Upon Further Review: Auto Club Speedway

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What are the consequences of exercising freedom of speech under NASCAR’s new guidelines for behavior?

NASCAR further will define those parameters by how it reacts to what was said and tweeted this past weekend by competitors.

About a month after NASCAR specified behavioral punishment for any competitor, a crew chief and the reigning Sprint Cup champion acted in ways that could lead to NASCAR penalties this week.

Upset with NASCAR for not throwing a caution on the last lap of Saturday’s Xfinity race when his right-front tire blew as he led, Kyle Busch let his feelings be known on the team radio.

Fox Sports 1 aired Busch’s rant on his radio after the race:  “Debris all over the race track and they don’t throw a yellow. I’m just so pleased with you NASCAR. Thanks. You all are awesome. Fixing races.’’

That’s his right to say that, but NASCAR could say it’s not Busch’s right to say that in a forum — on the radio — where fans and others can hear it.

NASCAR officials have said they understand when competitors disagree with a call. Where series officials get upset is when a competitor attacks the sport’s credibility. Busch’s comment of “fixing races’’ could lead to a fine.

Section 12.8.1.b of the Sprint Cup Rule Book states that a competitor could be fined between $10,000 – $50,000 and/or placed on probation for: “Disparaging the sport and/or NASCAR’s leadership.’’

Section 12.8.1.f states that the factors NASCAR may consider when reviewing a matter might include:

  • When and where the incident occurred
  • The perceivable or potential ramifications to others and/or to the sport
  • Member’s past history
  • Any extenuating circumstances

Another test could come with a tweet Cole Pearn sent after Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. He and Martin Truex Jr. were not happy with the how Joey Logano raced Truex with about 50 laps to go. Logano’s actions led to Truex hitting the wall.

Logano radioed his spotter and took the blame, telling him to pass it along to Truex. Logano and Truex met briefly after the race and Logano again took responsibility in interviews afterward.

Even so, Truex saw a top-five finish turn into a season-worst 32nd-place finish. Truex told Motor Racing Network afterward he would “race (Logano) differently from now on.’’

Pearn tweeted his displeasure. A few hours later, Pearn issued an apology for “being over the line’’ with the comment.

Section 12.8.d in the Sprint Cup Rule Book states that “NASCAR expects Members to police their own behavior, attempt to resolve disputes with other Members, and generally act as a role model representing the sport. … a Member’s action or omission may give rise for the need for NASCAR to step in, review the matter, and if necessary take action to maintain the fairness of Competition and/or the integrity of the sport.’’

Section 12.8.e in the Sprint Cup Rule Book states that “NASCAR Members shall not make or cause to be made a public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age, or handicapping condition.’’

Is Pearn a role model as a crew chief for a team that won a race last year and nearly won this year’s Daytona 500? Was his tweet offensive enough to lead to a NASCAR penalty? Also consider that Pearn is on probation through Dec. 31 for a roof-flap violation at Daytona and served a one-race suspension for a different roof-flap issue at Atlanta.

— Several drivers scored their best finishes of the season Sunday at Auto Club. They included:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (fifth), Chase Elliott (sixth), A.J. Allmendinger (eighth), Jamie McMurray (10th), Brian Scott (12th), Brian Vickers (13th), Paul Menard (15th, ties best finish), Landon Cassill (16th), Casey Mears (17th) and Clint Bowyer (18th).

Jimmie Johnson’s victory Sunday was his second of the season. It’s the earliest in a year that he’s won two races since 2010 when he won twice in the first three races. Johnson now has 15 multi-win seasons, passing Jeff Gordon for No. 2 on the all-time list. Richard Petty holds the record with 18 multi-win seasons.

Kevin Harvick placed second on Sunday and is the only Cup driver to score a top-10 finish in each of the first five races of the season. Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch each had done it the first four races. Kyle Busch finished 25th after a tire went down two laps from the scheduled end while he was running second. Kurt Busch struggled throughout the weekend and finished 30th in a backup car.

— Chase Elliott’s three top-10 finishes in the first five races already rank in the best seasons among recent rookie-of-the-year winners. Only one rookie of the year since 2007 had more than three top-10 finishes in their first Cup season (Kyle Larson had eight top-10s when he won the award in 2014).

Darlington celebrates NASCAR’s 70th birthday by revealing 4th throwback weekend details

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Darlington Raceway on Thursday celebrated the 70th birthday of NASCAR in a big way, announcing details for the fourth annual NASCAR throwback weekend.

The track revealed the 2018 edition of the throwback weekend will celebrate “Seven Decades of NASCAR,” to be held Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at the legendary 1.366-mile track.

The weekend will include the Cup Series’ Bojangles’ Southern 500 and the Xfinity Series’ Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

NASCAR held its first of several organizational meetings on Dec. 14, 1947, at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. That ultimately led to the official formation of NASCAR on Feb. 21, 1948.

The throwback weekend will honor and feature highlights of some of the biggest moments in the sport’s history over its first 70 years.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Darlington Raceway and the NASCAR industry to celebrate the sport over a seven decade period during our 2018 throwback weekend,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said in a media release.

“We have been era specific the past three years,” Tharp added, “so we felt it was important to recognize the 70th anniversary of NASCAR with our ‘Seven Decades of NASCAR’ celebration next season and give the teams, sanctioning body and others a wider brush to paint a picture capturing memorable moments we might not have celebrated in year’s past.”

Memorable moments to be celebrated include several that took place at Darlington itself, including Ned Jarrett’s record-setting 14-lap victory in the 1965 Southern 500, Ricky Craven’s record-setting photo finish win over Kurt Busch in 2003, and Jimmie Johnson’s 2012 Southern 500 win, which gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career victory, among others.

Cup winners of the first three throwback weekends have been Carl Edwards (2015), Martin Truex Jr. (2016) and Denny Hamlin (2017).

As has been the case for the first three throwback weekends, the track will once again issue commemorative tickets for the Southern 500.

“We have produced commemorative tickets for our fans every year of the throwback program, which is an important part of our platform,” Tharp said. “We appreciate how much the fans have supported Darlington Raceway and want them to walk away from our weekend with a special keepsake that recognizes our rich history and honors the stars of our sport.”

Front Row Motorsports adds Michael McDowell, expands technical alliance with Roush Fenway

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Front Row Motorsports will field entries for David Ragan and Michael McDowell in 2018 while expanding its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, the team announced Thursday.

McDowell joins the Bob Jenkins-owned team after four years of driving the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing before being replaced by Kasey Kahne.

The native of Phoenix, Arizona, McDowell replaces Landon Cassill as Ragan’s teammate.

McDowell, 32, has 249 Cup starts since 2008, but only two full-time seasons under his belt. He made one start for Front Row at Watkins Glen in 2013.

“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”

Ragan returns to Front Row for his fifth season. Ragan earned the organization its first Cup victory in 2013 at Talladega. Ragan has two wins, 15 top fives and 39 top-10 finishes in his Cup career.

“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said in a press release. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”

Crew chief assignments have not been finalized. FRM will announce sponsor partners and driver car numbers at a later date.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ‘Last Ride’ diecast is Lionel Racing’s bestselling ever

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has set a new benchmark for Lionel Racing’s most purchased diecast in its 25-year history.

Lionel Racing, NASCAR’s official diecast producer, has announced that the diecast of Earnhardt’s “Last Ride” No. 88 Chevrolet in the Cup season finale last month is now its bestselling diecast in company history.

The “Last Ride” car is based on the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet that Earnhardt drove in his rookie Cup season in 2000.

The previous bestseller was another Earnhardt diecast, for his 2014 Daytona 500 win.

Lionel Racing says that QVC’s “For Race Fans Only” show that featured Earnhardt and unveiled the car helped contribute to sales. But even without QVC, sales of the “Last Ride” diecast outpaced the 2014 Daytona 500 diecast by more than 10,000 units.

“The demand for this car has been simply astounding,” Lionel Racing President Howard Hitchcock said on the company’s website. “The fan response to this diecast is a true measure of how much Earnhardt has meant to both casual NASCAR fans and serious diecast collectors.”

Lionel Racing has also revealed the top-10 selling diecasts for the year, which you can find below. Earnhardt has six cars on the list. Chase Elliott has two and Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney each have one.

Casey Mears likely to split 2018 between NASCAR, Global Rallycross and Stadium Super Trucks

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Casey Mears still plans to compete part-time in NASCAR in 2018, but he’s also looking to expand his racing horizons.

The veteran NASCAR driver told The Checkered Flag recently that he also expects to race in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, as well as Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series.

“Right now I’m talking to a few NASCAR programs to do maybe limited stuff,” Mears told The Checkered Flag. “I don’t have anything that would be a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.

“I’ve been speaking with Robby Gordon in the Stadium Super Truck program. I think that’s a really cool up-and-coming-series and I’d definitely like to be involved with the GRC. It looks like a lot of fun.

“I think there’s enough difference between all those that it could leave room for doing a bit of both so we’ll see how it works out.”

Mears did not race in the Cup Series in 2017, having lost his ride at the end of 2016 to Ty Dillon in the No. 13 Geico Chevy. He has amassed 488 starts and one win (2007 Coca-Cola 600) in his Cup career, along with 13 top fives and 51 top 10s.

However, he did compete on a part-time basis in 2017 in the Xfinity Series, making 14 starts, with season-best finishes of ninth place at both Richmond and Road America. He also has 107 Xfinity starts with one win, 16 top fives and 34 top 10s.