NASCAR announces enhancements to race formats

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR revealed enhancements to the race format Monday that are intended to create more urgency and make the regular season more meaningful.

Under the new system, for the first time, points will be awarded during the 26-race regular season that carryover through the playoffs, all the way until the season finale in Miami.

The adjustments will be for all three series — Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series — and come after collaboration and input from industry stakeholders, including drivers and teams.

NASCAR also noted that the alterations to the race format will allow fans to see more racing, minimizing green-flag laps missed because of natural breaks.

“Simply put, this will make our great racing even better,” said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO, in a statement. “I’m proud of the unprecedented collaboration from our industry stakeholders, each of whom had a common goal – strengthening the sport for our fans. This is an enhancement fully rooted in teamwork, and the result will be an even better product every single week.”

Said reigning Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin on what all this means to the drivers: “There are no off weeks. Every single race matters. Not only that, but every lap of every race matters.”

For fans who might be uneasy about what was announced, Brad Keselowski said: “Wait to see this on the race track. This is going to be the best racing you’ve ever seen.”

Every race will consist of three stages with points earned in each stage. The Daytona 500 will not be altered. Stage points will be awarded in the duel qualifying races, which are held three days before the Daytona 500.

Points will be awarded to the top-10 finishers in each of the first two stages of a race. The stage winner will receive 10 points. Points will descend to the 10th-place finisher, who will receive one point.

The race winner will receive 40 points. Second place will collect 35 points with third earning 34 points. That descends one point per position. The driver who finishes 35th receives two points. Any driver who finishes 36th or worse scores one point.

There will be no bonus points awarded for leading a lap.

If a driver wins both stages and the race, they’ll score a maximum 60 points for the event.

A race will be deemed official at the end of the second stage. If the race ends at that point, the leader would receive the stage points and race points.

“I think this is an exciting time for NASCAR and the fans should be excited about this,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.

NASCAR also announced a playoff bonus structure that will see the regular-season points leader honored.

The regular-season points leader will be given a 15-point bonus that will be added to the driver’s reset total of 2,000 points. The driver who is second in the standings after the regular season ends receives a 10-point bonus. That descends to a one-point bonus for the driver 10th in the standings. Drivers 11th or lower who qualify for the playoffs do not receive a bonus.

The bonus points carry through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Also, the winner of the first two stages of each regular-season race would receive one bonus playoff point to be added to their reset total before the playoffs begin. The race winner will receive five bonus playoff points to be added to their reset total.

Those bonus points also can be earned in the playoff races. Thus, a driver who wins the playoff opener at Chicagoland would receive five points that would count to their total.

“Race fans deserve to see races that matter,” said NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton. “When races matter, the fans win.”

A race win will still help a driver and team qualify for the playoffs. NASCAR will no longer use the term Chase

The overall structure of the playoffs remains the same. There will be 16 drivers who make the playoffs in Cup (12 in Xfinity and eight in the Truck Series). NASCAR will reseed after each round.

In Cup, four drivers will be eliminated after each round, leaving four to compete for the title in the season finale in Miami.

The season finale in Miami will remain unchanged. Four drivers will compete for the title with the one finishing highest among the group the series champion.

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Goodyear tire info for Talladega Superspeedway

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Goodyear will use the same tire setups this weekend in the Cup and Xfinity Series at Talladega Superspeedway.

While the left-side tire is unchanged from what’s been in use at the track since October 2014, the right-side tire will have a minor construction update.

“The amount of tire wear at Talladega has increased a good bit since the track was repaved back in 2010, and we especially see that on the inboard of the right-front (tire) where teams run a significant amount of camber” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing in a press release. “That led us to bring a more wear-resistant right-side tread compound starting in 2014. Having said that, we still see a lot of tire strategy come into play at Talladega, with teams still having the ability to take two tires or even fuel only depending on the situation.”

As on all NASCAR ovals greater than one mile in length, teams are required to run inner liners in all four tire positions at Talladega. Air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.

Here’s the full tire info for the weekend.

Set limits: Cup: Two sets for practice, one set for qualifying and six sets for the race; Xfinity: four sets for the event

Tire Codes: Left-side — D-4596; Right-side — D-4752

Tire Circumference: Left-side — 2,233 mm (87.91 in.); Right-side — 2,247 mm (88.46 in.)

Minimum Recommended Inflation: Left Front — 27 psi; Left Rear – 27 psi; Right Front — 50 psi; Right Rear — 48 psi

Social Roundup: Reaction to Matt Kenseth’s NASCAR return

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He’s back!

Five months after making what was thought to likely be his last Cup start, Matt Kenseth was announced Wednesday as returning in a part-time capacity with Roush Fenway Racing.

Here’s how social media reacted to the news that the 2003 Cup champion will share the No. 6 Ford with Trevor Bayne for the rest of the season.

Check back for more.

Matt Kenseth to drive No. 6 for Roush Fenway Racing

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Matt Kenseth is returning to NASCAR and coming back to his racing home.

Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame that the 46-year-old Kenseth will drive the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing in select races. His first race with the team will be Kansas on May 12.

“It feels like the right deal at the right time,’’ Kenseth said. “I think it’s an interesting challenge for me not just being a driver. I hope I can be much more to the organization. I hope there is a lot of different ways I can help in.’’

Said car owner Jack Roush: “We feel he has come home to us.’’

Kenseth will share the No. 6 ride with Trevor Bayne, who is running this weekend at Talladega.

“Our goal is to have Trevor continue to grow and mature on the track,’’ said Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing. “He will continue to be in the car.’’

Newmark said details are being worked out on what races Bayne and Kenseth will drive. Bayne has close ties to sponsor AdvoCare, which is on the car at Talladega. Kenseth will drive in the All-Star Race, Newmark confirmed.

Newmark said that when he told Bayne of the decision, Bayne said he wanted to remain in the car every week.

He’s a fierce competitor,“ Newmark said of Bayne’s reaction to being taken out of the car for some races. 

Roush said he hopes Kenseth can help the organization improve its performance.

“It’s a chance to look at our cars and see if there is something glaring that Matt sees with his experience,’’ Roush said.

Bayne is 26th in the points. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not finished better than 12th (Texas) this season. Every driver ahead of him in the points has had at least one top-10 finish this season. He has not finished in the top 10 in his last 12 starts, dating back to last season.

Kenseth said he had not talked to Bayne but hopes to do so in a few days and work together. Kenseth said he spoke to Stenhouse before the announcement.

Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, has 39 career Cup wins, putting him 20th on the all-time wins list.

Car owner Jack Roush said that Kenseth will be a good mentor for the team’s young drivers, along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne.

He won the 2000 Cup Rookie of the Year award driving for Roush Fenway Racing and remained with the organization through the 2012 season. Kenseth won 24 races — including the 2009 and 2012 Daytona 500 — with the team before leaving to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing from 2013-17.

Roush Fenway Racing also announced that Wyndham Rewards/Wyndham Hotels will sponsor the No. 6 car in select races.

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NASCAR America: Matt DiBenedetto holds head high after 16th at Richmond

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Matt DiBenedetto joined Kyle Petty and Marty Snider at the Big Oak Table in NASCAR America’s Charlotte studio and relived his 16th-place finish in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

“When we run 16th – with no attrition; we just flat out-raced Hendrick cars … RCR cars and Penske cars, the list goes on and on – we do that, we can hold our head high,” DiBenedetto said.

DiBenedetto was one of 23 drivers who finished on the lead lap last week, which meant he had to beat some big budget teams.

“If we’re going by budget and pure numbers, we stack up 32nd, -3rd, -4th,” DiBenedetto. “But we have really good people. We may not have a lot of people, but we have some really good people.

“We had a nice, smooth weekend and outraced a lot of people that in theory, if you’re going by budget, we definitely shouldn’t. It makes us proud because it makes other people, probably a little mad, as they see the 32 car going by, knowing that we run on a sixth of the budget of the guys we were driving by.”

DiBenedetto’s last three races have ended in finishes of 16th at Texas Motor Speedway, 21st at Bristol Motor Speedway and 16th at Richmond.

For more on DiBenedetto’s strong Richmond finish, watch the above video.