Ford teams cap great weekend with 1-2-3 sweep in Bristol

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One day after Chip Ganassi Racing took a Ford-powered Daytona Prototype to victory in the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, the Blue Oval’s troops in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series turned in a stellar result of their own at Bristol.

Ford teams nabbed four of the Top 5 finishing positions in tonight’s Food City 500, with Carl Edwards victorious, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in second, Aric Almirola in third, and Marcos Ambrose in fifth.

Additionally, Edwards and Stenhouse’s efforts marked a 1-2 finish for Roush Fenway Racing, a team that had been overshadowed by fellow Ford squad Team Penske in the opening three races of the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.

Throw in a Ford victory for driver Robert Hight and John Force Racing at the NHRA Gatornationals and it’s one heck of a triple play for the manufacturer, which lost its director emeritus, William Clay Ford, last weekend to pneumonia at the age of 88.

“Ford has deserved this kind of result for their effort,” said RFR team owner Jack Roush. “They’ve committed a lot of engineering resources to us. They give us a lot of support with cars and trucks and support vehicles and things, and we have not been able to do as much for them as we needed to in the last six months.

“I was glad we could get Carl into the Chase tonight. [I’m] looking forward to getting Ricky qualified for the last 10 races and Greg [Biffle], as well.”

As for Stenhouse and Almirola, they each were able to post their best career Sprint Cup finishes. Stenhouse’s previous top mark was a third last fall at Talladega, while Almirola’s had been a pair of fourths at Homestead in 2010 and Martinsville (fall) in 2012.

Still, Stenhouse apparently couldn’t help but wonder ‘What if?’ after the race. With three laps to go, a malfunction with one of the track’s caution lights forced NASCAR to throw the yellow and presumably set up a green-white-checkered finish.

Unfortunately for Stenhouse, the skies promptly opened up and the race ended under yellow and in the rain, with Edwards taking the checkered flag.

“I was thinking that I would use the bumper if the opportunity was there [laughing],” Stenhouse said on what he would’ve done with one last attack on Edwards.

“If you get the win, you’re in the Chase and you can let the rest take care of itself later. That’s what I was really thinking if we went back green.”

However, he then admitted that “we weren’t going to get to Carl no matter what, so really it was only going to help us have the opportunity to get that one more spot [second].”

As for Almirola, he had an opportunity to battle Edwards for the lead on a restart with 39 laps to go. But Edwards was simply too quick and pulled away while Almirola and Stenhouse had it out for runner-up.

“It’s frustrating because I had one shot to race Carl for the lead, and these races are so hard to win, obviously,” Almirola said. “And it was a great day for us – I’m not disappointed at all with third.

“But when you see it and you can taste it and it’s that close, you wonder what could have went different. If our car would have taken off a little bit better, things might have went different.”

Ambrose was able to overcome tire issues and falling a lap behind to turn in his fifth-place result, his best run since finishing ninth last fall at Kansas Speedway.

“We got a bad set of tires where they de-laminated and started to [show] cord really bad, so we lost a lap and then got it back,” he said. “I passed Kyle Busch to get the lucky dog and worked our way back up to the front.”

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”