt forced, lacked banter and turned out to free because of technical issues.

Throw in two NFL greats in Brady and Manning, and this allowed viewers to ride along for 18 holes at Medalist Golf Club among four of the biggest stars in sports.

Justin Thomas pitched in as an on-course reporter, bringing a mixture of humor and insight with the right amount of words.

Woods and Manning took the lead on the third hole and never trailed, building a 3-up lead in fourballs on the front nine, with Manning making two birdies (one was a net par).

Brady, whose six Super Bowl titles are more than any NFL quarterback in history, took a beating on social media and in the broadcast booth from Charles Barkley, who twice offered $50,000 of his own money toward charity if Brady just hit the green on a par 3. He missed so far right it would be comparable to a pass that landed three rows into the stands.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton weighed in on Twitter, noting Brady signing as a free agent with Tampa Bay by saying he liked the “Florida” Brady much better.

Brooks Koepka offered $100,000 if Brady could just make a par.

One shot shut everyone up.

Never mind that Brady had to take a penalty drop before getting back to the fairway on the par-5 seventh. With his fourth shot, with Barkley needling him relentlessly, Brady’s shot landed beyond the pin and spun back into the cup.

“Shut your mouth, Chuck,” said Brady, whose microphone piece dangled off the back of his pants.

Woods still thought he won the hole with a 25-foot eagle putt that instead spun hard off the back of the lip. All that, and they ended up halving the hole.

Donations for COVID-19 relief funds kept piling up, and the entertainment didn’t stop even as the rain returned. It caused a 45-minute delay at the start, and as Woods said on the practice range, “I don’t normally play in conditions like this.”

Mickelson brought out his “Tiger Slayer” putter that he used to shoot 64 at Pebble Beach in 2012, the last time they were in the final group on the PGA Tour. Woods shot 75 that day. It didn’t help Lefty with a few critical birdie putts to square the match, though he rolled in a 15-foot par putt to stay 1 down with two to play.

The back nine was modified alternate shot — all players hit tee shots, and it was alternate shot from there. It was key for the quarterbacks to find the fairway for the pros to hit shots into the green, and Brady came through until the 18th.

Woods was playing for the first time since Feb. 16 when he finished last at Riviera in Los Angeles. He chose not to play the next four weeks with his back not feeling just right, and then the pandemic shut down golf and sports worldwide.

Woods looked sharp for the most part, with his game and his words. Mickelson on the fifth hole asked Woods to mark his ball from some 80 yards away.

“You want me to mark with a U.S. Open medal?” said Woods, a three-time champion of the only major Mickelson hasn’t won.

“Do you have one? I have some silver ones,” Mickelson said, referring to his record six runner-up finishes.

Mickelson boasted about taking Woods down on his home course at Medalist, and now their TV matches are tied at 1, even with each getting a little help. Mickelson says he was a little nervous on the front nine until he found his groove, driving the green on the par-4 11th with Brady making a 20-footer for eagle that began their rally.

“Phil said he was nervous. I know Tom and I were comparing notes,” Manning said. “To be behind the ropes in these guys’ worlds, to be in the arena with them, it was really a special experience. I was not comfortable the entire time. Knowing $20 million was raised and helping people going through tough times, it was an honor to be invited.

“It’s something I’ll always remember.”

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No fans, no problem: Some Coca-Cola 600 fans turn out anyway

No fans, no problem: Some Coca-Cola 600 fans turn out anyway
Kurt Busch (1) leads the pack as the green flag is waved at the start of the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday, May 24, 2020, in Concord, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

By STEVE REED
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Chris “Pops” Bowyer sat in a lawn chair wearing a plain white T-shirt and drinking a beer alongside wife Jana and their friends outside of their motorhome a few hundred yards from Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bowyer knew he wasn’t getting into the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday to see his Cup driver son Clint race, but decided to make the trek from Kansas to be close to the action.

“Well, we’re here,” said Bowyer, while dog Hank laid on the grass near his feet. “The kid is racing, so we’re here.”

Added Clint’s mother, Jana: “We don’t like it. We’d like to be in there where we could watch, but we can’t.”

Jana Bowyer certainly isn’t alone in those feelings. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, NASCAR isn’t allowing spectators into its races until further notice. The only people to see the race were those working it and those who live in the turn one condominiums at the track.

But the Bowyers came anyway, taking up temporary residence in Jerome Little’s Route 29 Pavilion RV campground and entertainment center located just across the street from the speedway. It was dual purpose trip for the Bowyers: they wanted to spend time with an old friend who is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and also wanted to be there to support their son.

Because the campground property isn’t owned by CMS, Little was allowed to host those in motorhomes while still encouraging social distancing.

In a normal year he hosts approximately 175 motorhomes and two acres of cars on his property. On Sunday there were only a handful of cars in the lot, and those were owned by members of the media. But there were 33 motorhomes on his properties, with race fans traveling from as far away as New York, Texas and Maine.

“These fans are dedicated and they’ve come from all over the country,” Little said.

Like many around the country, Little has taken a financial hit due to fans being shut out of sports, but the third-generation owner of the campground said, “honestly, I feel just terrible for the race fans.”

If you didn’t know better, you’d never know one of NASCAR’s most popular races was in town.

Considered the series’ “crown jewel race,” CMS has attracted more than 100,000 fans to the event which began in 1960. But on Sunday it was eerily quiet, resembling a ghost town rather than the epicenter of the NASCAR world.

Bruton Smith Boulevard, which is normally bustling with cars on race day, was virtually empty except for an occasional passing car or truck.

Absent were the hundreds of North Carolina State Troopers who line the entrance ways to the track and the vendors selling NASCAR t-shirts, hats and flags. There were no pedestrians crossing the walkways, no bands blasting music outside the track, contributing to an eerily quiet atmosphere. All Charlotte Motor Speedway-owned campgrounds were closed and vacant.

The Coca-Cola 600 promotional signs that normally adorn from the front of restaurants during race week were non-existent. Restaurants like Hooters, Twin Peaks and Iron Thunder Saloon, which are typically packed on race day, were half empty just two days after the state entered “phase two” of its coronavirus recovery plan, allowing them to open at 50 percent capacity with plenty of restrictions.

“Usually we would be packed out with NASCAR fans,” said Mindy Segovia, the general manager of Iron Thunder Saloon, about a mile from the track. ”I figured that fans would go the racetrack and hang out outside of the track, but they are not allowing that either. So we’re losing a lot of money.”

Mike Dishong wasn’t planning on making the trip to Solomons Island, Maryland, after learning fans wouldn’t be allowed to attend the race.

But when his 7-year-old grandson Carson, who lives a few miles from the track, pleaded with his grandparents on FaceTime last week to come down to Charlotte anyway and watch the race on TV and listen to the roar of the engines from Little’s campground, he and his wife Peggy couldn’t refuse.

“That’s what racing is about — family, friends and being together,” Dishong said. “It brought us together even though we’re not going to be inside the track. We’re having fun.”

Jana Bowyer understands.

She’s sad that son Clint won’t have the support of his family inside the track.

“He hates that his family can’t come, his wife and kids,” Jana Bowyer said. “And that goes for all of the fans, too. That’s part of his racing day is meeting with the fans, shaking hands and signing autographs. So everybody is missing out on that.”

Added Chris Bowyer: “When the driver’s families can’t come, that’s tough. We’re here to support him. This is a dangerous sport, and things happen.”

Keselowski wins 600 to extend Johnson’s losing streak

Keselowski wins 600 to extend Johnson’s losing streak
Kurt Busch (1) leads the pack as the green flag is waved at the start of the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday, May 24, 2020, in Concord, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

By JENNA FRYER
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) —
Brad Keselowski, in a contract year and trying to up his value in free agency, gave Roger Penske a victory on what should have been the most celebrated day in motorsports but was instead just a 6-plus hour NASCAR show.

Keselowski extended Jimmie Johnson’s losing streak to 102 races by holding off the seven-time NASCAR champion in overtime early Monday to win the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the NASCAR schedule.

It was the first win for Keselowski this season, his first Coca-Cola 600 victory and the first win at this event for Ford since 2002. Keselowski celebrated as he usually does by waving a giant American flag out his window during his victory burnouts on the frontstretch of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Brad Keselowski holds an American flag after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway early Monday, May 25, 2020, in Concord, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

When he first got out of the car for his network interview, the silence at the track was a downer.

“I was kind of bummed. I wanted to win the 600 my whole life and wanted to win in front of everybody,” Keselowski said. “But that’s not always how it works. I know there are fans that wish they could be in the stands.”

In these unusual times of the coronavirus pandemic, NASCAR is still adapting in its return to racing a full week ago. This event was its third Cup race in seven days — all without spectators — and limited media access.

Wearing a white Team Penske face mask, Keselowski went to the empty infield media center for a post-race news conference over Zoom. Unable to hear the questions, he shouted into the computer.

“Can you talk really loud?” he yelled. “My ears are ringing.”

The Sunday before Memorial Day is a supposed to be a smorgasbord of motorsports that begins with Formula One at the Monaco Grand Prix, then IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, followed by NASCAR and its longest race on the calendar.

The coronavirus pandemic has wiped out the first part of F1′s schedule and, like IndyCar, it is still waiting to start its season. Penske, the new owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has moved the Indy 500. It marks the first time since 1946 the 500 is not being run on Memorial Day weekend.

NASCAR was able to resume its season under a health plan approved by state officials that allowed the sport to resume after a 10-week hiatus. NASCAR ran three events in South Carolina, and the Coca-Cola 600 kicks off four consecutive days of racing at Charlotte.

A rain delay of nearly 90 minutes during the first stage of the race pushed the finish into Monday, but it still ended up just fine for Penske, the owner of Keselowski’s car who should have spent Sunday celebrating his first Indy 500 as owner of the national landmark.

“This is one of the biggest days for him,” Keselowski said. “Winning never hurts. This is my 30th win and I think I have another 30 in me.”

Johnson finished second, one spot ahead of devastated Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, as Chevrolet is still seeking its first win in the three Cup races since NASCAR resumed. But almost two hours after the race, NASCAR disqualified Johnson because his Chevrolet failed post-race inspection.

“We think something must’ve broken, but won’t know until we get it back to the shop,” said Johnson crew chief Cliff Daniels. “Tough news after a strong night.”

Elliott had a comfortable lead and was coasting to the win when Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron spun with a tire problem.

“That’s got to be a joke,” Elliott said over his radio.

Elliott was wrecked by Kyle Busch trying to race for the win at Darlington Raceway on Wednesday night. It led to Elliott flipping Busch the bird at Darlington.

This time, he was briefly consoled by Busch as he climbed from his car on pit road. But he was openly disappointed for the second time in four days.

“I was a lap-and-a-half away from winning the 600,” Elliott said. “This week has been pretty unfortunate, we have had some tough losses.”

His race was snatched from Elliott by the caution for Byron and then the pit decisions that followed.

Elliott pitted and Keselowski led a train of eight cars that stayed on the track. He lined up in front of Alex Bowman on the inside line with Johnson — retiring from Cup racing at the end of the season — on the bottom ahead of Keselowski teammate Ryan Blaney.

Keselowski got the push to get into clean air and denied Johnson a victory.

“I feel like I have thrown this race away a handful of times and I thought we were going to lose it today,” Keselowski said. “I have lost it the way Chase lost it and it really stinks. And today we finally won it that way.”