Upon Further Review: Tough decisions ahead

Leave a comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After months of building cars, nights of analyzing data and hours preparing for all contingencies, Sunday’s Daytona 500 could come down to a simple decision for crew chiefs.

Do you want tires or do you want track position?

In recent years, the question was easy. You took track position because tires didn’t wear as much on a surface last repaved in 2010. Teams often changed no tires or two tires at most during the race. Only if the car was way off or the driver flat-spotted the tires trying to slow as they entered pit road did teams change four tires on a stop.

But just as the breeze brings the cool ocean air, there’s a change with Daytona International Speedway.

The 2.5-mile track is reawakening. It’s growing temperamental. The smooth repaved surface is starting to show its personality and make tires wear.

“The grip is just going away,’’ Daytona 500 pole-sitter Chase Elliott said. “These racetracks that sit down here in Florida that bake in the sun all day long, where it stays warm all year, you know, it just puts a lot of age on the track.’’

The result is the cars are becoming more difficult to drive.

“Game planning for this place, the biggest part, I think, is … figuring out what our package needs to be handling-wise,’’ said Todd Gordon, crew chief for Clash winner Joey Logano. “This place is getting rougher and getting older. So handling comes back into play.’’

That’s only part of the issues for crew chiefs. The weather also could be a factor.

Sunday’s Clash was run under sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70s. Even then drivers noted how slick the track was.

Early forecasts call for sunny skies and slightly cooler conditions for the Daytona 500, but a warm front will bring temperatures into the low 80s the day before the race. Should that system slow and arrive on Sunday, it would make the day of the 500 one of the warmest in the last decade. That would make the track even more challenging for drivers.

“I was surprised at how slick it was (Sunday), and it’s going to be times 10 next Sunday,’’ Martin Truex Jr. said. “It will definitely be something that guys will be looking at.

“I think tires will be important, but track position, if you’re in the top three or four and can get single file … that’s the place to be. If you get shuffled out of that on old tires, you get in trouble. If you don’t have tires, you need to find a way to stay up front and that’s tough to do.’’

There’s another challenge for some teams. Although the Clash featured drivers in cars they won’t race in the Daytona 500, it seemed pretty clear that Team Penske, which won the last three restrictor-plate races last season, again is strong with Brad Keselowski and Logano. The Joe Gibbs Racing cars also were good running together and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was thrilled with the speed his new Ford had.

“It seems that Penske’s cars and even Stewart-Haas’ Ford stuff is really strong right now,’’ said Matt McCall, crew chief for Jamie McMurray. “I think to outrun those cars you’re going to have to have a little bit of strategy to stay in front of them, based off that (Clash) car.’’

By “strategy,” that means track position over tires.

“I’d minimize anything on pit road,’’ McCall said.

That’s another factor that could play into the race. If the race features hot and slick conditions, that could lead to numerous cautions. If the cautions are spread out evenly, handling might not matter as much as track position. Last year’s Daytona 500 had only one green-flag run of more than 35 laps. 

Harvick says it’s simple what a driver will want from his car.

“I think you’re going to want a little bit of both,’’ he said, referring to handling and tires. “If it’s a long run, you’re going to want tires. If it turns out to be a short run, I think you can hang on to it for 15 or 20 laps.’’

If only it was that simple for crew chiefs. After all the work by so many on the team and back at the shop, the winner of the Daytona 500 could be determined in a split-second call by a crew chief. Make the wrong call and the driver might not have a chance to win. Make the right call and it could lead to a cerebration unlike any other.

 and on Facebook

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Auto Club Speedway recap, West Coast Awards

Leave a comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and looks back at the weekend’s racing at Auto Club Speedway.

Rutledge Wood hosts with Jeff Burton, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett from the “Big Oak Table” at NBC Charlotte.

What to expect from the show.

  • Martin Truex Jr. flashed his championship form from last year and earned his first win of the 2018 season Sunday in Fontana. We’ll recap the last race of NASCAR Goes West from around the “Big Oak Table” at our NBC Sports studios in Charlotte. Plus, Rut and the gang will hand out the West Coast awards, honoring the best moments from the Vegas-Phoenix-Fontana run.
  • NASCAR is a sport built on families, and it’s seen lots of kids grow up at the track through the years. We’ll spend time discussing the next generation to catch the racing bug – including Harrison Burton, son of our Jeff Burton.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Landon Cassill gets Cup ride for Martinsville, Texas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Landon Cassill will drive the No. 00 for StarCom Racing in the next two races, Martinsville and Texas, the team announced Monday.

Cassill replaces Jeffrey Earnhardt. StarCom Racing and Earnhardt parted ways after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway will mark Cassill’s first Cup race of the year. The 28-year-old has 259 career Cup starts and a career-best finish of fourth at Talladega in October 2014. He drove for Front Row Motorsports the past two seasons but was not retained after last year.

Cassill’s sponsor the next two races will be the United States First Responders Association, a non-profit, professional and social network of fire, EMS, rescue, law enforcement and military personnel, as well as civilian support teams.

StarCom Racing was privileged to acquire a new partnership with USFRA and Landon Cassill behind the wheel,” said Derrike Cope, team manager, in a statement. “I’m optimistic that his knowledge and experience will only help our efforts as well as the growth of our team.”

Said Cassill in a statement: “I love working with new teams. I feel like that is one of my strengths. StarCom Racing looks like they are in it for the long haul, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.” 

 and on Facebook

Hendrick Motorsports withdraws appeal of Phoenix penalties against No. 9 team

Getty Images

Hendrick Motorsports has withdrawn its appeal of penalties against Chase Elliott‘s N0. 9 team from last weekend’s race in Phoenix, NBC Sports confirmed.

NASCAR found a L1 infraction on Elliott’s car in the rear-suspension after the race at ISM Raceway.

NASCAR stated that the team’s truck trailing arm spacer/pinion angle shim mounting surfaces must be planar and in complete contact with corresponding mating surfaces at all points and at all times.

NASCAR fined crew chief Alan Gustafson $50,000, suspended car chief Josh Kirk two races and docked Elliott 25 points and the team 25 owner points. Elliott’s third-place finish in the race will not count toward any tiebreakers.

Following Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, where Elliott finished 16th, he is 21st in the point standings.

 and on Facebook

Preliminary entry lists for Martinsville

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR visits a short track for the first time this season when it heads to Martinsville Speedway, the oldest track on the circuit.

The Cup Series is joined by the Camping World Truck Series, which has been off the last two weeks.

Here are the entry lists for both races.

Cup – STP 500

There are 38 cars entered.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is listed as driving StarCom Racing’s No. 00 Chevrolet, but the team announced Sunday it has parted ways with Earnhardt.

Landon Cassill will take his place this weekend and at Texas Motor Speedway.

D.J. Kennington is entered in his third race this season, driving Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota.

Ross Chastain is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet for the fifth time this season.

Harrison Rhodes is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet. Rhodes has one start in the No. 51 at Atlanta.

Last year, Brad Keselowski won this race after leading 116 of 500 laps. He beat Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott. In the fall playoff race, Busch won over Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.

Click here for the entry lists.

Trucks – Alpha Energy Solutions 250

There are 36 trucks entered.

Todd Gilliland will make his first start of the season in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 4 Toyota.

His father, David Gilliland, is entered in DGR-Crosley’s No. 54 Toyota.

Timothy Peters will make his first start of the year driving Ricky Benton Racing’s No. 92 Ford. A former driver for the defunct Red Horse Racing, Peters’ last start was in the 2017 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, Chase Elliott won this race over Johnny Sauter and Christopher Bell. The fall playoff race was won by Noah Gragson over Matt Crafton and Sauter.

Click here for the entry list.