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Since the moment the NASCAR Cup Series hit the track during practice for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, Alex Bowman was fast and one of the clear favorites to win. Bowman backed up those beliefs with a dominant performance on his way to his first win of the season on sunday.

A surprise started the weekend out with Clint Bowyer winning the pole, only the fourth of his career which even surprised Bowyer himself. Jimmie Johnson, the hometrack favorite driving his last race in Fontana, got a close run to Bowyer and slotted himself into starting second. Clint pulled away on the start as the whole field behind him started to spread out. Bowman was on the move and into second only five laps in until Kurt Busch went three-wide with Bowman and Johnson. The three fought hard until Johnson broke away and was able to get right on Bowyer’s bumper. Johnson wasn't able to make the pass which gave Bowman the chance to go by both of them. Ryan Blaney steadily drove into second and Bowman checked out as the field started to settle. Martin Truex Jr, who started at the rear after failing pre-qualifying inspection three times, fought all the way to eleventh and then pitted to start green-flag stops for everyone. Much like at Vegas, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stayed out the longest to try and get lucky with a caution; it didn't work and Bowman took the lead again as Stenhouse pitted. Kyle Larson gets heavy damage from being pushed into the wall by Denny Hamlin when he got a fast run, Larson was able to pit and continue on but with no caution he fell a lap down. After the near caution, the field settled down and Bowman was able to cruise to his ever stage win.


Sigh. Whew. Everyone sighs and says whew where Ryan Newman is concerned. It’s a wonder he wasn’t hurt worse. It’s a wonder the car didn’t blow up when it came to a halt. It’s just a general wonder, and a lot praying went into it.

It’s just like those catch fences that almost gave way. They didn’t give way. They did their job. That battered Ford that Newman was driving almost gave way. It didn’t give way. It scared everybody, but it did its job. It’s just another reminder that comes along from time to time to remind us that NASCAR must be ever vigilant regarding safety.

Everyone should understand this. When I was a kid, parents used to say of a BB gun, “You could put an eye out,” and of a firecracker, “You could blow your fingers or off,” but as long as no one puts an eye out and no one’s finger is blown off, folks just keep right on playing with BB guns and firecrackers. A lot has changed, but there’s always danger out there somewhere.



It’s safe to say that Denny Hamlin knows how to race at Daytona International Speedway; he only has three wins at the track, but they've all come the most prestigious race of them all, the Daytona 500. Hamlin was able to pick up the win after passing Ryan Blaney and Ryan Newman on the last lap but the victory celebration would be overshadowed by a scary situation developing on the track.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr driving for his new team, JTG Daugherty Racing after being let go from Roush Fenway Racing at the end of 2019, secured the pole for the 500 with Alex Bowman starting second and Joey Logano and William Byron would start behind them after winning their respective duels. That was all overlooked as President Donald Trump was announced as the Grand Marshall for the race; the first time since the 2004 Daytona 500 that an active U.S. president attended a NASCAR race. After President Trump gave the command, he stepped into his limo to take a lap around the track with the drivers. Right as he pulled off the track is when the long night began.


When I think of Daytona Beach, it’s always February that comes to mind. July (which is no more) is just hot. The only image that remains vivid is the year of the wildfires and postponement and the smoke in the air that made me think it was a banana republic and the revolutionaries were on the outskirts of town.

It was always hot, though, in July. The ocean was cool and suitable for a swim after the races when they were in the daytime. Now the only nightlife is at the track.

February, though, is cool and windy, and the air seems moist whether it’s raining or not. February is two weeks instead of two days. Glittering yachts moored near the Chart House. Seagulls rising by the hundreds in the infield when engines are fired. Music and seafood in St. Augustine. Racing slot cars at the condo on a tiny track purchased at the Family Dollar.


In a long career, a journalist is bound to ask the occasional stupid question. Sometimes it’s intentional. Sometimes a good question scares a subject to death or makes him (or her) angry. It’s about eliciting a response.

The worst part of transcribing interview recordings is that it’s boring. The second worst part is that it’s cringe-worthy. Even though we transcribe the answers, we hear the questions. It’s sort of like thinking of something really stupid from youth. Bad questions are plaid sportcoats with a pad on the shoulder in case the need to fire a shotgun arises for some reason.

In the spring of 1993, my first as a full-time NASCAR scribe, I interviewed John Andretti in the lounge of his team’s transporter at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The first racing simulation game I ever played was of the Indianapolis 500, and while apparently primitive by today’s standards, it seemed realistic when released in 1989. The interview was over, and I don’t remember a word of it today, but John and I chatted a while after I turned off the microcassette player, which was then also state of the art.


I have this compulsion to tell old stories. It could be because I’m ready for a new NASCAR season to begin. I’d like to think it isn’t a consequence of age, but it probably is.

Last night I was at a middle-school gym. I was surprised to see the former mayor of a nearby town, first because he was there and second because he was wearing a Brickyard 400 jacket. I never knew he was a NASCAR fan. Turns out he used to live in Darlington.

“That’s where my dad used to take me as a kid,” I said. “It’s hard to grow up going to Darlington and not love Pearson and Cale.”


I’m about to make some glaring generalities. My attention has recently been light. I am vaguely aware that the new season is going to bring with it massive changes, and the next year NASCAR is going to bring even more, and all that research-and-development money is not going to be spent in vain.

Hell, NASCAR changes massively every year. It reminds of of that alleged Yogi Berra line (Berra himself said half of those things he never said): “That place is so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.” If NASCAR changes anymore, it’ll be back to square one.


Junior Johnson lived a long time. I reckon it was all right for me to ponder his life for a while before I wrote about it.

The death of a great man often amuses me. Once a man is gone, people feel free to enhance their relationship with him. This was true of Dale Earnhardt. Some seem to take the attitude that, well, he’s gone, I might as well get something out of it.

Had Junior not passed away at the age of 88, if I saw him tomorrow, I expect he’d recognize me but not remember my name. I’m sure I got more out of conversations with him than him from me. He seemed to enjoy them, though. When I was around him, he seemed to enjoy most everything.


Eric Estepp creates unique NASCAR content and has been a series follower for over 15 years. He's created an online YouTube show, Out of the Groove, showcasing his opinions on NASCAR's latest issues and news.



I do not live on an island. It feels a little like one, this messy house I occupy. I need to get out, but I’m sick, which apparently happens about once every 56 weeks at this stage of my life. I really shouldn’t put this out because everyone has an opinion, and their diagnoses are scary. I’ve had a flu shot, a month or so back, and I’ve no urge to boogie-woogie. If it’s pneumonia, it’s not the rockin’ kind. What I have causes me to sneeze, wheeze, cough and, while sleeping, toss and turn. I’ve contracted a medley of songs.

By the time you read this, I hope to be well. I’ve no desire to give the crud to loved ones at Christmas.

This present arrived on Monday morning. The descent was such that, on Tuesday morning, I showed my face at a City Council meeting, and on Tuesday night, reached the parking lot only to deem myself unfit to see another one in another town. I took the caution flag, pulled down pit road, the boys raised the hood, and one of them said “no can do, boss.”