Legendary NASCAR announcer Barney Hall stuns listeners with announcement Sunday’s race will be his last

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Motor Racing Network has billed itself as the “Voice of NASCAR” for more than 44 years.

But the real voice of NASCAR, Barney Hall, stunned fans and listeners everywhere Saturday when it was announced that the legendary Hall would call his final race in Saturday’s (rescheduled to Sunday) Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

“The voice of NASCAR is the voice of MRN and that’s Barney Hall,” David Hyatt, president and executive producer of Motor Racing Network, told MRN.com. “To have him still be a part of what we do in a way that highlights all the memories that he has, all the history he’s brought to the sport, everything that he’s done, not just for this MRN brand but for the NASCAR brand is an important part of this transition. MRN isn’t MRN without Barney Hall.”

The 82-year-old Hall has been in the radio business for more than 60 years, starting with a stint with Armed Forces Radio in Okinawa, Japan.

He is in his 56th year of calling NASCAR races at tracks big and small, from Darlington to Daytona and from Loudon to Los Angeles.

“The years have gone by so quick, it’s just so hard to believe,” Hall told MRN.com.

Later during Saturday afternoon’s rain delay, Hall appeared on TNT’s telecast.

“It really has been one heck of a ride, there’s no question about that,” Hall said. “I still enjoy doing the races. This will be 154 races at Daytona (that he’s broadcast), I guess. A long time.”

Hall is an institution not just in NASCAR, but in all sports broadcasting, with a tenure rivaled by very few. The first name that comes to mind – and Hall is definitely NASCAR’s version, for sure – is legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully.

Hall was the first public address announcer at Bristol Motor Speedway, eventually becoming one of the first announcers when MRN was formed in 1970, first as a turn announcer before he moved into the broadcast booth.

From a personal standpoint, the Elkin, North Carolina native and still resident is a true Southern gentleman, a gentle soul and walking encyclopedia of all things NASCAR.

His measured broadcast tone was his trademark. He never gets too excited or too mundane. More than anything, he is a constant stream of information, making listeners feel as if they’re listening to a trusted family member.

And trust is what best describes Hall’s style. If he says something on-air, you can take it to the bank. He also is one of the few individuals in the sport that drivers, crew chiefs, team owners can confide in and relate secrets, knowing he will not betray their confidences.

And then there’s Hall’s intimate relationship with listeners and NASCAR fans, many who have spent years, if not decades, listening to him and how he helped bring broadcasts to life, leaving fans with the feeling they are right there in the broadcast booth with him.

“It’s always a good feeling … when the fans pat you on the back or shake your hand and say, ‘I really enjoy listening to MRN,'” Hall told MRN.com. “I get a bigger kick out of that than almost anything.”

Thankfully, Hall, who has missed only three Daytona 500s in his career, is not retiring. He will shift to work on special projects and features for MRN and will occasionally still make appearances at races.

Hall, who was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2007, is unquestionably a shoe-in to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in the next few years.

One of the best stories Hall ever told was during an interview with NASCAR.com a few years ago, before the death of Bill France Jr.. When asked what was the best advice he ever received, Hall replied in his typical humble way.

“I guess (it was) from Bill France Jr., a long time ago,” Hall said. “I had been in radio a few years and MRN came into existence. He came by the booth after one of the races — I think it was in Atlanta — and he said, ‘You did a hell of a job today, pal. I like the way you do things. You tell it sort of like it is and you tell it so people can understand what you’re talking about.’ And I never forgot that.

“Bill Jr. is a man of few words. If he didn’t like something you said, he’d say, “You could have handled that better.” But he taught me to not try to make something out of nothing and just be dead honest about what you’re broadcasting.”

That describes Barney Hall so perfectly. While we’ll miss his dulcet voice on NASCAR race broadcasts, we wish him well in his new role at MRN.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Red Bull’s high hopes come down to earth in F1 qualifying

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Red Bull’s high hopes for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix came crashing down in qualifying on Saturday.

Max Verstappen qualified in fifth and teammate Daniel Ricciardo only 10th after clipping a barrier near the end coming out of Turn 6 on a hazardous Baku street circuit that has been causing problems all week.

“I’m not blaming the car. The rear went away a bit,” Ricciardo said. “Just the consequence of trying to get a bit more out of the car. I guess I was just chasing that little bit too much.”

It was disappointing for the team, considering that Red Bull had been showing promising speed, with Verstappen fastest in both practice sessions on Friday.

“The 10th (place) today doesn’t reflect it, but it’s definitely been a positive weekend in terms of the car feel and the progress we’re making,” Ricciardo said. “Relative to Ferrari it looks like we’ve closed the gap (in terms of speed).”

Red Bull was not the only team struggling on the sinewy, hard-braking track, which made its F1 debut last year.

“We’re all still experimenting,” Ricciardo said. “Still trying to find the sweet spot.”

Verstappen thought he found it on Friday, driving with his customary confidence to lead P1 and P2, then got a reality check on Saturday when his car packed up near the end of the third practice due to a hydraulics issue.

“We had to wind the engine down, which cost me quite a bit of lap time,” the Dutchman said. “It’s a bit unfortunate that we couldn’t extract more out of the car.”

Verstappen was second fastest behind Lewis Hamilton in the first part of qualifying, before fading in Q2 and Q3.

“We should be ahead (of Ferrari) without all those things that happened,” said Verstappen, who believes Red Bull can match Ferrari. “It’s looking a lot better. Mercedes is a bit too quick but with the Ferraris, for sure, we can fight.”

Verstappen could do with a good result in Baku on Sunday.

Last year, he became the youngest F1 driver to win a race and to qualify on the front row. But this season he has only one podium and failed to finish three races including the last, the Canadian GP two weeks ago.

Honda working on IndyCar engine fix following parts issue

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The blessing and curse of Honda Performance Development (HPD)’s improved performance and horsepower this year has been a tradeoff in the reliability department.

With now double digit failures over the last month or so, in Indianapolis and elsewhere, it’s been a season where reliability has become more of a story line than normal.

This has arisen though Honda’s on-track performance this year has seen the manufacturer deliver five wins (three more than in all of 2016) including the Indianapolis 500, with four of its five teams winning races thus far in nine races.

HPD President Art St. Cyr addressed both the failures and the recent successes Honda has achieved in the last month during a media availability Saturday at Road America, noting it was a parts processing issue that has contributed to some, if not all, failures.

“We had a couple engine failures over the last month or so,” St. Cyr said. “We have done a lot of analysis. It was actually pretty deep in our engine and the part that failed is one that we’ve been using for quite a while. Ultimately, it came down to a parts processing issue for that. So we have been able to identify the part that is failing.

“We have some fixes in place for the rest of this year. As it stands right now, we’re getting those parts into HPD at this point and we’re starting to build new engines with those parts in it. Unfortunately, the durability plan that we always had, going 2,500 miles, it’s going to take a while to cycle those engines into our pool.

“We hope to have those engines into our spares pool, optimistically by Iowa, but more realistically by Toronto.”

HPD does not plan to do a wholesale changeout of engines, St. Cyr intimated.

“There is no plan right now to a wholesale change out engines,” he said. “It happens in about one out of every eight engines, and if it does fail, it fails early. So when that problem arises, it shows up pretty quick.

“So, our expectations are that, once we get the engines in the spares pool, we will continue the engines that are in the cars throughout the remainder of their lives. And then those will be replaced with new engines.

“Knock on wood, hopefully we can get some of them in at Iowa, but more realistically, probably Toronto is when they’ll really start to show up.”

St. Cyr confirmed HPD has made a horsepower increase this year though would not be pressed on how much that increase has been.

“When you make more horsepower, you do expose parts to more stresses. That’s the fundamental thing about it,” he said.

“In this particular case, what it did was reduced our safety factor on that particular part. It still should have been fine, but the problem is that part of the process in the engine is the stress riser. It’s not in every engine, but it on a handful of engines.

“Yes, the increase in power is a contributing factor to that, because obviously there’s more stress on the engines, but the way the part if designed it should have been able to sustain that stress.”

He also said the company was happy with the tradeoff that has come with Takuma Sato’s win in the Indianapolis 500. That win made him a “popular winner” both in America and Japan as a result of his victory, helping both Honda arms.

“In general, our main goal is to win the Indy 500. We knew that, even if we ran the engines at full power, that the majority of our engines were going to make it,” St. Cyr explained.

“So, in that case, we were willing to make that tradeoff on that. If it was going to fail every engine, then maybe not, but ever circumstance is different. But, in this particular case, we were willing to make that.

“You risk that every year. Typically, both manufacturers have about two mechanical failure. That’s about what had this year anyway. We’ll make those judgments on a case-by-case basis.”

Heading into Road America this weekend for the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), Honda leads Chevrolet, 737 to 698, in the Manufacturer’s Championship. Chevrolet has won all five in a row from 2012 through 2016 since the reintroduction of manufacturer competition.

Pagenaud leads Penske 1-2-3-4 in Practice 3 at Road America

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Team Penske continued its domination this weekend at Road America, with Simon Pagenaud leading third practice for the Kohler Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Pagenaud pipped teammate Will Power in the final seconds to take fast lap honors in third practice, with Pagenaud’s 1:42.0439 edging Power’s 1:42.0698.

Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden ended third and fourth, making it a Penske 1-2-3-4 for the second consecutive session this weekend (they did the same in second practice on Friday). Scott Dixon ended the session fifth, the best of the Honda runners.

Several drivers had off-course excursions during practice as they pushed the limits ahead of qualifying this afternoon. Most notably, Newgarden brought out a brief red flag when he spun into the gravel in Turn 14, the third spin in turn 14 this weekend. Newgarden did not have any contact with the tire barriers, but the No. 2 Devilbiss Chevrolet was beached in the gravel and needed a tow. He suffered no damage, however, and rejoined the session after it resumed.

Of note, Marco Andretti and Spencer Pigot enjoyed strong sessions to end up sixth and seventh, while Mikhail Aleshin was 20th after arriving at the track earlier in the morning, with immigration issues delaying his travel.

Times are below. Qualifying begins at 4:00 p.m. ET (3:00 p.m. local time), and airs on NBCSN at 5:00 p.m. ET.

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Leclerc takes emotional Baku F2 victory, extends points lead

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Charles Leclerc extended his points lead at the top of the FIA Formula 2 championship on Saturday by taking an emotional victory in the feature race at the Baku City Circuit.

Racing just days after the death of his father and with tributes on both his car and helmet, Leclerc went unchallenged en route to his third victory of the F2 season, leading home Nyck de Vries and Nicholas Latifi.

Leclerc made a clean start from pole to retain his advantage through the opening stint, only losing the lead for a handful of laps after pitting when a handful of drivers tried to make an alternate strategy work.

Despite multiple safety car periods and the race finishing under a red flag, Ferrari youngster Leclerc was able to finish 3.4 seconds clear of de Vries in second place, with Latifi a further 2.9 seconds back.

Leclerc’s title rival, Oliver Rowland, was classified fourth, with the results of the race being counted back to Lap 24 after it was red flagged late on.

A spin for Sean Gelael at the tight Turn 8 section by the castle caused a blockage, preventing cars from getting through, meaning that the race had to be called off.

Leclerc’s championship lead now stands at 22 points ahead of Sunday’s reverse grid sprint race in Baku.