Mark Martin: New Xfinity/Truck eligibility rules ‘double-edged sword’

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The new restriction on Sprint Cup veterans competing in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series could be called “The Kyle Busch Rule.”

The rule limits current Cup drivers with five full-time seasons of experience to 10 races annually in Xfinity and seven in the Truck series. It also bans them from competing in the final eight races of the year, which includes the Chase and the regular-season finale.

If NASCAR had introduced similar guidelines just more than 10 years ago, they might have been labeled “The Mark Martin Rule.”

Before Busch came along and won a series-record 85 races in 12 seasons, it was Martin who claimed the mark with 49 wins from 1987-2011.

Martin’s true dominance came in the 1990s when the former Roush Fenway Racing was splitting time between what was then the Winston Cup and Busch Series.

From 1993-2000, Martin won 38 times, winning fewer than three races in a year just once in that stretch. The most came in 1993 with seven wins.

Martin was asked by Dave Moody on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio how he viewed the rule’s announcement. Martin said people need to remember that “times change” in life and sports.

“For many, any kind of change they don’t like,” Martin said. “I don’t like change a lot. But we need to make changes as times go on, and circumstances are different. I think it’s OK.

‘In some ways it’s a double-edged sword. There’s gains and there’s losses in making changes and getting Cup guys out of that series. I want to make sure that we keep our series interesting to our fans and interesting to our sponsors so the Xfinity Series doesn’t dry up. We need to keep that thing alive and thriving for all the young guys that need to get that chance to have that experience. We need them to be able to measure themselves against Cup guys. I think it’s OK on one hand. On the other, there’s still going to be an awful lot of Cup guys in the series.”

While drivers such as Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and others still will compete in the Xfinity Series, it will be more in line with the number of starts Martin was making at the peak of his Xfinity success.

After one full-time season in 1987 with three wins in 27 starts, Martin started more than 15 races only once (17 in 1989). This was when the Xfinity schedule was a few races shorter than in it is in 2016.

In Busch’s 14 years of racing in the Xfinity Series, he has started fewer than 15 races only once since his first full-time effort in 2004. He’s earned 10 or more wins three times and he has nine this season with three races left.

“No one really has a problem with Cup drivers racing in the Xfinity Series,” Martin said. “Unless they win too much. Then they shouldn’t be able to race. I don’t completely disagree. I’m not all that interested in watching Kyle Busch demolish the field in every race. I’m just not. But I am interested in Erik Jones giving him a run for his money, or something else like that.”

Martin reflected on his time in the Xfinity Series, when he drove the iconic No. 60 Winn-Dixie Ford. How would a cap on Cup drivers in the lower series have impacted his career? Martin believes he likely wouldn’t be entering the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January.

“It would be tough on me because in the early ’90s I think I may have gotten fired from Roush Racing at times for not performing,” Martin admitted. “I’ve said all along the success I had in the Busch Series in the ’90s kept me relevant in the Cup Series when I would go through droughts.

“It would also keep me relevant about car knowledge because I had to battle people that didn’t think I knew what I was talking about setups and bodies and all these kinds of things on the hardware on these cars. I could go over to my Busch car where I had 100 percent say in everything about how the body was put on, how the body was built and every setup and shock that went under that car, and I could go win with that.

“When I could do that, that added credibility to me. And my career, would not have been, I don’t believe, would have been a Hall of Fame career had I not had that to fall back on. Early in the years at Roush Racing, we had some really great years, and we had some years where we weren’t great. If I hadn’t of had the success that I had in that series from a hardware standpoint and a driver standpoint, it would have made it tough to make things go. For me, it was critical at the time. Today’s age, things are quite a bit different.”

Martin will enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame with 40 Sprint Cup wins. The most he ever claimed in one season was seven in 1998. That year in the Xfinity Series, Martin won two races in 15 starts, his fewest in an eight-year stretch.

Xfinity crew chief Chris Gabehart penalized $5,000 for loose lug nut at Indy

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NASCAR has issued one penalty resulting from last weekend’s races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Chris Gabehart, crew chief for the No. 20 Xfinity Series car of Joe Gibbs Racing, was fined $5,000 on Wednesday.

Gabehart was penalized for violating Sections 10.4 and 10.9 of the NASCAR Rule Book covering Tires and Wheels: Lug nut(s) not properly installed at the conclusion of the Lilly Diabetes 250.

There were no other penalties related to last weekend’s Xfinity or NASCAR Cup races in Indianapolis or the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway.

Richard Childress Racing to announce plans for a third Cup team ‘at a later date’

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With Paul Menard and his family’s home improvement chain sponsorship on the move to Wood Brothers Racing for 2018, Richard Childress Racing has a major funding gap to address.

Menards has adorned the No. 27 Chevrolet for RCR for seven consecutive Cup seasons and is among the last full-season sponsors in NASCAR’s premier series. It assuredly is the most lucrative of RCR’s sponsorships.

Though the team is committed to fielding Chevys for Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon next season, the impending departure of Menard leaves questions about whether RCR will remain a three-car team in 2018.

In a statement Wednesday morning, team chairman and CEO Richard Childress said the team “will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.”

Here’s the full statement from Childress:

Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years. Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.

Our entire RCR organization is 100 percent focused on getting all three of our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs in the playoffs this year, and bringing another Cup championship to RCR in 2017.

We will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.

 

Paul Menard will move to the Wood Brothers for 2018 season

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Paul Menard will join Wood Brothers Racing next season, the team announced Wednesday. He will replace Ryan Blaney, who will move after this season to run a third Cup car for Team Penske.

Menards will sponsor the car in 22 races. Additional sponsorship, including plans for long-time partner Motorcraft/Quick Lane, will be announced later. The technical alliance between Team Penske and the Wood Brothers will continue.

“It’s fantastic to have the ability to continue to race in the highest level of motorsports full-time and something we look forward to doing with Paul for years to come,” said co-owner Eddie Wood in a statement. “I know this will allow us to continue to perform as an organization and will give Paul a great opportunity to go out there and compete for wins. Paul is not only a great driver with a lot of experience in the Cup Series, but he’s great with partners, which is a big part of what we do these days. We are looking forward to finishing out this season with Ryan (Blaney), going for more wins and maybe even a championship, and continuing that with Paul in 2018.”

Said Menard: “I’ve really enjoyed my time in NASCAR and as a Cup Series driver, but to get the chance to drive the iconic No. 21 for the Wood Brothers is the coolest thing I’ve ever got a chance to do. I’m looking forward to working with the team, working with Roush Yates, Ford Performance and Team Penske to see what we can do. Ryan (Blaney) has done a fantastic job and is a constant threat to run up front. Hopefully, we can do the same thing and keep the momentum going into 2018 and beyond.”

Also, Menard will run a handful of Xfinity races for Team Penske next year.

Menard had been with Richard Childress Racing since 2011, scoring his lone Cup victory — the 2011 Brickyard 400 — with the organization.

Menard’s best finish in the points with the organization was 14th in 2015. He is 23rd in the points with no wins, two top fives and three top-10 finishes this season.

The move marks the fourth organization the 36-year-old Menard has raced full-time for in his Cup career. He drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. from 2007-08, Yates Racing from 2009-10 and Childress since.

Car owner Richard Childress issued a statement:

“Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years. Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.
“Our entire RCR organization is 100 percent focused on getting all three of our Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs in the playoffs this year, and bringing another Cup championship to RCR in 2017.
“We will be announcing our plans for a third Cup team and our overall 2018 team lineup at a later date.”

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Ryan Blaney to join Team Penske in 2018

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Ryan Blaney will move to Team Penske and drive a third Cup car for that organization, the team announced Wednesday.

Blaney will drive the No. 12 Ford in 2018 and has signed a multi-year contract extension.

“For some time now, we have wanted to bring Ryan in to run a third car for us, but things just needed to make sense from a timing and business perspective,” said team owner Roger Penske.  “We have been working on making this a reality and 2018 is the right opportunity to make this move and return our organization to a three-car team. The benefits of having three full-time teams under our roof, along with the continued technical partnership with the Wood Bothers, will help us remain competitive in the ever-changing NASCAR landscape.”

MORE: Paul Menard to take over Wood Brothers ride in 2018

Blaney, who won at Pocono in June, is 12th in the standings. He has seven top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season.

“This is a huge opportunity for me and my career,” said Blaney, a third-generation driver from High Point, North Carolina, in a statement. “I’ve always enjoyed racing whatever car I was in and trying to win each and every race. I’ve had some great moments with both Team Penske and the Wood Brothers over the last few years. I know for a fact I wouldn’t be where I am today without Roger (Penske), Eddie and Len (Wood) and the opportunities their organizations have given me. I’m thrilled knowing that Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano) are long-term teammates for me at Team Penske and Paul (Menard) will have input with our team now that he’s with the Wood Brothers organization. Hopefully we can go out there and win races and compete for championships year after year.”

The 23-year-old Blaney first signed with Team Penske in 2012. He has raced for Wood Brothers Racing, which is aligned with Team Penske, since 2015. He ran about half the 2015 season and has done the full season the past two years for the organization.

This marks the first time since 2010 that Team Penske has fielded three full-time entries. It did so that season with Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr.

With adding a third car, Team Penske will need to acquire a charter for that car.

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