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Friday 5: Dogs make weekends at the track better for many Cup drivers

Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suárez are among several drivers for whom this NASCAR Cup Series off weekend is coming at an inopportune time.

Erik Jones’ dog flies to races in style.

Oscar, an 85-pound German Shepherd, sits in his own seat on the team charter next to Jones. Oscar likes the window seat.

“He just kind of stares out the window and watches along,” Jones said.

Oscar is among several dogs that travel with Cup drivers throughout the season, providing a sense of home and companionship at the track.

Oscar is one of the bigger dogs at the track among those owned by Cup drivers and that can prove intimidating for dogs of fellow competitors, Jones notes.

Erik Jones dog Oscar traveling

Erik Jones’ dog Oscar on a plane the team flies. (Photo: Erik Jones)

“He’s a good dog,” Jones said. “He’s calm and listens well, so that helps a lot. … He makes a lot of other dogs nervous in the (driver/owner) lot.”

Jones said about the only dog Oscar gets to play with because of his size is Ruby, a golden doodle that belongs to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ruby is about a year and a half.

“She’s pretty chill,” Stenhouse said. “Even at home, she’s never really torn up furniture or anything like that.”

Ruby travels with Stenhouse and his wife to most races unless it is a long flight.

“We love having Ruby with us,” said Stenhouse, who had Ruby join him and his wife in Victory Lane after winning this year’s Daytona 500.

“The times that we don’t have her there are like ‘Dang, we miss her.’ Most of the time we take her.”

Harrison Burton has a golden retriever named Remi. She’s about a year-and-a-half old.

Other than a brief period when she tore some molding where Burton lived, she’s been calm and hasn’t gotten into any of his racing gear.

“She always carries toys around but no shoes,” Burton said. “That’s a good thing.”

Burton said that his dog and Stenhouse’s dog are “buddies. Whenever they’re around each other, there’s chaos, for sure.”

Ryan Blaney and his girlfriend have two dogs and bring them to the track.

“I don’t have children yet, so those are my children,” Blaney said. “I’ve enjoyed having them. It just makes it feel a little bit more like home when you have your dogs there.”

Blaney got Sturgill in 2018 when he was single.

“He’s my guy,” Blaney said. “I brought him lots of times to the racetrack when I was single. I wanted him to come to the track with me just to kind of have someone there to hang out with.”

Sturgill, a Labrador/German Shepherd mix, also has joined Blaney in Victory Lane.

“It’s just nice to kind of have them (with you),” Blaney said. “It makes you feel like you’re taking your home with you. That part is important, honestly, with how much we travel.”

Blaney said Sturgill is well behaved.

“He’s been a great dog,” Blaney said. “He had a toilet paper phase for like two weeks when he was a puppy at the house, but then after that, he’s been fantastic.”

Chase Briscoe and his wife have three dogs. Two are French bulldogs (Ricky and Callie) and one is a Great Dane (Blue).

Briscoe says Ricky can be feisty, while Callie is relaxed and Blue is “massive and super lazy.

“All of them get along well. Ricky kind of does his own thing. Callie … and Blue, they just play and fight all the time. Our son is in love with (Blue). He crawls all over him and climbs on him and he’s really good with him.”

Alex Bowman has two dogs. Roscoe is a brown Rottweiler/German Shepherd that Bowman rescued in 2013. Finn is a black Labrador that Bowman has had since 2017.

Bowman’s favorite story about walking them at the track involves fans. He said that the driver/owner lot at Darlington has no grass, so he had to walk them beyond that area to a grassy place.

“I was picking up dog poop, had dog poop in a bag and a bunch of fans wanted autographs, and I kind of got stuck in a crowd,” Bowman said. “I had to have a NASCAR fan hold the dog poop while I signed some stuff because I didn’t have enough hands.”

2. Looking ahead to Chicago

After the Cup Series returns from having the weekend off, teams will head to Nashville Superspeedway. Looming beyond that is the inaugural Chicago street race July 2 on NBC.

Most drivers have yet to spend much time in the simulator for that race but will soon. Ross Chastain said he’s done a little in the simulator but most of his preparation has been with iRacing at this point.

“I’m not going up and taking an Uber around the town or driving a rental car,” Chastain said. “Simulator time, iRacing, more iRacing right now (than simulator time). The simulator will ramp up.”

As to what he experienced in iRacing and the simulator on the Chicago course?

“All my impacts are with the front bumper into the wall,” he said. “When I miss the brake zones, it was straight into the walls in the 90-degree turns. You wake up, go to sleep thinking about that. If you miss the brake zone, there’s no run off, no grass, not many access areas.”

Screenshot 2023-06-15 at 11.12.52 AM

Bubba Wallace said he would focus on that after the weekend off and quipped that teammate “Tyler (Reddick), I think he sleeps and thinks about it every night.”

Daniel Suarez said he’s spent less than an hour in the simulator for Chicago at this point.

“It’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be different,” Suarez said of the course. “I personally think it’s going to be an amazing event. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a couple of street course races. The event is unbelievable.

“In my opinion, there is two ways to do things. We bring the fans to the racetrack, or we bring the racetrack to the fans. In my opinion, that is what a street course is.

“I think the event is going to be amazing. The racetrack is going to have some challenges, just like any other street course, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Austin Cindric, who has competed in street course events earlier in his career, says he’s looking forward to the event but also knows it will be challenging.

“The layout is pretty basic,” Cindric said. “But I think from a (track) width standpoint, I’ve raced on places significantly narrower than what that seems to be.”

3. Streakin’

The Xfinity Series has had 11 consecutive different winners heading into the June 24 race at Nashville Superspeedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA).

Those winners have been:

Sonoma — Aric Almirola

Portland — Cole Custer

Charlotte — Justin Allgaier

Darlington — Kyle Larson

Dover — Ryan Truex

Talladega — Jeb Burton

Martinsville — John Hunter Nemechek

Richmond — Chandler Smith

COTA — AJ Allmendinger

Atlanta — Austin Hill

Phoenix — Sammy Smith

How much longer will the streak of different winners go? Well, Allgaier won last year’s Nashville race, dominating the event. He won both stages and finished 4.5 seconds ahead of the runner-up at the finish.

4. Truck playoffs near

Four races remain in the regular season for the Craftsman Truck Series before the playoffs start.

The remaining races in the regular season are Nashville (June 23), Mid-Ohio (July 8), Pocono (July 22) and Richmond (July 29).

The playoffs begin Aug. 11 at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Six drivers have secured a playoff spot via a win: Christian Eckes, Grant Enfinger, Zane Smith, Corey Heim, Carson Hocevar and Ben Rhodes.

Ty Majeski (+113 on the cutline), Matt Crafton (+21), Stewart Friesen (+14) and Matt DiBenedetto (+7) hold the final four spots.

5. NBC, USA, Peacock broadcast coverage returns

NBC, USA and Peacock coverage of the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series returns next weekend at Nashville Superspeedway.

Here is a look at the remaining Cup and Xfinity races and where to watch the race (All times Eastern):

Cup schedule
June 25 — Nashville (7 p.m., NBC)

July 2 — Chicago street course (5:30 p.m., NBC, Peacock)

July 9 — Atlanta (7 p.m., USA)

July 16 — New Hampshire (2:30 p.m., USA)

July 23 — Pocono (2:30 p.m., USA)

July 30 — Richmond (3 p.m., USA)

Aug. 6 — Michigan (2:30 p.m., USA)

Aug. 13 — Indianapolis road course (2:30 p.m., NBC)

Aug. 20 — Watkins Glen (3 p.m., USA)

Aug. 26 — Daytona (7 p.m., NBC, Peacock)

Cup playoffs

Sept. 3 — Darlington (6 p.m., USA)

Sept. 10 — Kansas (3 p.m., USA)

Sept. 16 — Bristol (7:30 p.m., USA)

Sept. 24 — Texas (3:30 p.m., USA)

Oct. 1 — Talladega (2 p.m., NBC)

Oct. 8 — Charlotte Roval (2 p.m., NBC)

Oct. 15 — Las Vegas (2:30 p.m., NBC)

Oct. 22 — Homestead (2:30 p.m., NBC)

Oct. 29 — Martinsville (2 p.m., NBC)

Nov. 5 — Phoenix (3 p.m., NBC)

Xfinity schedule
June 24 — Nashville (3:30 p.m., USA)

July 1 — Chicago street course (5 p.m., USA)

July 8 — Atlanta (8 p.m., USA)

July 15 — New Hampshire (3 p.m., USA)

July 22 — Pocono (5:30 p.m., USA)

July 29 — Road America (3 p.m., NBC, Peacock)

Aug. 5 — Michigan (3:30 p.m., NBC, Peacock)

Aug. 12 — Indianapolis road course (5:30 p.m., USA)

Aug. 19 — Watkins Glen (3:30 p.m. USA)

Aug. 25 — Daytona (7:30 p.m., USA)

Sept. 2 — Darlington (3:30 p.m., USA)

Sept. 9 — Kansas (3 p.m., NBC, Peacock)

Xfinity playoffs

Sept. 15 — Bristol (7:30 p.m., USA)

Sept. 23 — Texas (3:30 p.m., USA)

Oct. 7 — Charlotte Roval (3 p.m., NBC, Peacock)

Oct. 14 — Las Vegas (3:30 p.m., USA)

Oct. 21 — Homestead (3 p.m., USA)

Oct. 28 — Martinsville (3:30 p.m., USA)

Nov. 4 — Phoenix (7 p.m., USA)