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Bob Pockrass - FOX Sports NASCAR Reporter

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence
The Truth Network Radio
February 20, 2024 6:12 am

Bob Pockrass - FOX Sports NASCAR Reporter

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence

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February 20, 2024 6:12 am

FOX Sports NASCAR reporter Bob Pockrass joins Amy to recap the Daytona 500, the unusual story of William Byron, and the future of the sport. 

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Instacart for the win! We're pleased to welcome from Daytona, actually from the Speedway still, longtime Fox Sports insider Bob Pockrass, who's still in the midst of wrapping up. Well, Bob, let's start there. What was this Monday like for you? It's been a long Monday. Rarely does NASCAR have double headers. They've never had double header with the Daytona 500 because they know that even if the Xfinity Series race gets postponed, it's postponed to Monday because the Daytona 500 is such a spectacle. With two straight days of rain, NASCAR had two races today, 800 miles. They were going to go the Xfinity race and then the Daytona 500, but rain this morning resulted in them doing the Daytona 500 and then another 300 miles with the Xfinity Series race.

So, long day, but they got through it. And let me tell you, I think it actually turned out better for them because fans got to spend a couple of hours on the track during the pre-race that they maybe wouldn't have had if it was the second race of the day. And they just had a great atmosphere, even for a Monday race. How many fans were able to be there once the 500 was pushed to Monday? I would say it was probably three quarters full. I'd say it was 70 to 75,000 fans.

This place seats over 100,000. So, they had a really solid crowd for a Monday race. It was certainly a dramatic finish, as always, right? This is typical of the Daytona 500, but with nine laps to go, there was an 18-car pileup, a wreck that takes out 18 cars, and there were some big-time names in there like Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. What was the reaction to that moment with just eight laps left? Well, I think people are used to wrecks near the end of the Daytona 500. Everybody's pushing, trying to get an edge, and when one car goes around, you have a split second to try to react. And once the other cars start going around, it's just bedlam, and that's what happened. And the drivers, they get out of the care center, and they just kind of hold up their hands and say, you know, that's what they sign up for when they come to Daytona.

They know that there's going to be times where they get caught up in an 18-car pileup, and there's not much that they can do. For whom was this the most disappointing to not be able to finish? Well, I'd say, as Bragg has been asking, you know, 0 for 14 in this race. He's come so close. He was running about third or fourth at the time. He could kind of see that he had another shot to win. He's been close here before, but as he says about this race, this is a race that chooses you to win. You don't necessarily win it yourself, and as he said afterwards, it's another year where it wasn't his day to be chosen. When you win it, your career is never the same, and that was the case for someone new on Monday.

It's After Hours with Amy Lawrence here on CBS Sports Radio and Bob Pockrass, who is our favorite NASCAR reporter for Fox Sports and is still at the track after the Xfinity race. So William Byron ends up taking the checkered flag, and he used to run cars on video games, and that's how he got into it? Yeah, that's kind of the new age NASCAR driver in some ways, and there's some that followed in his footsteps, but he pretty much learned the basics of his craft racing online. I mean, very sophisticated online games, but still, they're so close as far as just developing hand-eye coordination and knowing when to break that driver that people can learn.

Now, obviously, you can't get hurt playing a video game, so when you crash, you can be a little more fearless racing a video game than you can in real life. He realized that this is his passion, and we asked him all the time, did your parents ever say, hey, get off those video games? And he joked, yeah, maybe a little bit, but I think they saw something that he enjoyed doing, and eventually they realized that he had a skill at it. So when he was maybe 12 or so, he starts racing actual race cars, and by the time he's 19, he's in the Cup Series, and by the time he's 26, he's a Daytona 500 champion. I mean, he's a bit of a wonder, Ken, when you think about how he got his start. He didn't come from one of the established racing families, and as you point out, at 26 years old, he's not just a winner, but he's a driver for Hendrick Motorsports.

I mean, that's the tradition in NASCAR. People saw that he had a lot of talent early on. He drove for Dale Jr. on some of the short tracks here, and I think people saw that he had a lot of potential.

He handled himself very well. He was able to land some sponsorship and move quickly through the ranks, and it didn't come easy for him the first few years, but it doesn't for a lot of drivers. And he has continued to improve and improve and improve. They matched him with crew chief Rudy Fugel, who was his crew chief when driving for Kyle Busch in the trucks.

And so the last three, four years, they've been really strong. He won a series best six races last year, but people finished third for the championship, and maybe people still kind of overlook William Byron, and obviously that's a mistake. Already seven seasons at the cup level, and he drives for Hendrick, which immediately means you have the best of the technology and the personnel. And this comes on a memorable day for Hendrick Motorsports, 40 years exactly since his first cup win.

And I was trying to think about what he means to the sport overall, but you're the expert, Bob. What does Rick Hendrick mean to NASCAR? A lot of people call Hendrick Motorsports the New York Yankees, so I mean, I guess he's kind of George Steinbrenner, but maybe without some of the drama. So what he means to the sport is, I mean, the thing is that Rick Hendrick grew up in Virginia down the road from Martinsville Speedway, and he has always loved race cars. And he started out in powerboat racing, and he's always loved to race, and he's a successful businessman with a bunch of car dealerships, but he just loves to race, and he obviously loves to win. When you talk about the person who brought Jeff Gordon four cup titles, Jimmy Johnson seven cup titles, several other titles with other drivers, including Terry Le Boning and Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, it's really hard to measure his impact on the sport.

I saw him there at the track. I don't know how often he is there on hand, but how involved is he still at his age? He's still involved enough to know what's going on with the team, and he's hired Jeff Gordon to really kind of oversee much of the business side and the day-to-day operations. Jeff Gordon's an equity owner in Hendrick Motorsports, but Rick is still involved, and if he feels like he needs to get a point across to somebody, he can do it. He doesn't need to ask Jeff to do it.

He can do it, and people love to work for him because he supports his people, and people feel like he treats them right, and people are very, very loyal to him and continue to just love working there. Not to mention continue to be successful considering his track record over 40 years. Bob Pockrass is still at Daytona, has a flight to catch in a few hours, but is with us here after hours on CBS Sports Radio. There's been so much transition among drivers in the past few seasons, and of course a bunch of retirements. Who would you say is the most popular, most recognizable, maybe the most high-profile driver that's still remaining at the cup level?

That's a great question. I would say, well, you know, Jimmy Johnson was in this race, but he's only part-time, so I would say he's probably still the most recognizable of anybody who raced today, but among the full-time drivers, I would probably go with Kyle Busch. He's just because he was the M&M's guy for so long, so all the kids would love to watch Kyle Busch. They root for Kyle Busch because he was the candy man. Now, he's no longer the candy man, but he still has, I would say he's still probably the most recognizable face in NASCAR.

There are still a couple of grizzled veterans, if you will, right? So you have a Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, you mentioned Busch, he's been around for a long time, Joey as well. The younger generation of NASCAR is really rising up.

Who, in addition to William Byron, are the budding superstars? Well, I mean, you look at Ryan Blaney, who won the championship last year, Chase Elliott, I still consider him budding, even though he's one most popular driver about six times now, ever since Dale Jr. retired. And then I think you look at Ross Chastain, he's still trying to figure out where that line is between being aggressive versus over-aggressive, but when you have Tipple as your co-owner, people are going to watch, and he's really come on the scene to kind of upset the status quo the last couple of years. So punching forward now into the full season, what are some of the other top storylines for this year in NASCAR, Bob? I think the top storylines are going to be the challenges NASCAR has faced on the short tracks and road courses. They haven't gotten the car to race as well as they would like. They're making some rule changes, and if those rule changes work, it really could set the tone for, you know, incredible racing week in and week out. And then the other one that I think everybody is looking at is, you know, will this be the year that Denny Hamlin wins the title, right? We start every year, I think the last five or six years, with that as the storyline, because one of the most winningest drivers around, I want to say it's 50 wins or so, 51 wins on the cup level, but no title, and you just wonder, is this going to be the year he gets it done? Kyle Larson is making headlines even now in February because he wants to be the next guy to try to run both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, which is obviously 1,100 miles on the same day.

It comes up in May. What type of challenges does that pose for him in terms of training and testing and just the logistics of it all? I don't know. I asked him if he had started any fitness regimen the other day, and he looked at me and said, Bob, I'm Rick.

I'm fine. But actually, he had just tested an Indy car at Phoenix, and it did strain his neck a little bit, just because he's just not used to those types of G-forces in an open-wheel car like that. So those are the types of things that he'll learn is just what types of muscles that he doesn't use necessarily on the stock car side that he'll use on the Indy car side.

But he's a guy who just kind of goes with the flow. He'll be ready. The biggest challenge will be logistics and going back and forth during qualifying weekend to the All-Star race in North Wilkesboro, then obviously race day on the Sunday Memorial Day weekend when he starts out in Indianapolis and then has to get to Charlotte for another 600 miles.

Guys, it's been a while, right? Tony Stewart did it, but has it been over a decade since anyone's tried it? Yeah, Kurt Busch did it in 2014, so he's the last one who did it.

The thing is that you want to do it with a good team, and not necessarily those rides aren't always available. The thing that Kyle Larson has is he has Hendrick, his team behind it. They're kind of partnered with McLaren, so they know they're going to have a good car.

He has his sponsor from NASCAR, Rick Hendrick's automotive side. So there's going to be no angst between the stock car side and the Indy car side, and that's really what you need to be able to do this well. Last year was that first Chicago road race, the street race in downtown, and they ended up with a ton of rain. Was that a marquee event enough for NASCAR to try to attract even greater attention, more people this year if the weather holds out?

Oh, I think absolutely. There's a lot of questions going in, and a lot of questions about whether NASCAR could pull it off. They had never done a street course race in their history. The first practice day, the images were unbelievable, and then after the rains ended on that Sunday, they were able to squeeze the race in before it got too dark, and the drivers put on a heck of a show. I think if it's sunny and you've got the concerts going on as scheduled, it just can be a great festival. You really got the feeling while you were there that while people seem to maybe be annoyed at the start of the week, by the time they saw the cars on the track and saw them go around and just kind of the wildness and craziness and the challenge of it to the drivers and just seeing everybody wishes they could drive through Chicago at 100 miles per hour, right? And then to see people actually do it and race, it was just thrilling, and the thing that made it so cool for NASCAR is that they hadn't done it before and don't do it on street courses.

It's just not something that they've done. So to see them do something different in one of the most iconic cities in the U.S. was really neat to see, and really looking forward to that event. I just think it should be a marquee event if the weather stays okay. NASCAR expanding beyond what traditional fans have known of it, and one more example before I let you go, Bob. We know that most drivers have a podcast, their own digital space to communicate with fans, but there's also a Netflix series now that's called NASCAR Full Speed.

Is there a buzz about that? Do you think NASCAR drivers and fans are into this new series? Oh, I think NASCAR drivers and fans are certainly into the new series. I think the question remains is how many new fans will be attracted to NASCAR by the series? How many people who maybe watch it with friends who maybe never been to a race will say, hey, now, hey, can I go to a race with you? Or certain drivers seeing more fans either purchasing their gear and that kind of thing. So I think NASCAR is still kind of waiting to see the impact of having a Netflix series.

It certainly can't hurt. It certainly has energized the fan base that's here already, and now the question is just how much can it grow the fan base? More of these top storylines for the NASCAR season with Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports.

He's got a link on his Twitter because he's on top of it, and you can follow him at Bob Pockrass. And we're always excited to have him not always on a Monday after a postponed race at Daytona when he's still at the track and has hours to go before he catches a flight. You are a trooper. You are certainly one of those guys that works tirelessly, especially this weekend.

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Thank you, Amy. Bob Pockrass is going to be awake for more than twenty four hours. Poor guy. And yet bringing it, bringing the information and the good setup to this NASCAR season. For the past 20 years, you've enjoyed the refreshing tropical lime flavor of Mountain Dew Baja Blast. So in celebration of this milestone, we're bringing Baja Blast in stores nationwide. And for a limited time with every purchase of Baja Blast, you can collect coins for a chance to get Baja Gear or a Taco Bell deal. Twenty twenty four is the year of Baja Blast in stores now. No purchase necessary. Open to U.S. residents 18 plus. Subject to official rules at Baja Blast dot com and six fifteen twenty four.

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