Christopher Bell won the NASCAR Cup race Sunday on the road course at Daytona while the best race – and story – of the weekend came Saturday when Joe Gibbs’s grandson, Ty Gibbs, won the first Xfinity Series race he entered, which put him in some very select company indeed. But first, The Sermon.
Last winter, Kyle Larson used the N word while playing an iRacing game. He was immediately fired by Chip Ganassi Racing and suspended for the season by NASCAR. He was ordered to take sensitivity training. And that, by the way, was the proper way to handle that situation.
Over the course of the 2020 season, NASCAR showed a commitment to race relations that might not have been possible even a few years ago. It banned the Confederate flag from all properties where NASCAR races. When a noose was found hanging from the garage door of Bubba Wallace’s team at Talladega, it threw its support behind the young black driver and the scene when Wallace pushed his car to the front of the line on pit road and was followed by every other driver, car owner and pit crew member was both inspiring and unforgettable.
To show that 2020 wasn’t a fluke, or a PR exercise, the invocation and the U.S. national anthem at Sunday’s NASCAR Cup road course race were both performed by African-Americans.
Now, this January, Hailie Deegan, a rising young woman racer, used the R word while iRacing. She wasn’t fired and although NASCAR said she was suspended, it was only while she took sensitivity training, which she did in record time to open the season in the Camping World Truck Series last weekend at Daytona. NASCAR (and Ford, which sponsors her) apparently think race relations are more important than mental illness. They are wrong and Hailie Deegan should not be racing in NASCAR.
How do I know? My friend Ellie Tesher writes the “Ellie” advice column for the Star and some newspapers in the United States. Sunday, she wrote that a “mental health crisis exists as a byproduct of life during COVID-19 . . . “ She said she knows this because her mailbox is full each day with cries for help.
Bell Canada has sponsored a “Let’s Talk” about mental health day for 11 years now to encourage people to dismantle the stigma of mental illness and to raise money for mental health initiatives across Canada. Clara Hughes, the Olympic speed skater and cyclist, has been the face of the campaign for years but I didn’t see her this year and I hope she’s okay. Steve Simmons, the sports columnist for the Toronto Sun and Postmedia papers across the country, talked this year about his panic attacks while TSN’s Michael Landsberg and Sportsnet’s Ken Reid were both vocal about their battles with depression.
Mental illness is here and it’s everywhere and while NASCAR showed it sensitivity toward racial issues, it has completely dropped the ball when it comes to Hailie Deegan and her equally offensive slur. NASCAR and the Ford Motor Co. should have a rethink, fast. She’s young and can race in non-NASCAR events (as Kyle Larson did on the sprint car circuit in 2020). She will return stronger than ever because she will have been given the opportunity to learn from her mistake.
What she got in January wasn’t even a slap on the wrist. NASCAR and Ford have as much to learn as Deegan does.
NASCAR CUP AND XFINITY RACE
I’m writing these two races together for a reason. The good news: both races were won by drivers scoring their first victories (Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs) and one of those two (Gibbs) won his very first professional NASCAR race, period.
The bad news is that the big league, the Cup Series, featured horrible racing Sunday. The drivers – and this includes the so-called stars of NASCAR – couldn’t drive on the Daytona Speedway road course to save their souls. It was embarrassing.
Also, there are really no story lines in Cup these days. Chase Elliott is a young guy but he seems old. He’s been around NASCAR for eight years now (he won his very first race in the trucks at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in 2013) and has won the Xfinity and Cup season championships. Cole Custer is in Cup but hasn’t turned heads. Bell, a stupendous talent, should be in IndyCar – he grew up and matured as a race driver in karts and midgets and sprint cars – and it shows how lost that series is if the people who run it prefer to turn their backs on natural-born open-wheelers like Kyle Larson and Bell in favour of a retired NASCAR star like Jimmie Johnston and F1 refugee Romain Grosjean.
Two Xfinity Series guys who are locks to move up to Cup in the next year or two will hopefully give that lackluster series some pizzazz when they get there. Austin Cindric, son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric and a kid who’s moved steadily up the NASCAR ranks through trucks and now Xfinity (he won the Xfinity series championship last year and had a Cup start this year in the Daytona 500; he was running well late in the race when he was caught up in the Second Big One) and is a future Cup champion.
He’ll have trouble with young Gibbs, who’s got a ton of talent and a matching personality. You want humble? Joey Logano, who was sitting in as a guest colour announcer on the Xfinity telecast, called Gibbs during a caution period to ask how he was feeling. Gibbs replied that he couldn’t believe that he was talking to Joey Logano, his hero.
And then when he exited his car after winning that race Saturday night, he threw himself to his knees (see photo above). His grandfather, Joe Gibbs, made religion a central part of his life when he coached the NFL’s Washington Football Team and made it a large part of his NASCAR team. I suggest the younger Gibbs has gotten the message.
Gibbs bulldozed his way to victory in that Xfinity race. There was a late-race restart and he went from fifth to first. He just went around the outside of everybody else on his way to the front. It was reminiscent of Ayrton Senna’s first lap in the rain during the European GP at Donington Park in 1993. Senna, and Gibbs, were not to be denied. Cindric was handicapped Saturday night, having been caught up in an early race crash that left him minus a right-front fender. But I doubt he could have taken on Gibbs, even if he’d had a healthy car.
Sometimes, you just know when it’s your day.
In winning that Xfinity race, he now is in company with five other NASCAR legends who also won their first start in that series, starting with Dale Earnhardt and including Terry Labonte, Joe Ruttman, Kurt Busch and Ricky Rudd. Cindric was second Saturday night with Daniel Hemric third. Canadian Alex Labbe was 22nd out of 40 starters.
After Bell on Sunday came Logano with Denny Hamlin third.
NEWS ‘N NOTES
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali says Indianapolis is in the mix for a second Grand Prix in the United States. I’m glad to see somebody is finally coming to their senses.
I first met Bob Jenkins and Larry Nuber at the first Molson Indy Toronto in 1986. They were there covering the race for a show they co-hosted on the U.S. cable network ESPN called SpeedWeek. Larry died young. He was 51 when he suffered a stroke and passed. Bob continued on as a racing program host but is best known for his work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Indy 500. He’s fighting brain cancer and asks for race fans to pray for him. Bob? Done.
John Force received his second COVID-19 vaccination shot this past week and will have his team back in NHRA competition, starting with the Winternationals at Gainesville on March 11.
Ben Rhodes won the Camping World Truck Series race on the Daytona road course Friday night (see photo, above) and, in so doing, gave Toyota its 200th victory since it joined the truck series in 2004. Rhodes won the season opener, also at Daytona, last weekend. Jason White of Sun Peaks, B.C., was 38th out of 40 starters, still running but 10 laps behind the winner. Quebec’s Raphael Lessard was 26th and Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake was 11th.
Dale Earhardt Jr. and Justin Timberlake are just two of a blue-ribbon group of investors behind the Music City Grand Prix, an IndyCar Series race planned to run on a temporary street circuit in downtown Nashville Aug. 6-8. Get this: National Speed Sport News managed to report this news WITHOUT mentioning IndyCar or the dates of the race. Very strange.
REV TV, which you can get on all cable and satellite channels in Canada except Rogers (guess who has to get his cable and Internet from Rogers . . .) has its website up and running, owner Mike Garrow advises. Check out its Facebook page (@revtvcanada), Twitter (also @revtvcanada) and Instagram (revtvc.ca)
The OSCAAR mods and hotrods will kick off their 2021 season at Sunset Speedway near Innisfil on May 23. They will wrap things up on Oct. 11 at Peterborough Speedway. The T.Q. Can-Am Midgets, meantime, will open the season at the Hamilton-area Flamboro Speedway May 8 and end their season on Sept. 25, also at Flamboro.
Two driver announcements were made this week by teams running in the NASCAR Canada Pinty’s Series.
Ed Hakonson Racing was first with the news that Brett Taylor would drive the No. 3 car vacated by 2020 Pinty’s champion Jason Hathaway. A news release said this:
“After two years of running under the Ed Hakonson Racing banner in two different car numbers, Brett Taylor will be piloting the famous No. 3 machine in the 2021 NASCAR Pinty’s Series campaign. Taylor, from Calgary, is excited about the opportunity to be driving the No. 3. ‘EHR has proven that they are at the top in the series and I am extremely proud to be part of their program. They are a passionate group about racing and have been extremely supportive both on and off the track right from the beginning of when we started to work together.’
“Team Manager Jason Hathaway, who drove the No. 3 for the past 14 years, is looking forward to the team’s continued winning ways with Taylor. ‘Brett came to us a few years ago with desire to be competitive in the series and we put a plan in place to help him do that. His win at Jukasa Speedway in 2019 was a great indication of the work that this team has put into his program. We are excited about what the 2021 season will bring for the No. 3.’ ”
Next up was Scott Steckly’s 22 Racing team with the news that Marc-Antoine Camirand would be back in the saddle for 2021.
Said a release: “After sitting out the abbreviated six-race 2020 NASCAR Pinty’s Series season, Marc-Antoine Camirand will return to compete full-time in 2021 behind the wheel of the No. 22 Chevrolet Camaro, thanks to his continued partnership with GM Paillé.
“Camirand will run his fourth full-time NASCAR Pinty’s season, a third with the support of GM Paille. The association between Camirand and the No. 1 GM dealer in Canada started at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres in 2016 and continued for four road-course races in 2017 and full-time seasons since.
“ ‘I’m honoured that GM Paillé has included me as a member of their fantastic family.’ said the Chevy pilot from Saint-Léonard-d’Aston, Que. ‘To have the continued support of a partner as engaged and passionate as GM Paillé is not only humbling for me personally, but also a tribute to the NASCAR Pinty’s series, our sport and its fans.’ ”
Once again, Camirand’s No. 22 Chevrolet Camaro will be prepared by the 22 Racing team, owned by four-time NASCAR Pinty’s Champion Scott Steckly.
The 2021 Pinty’s season will kick off on Sunday, May 23, at Sunset Speedway near Innisfil.
Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca