Upon Further Review: Tough decisions ahead

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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.

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Danny Stockman Jr. returning as Daniel Hemric’s crew chief in 2018

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After ending his rookie Xfinity season with Randall Burnett as crew chief, Daniel Hemric will be back with Danny Stockman Jr. on top of his pit box in 2018.

Hemric made the announcement Saturday during the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Award ceremony in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Burnett led Hemric’s No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet for the final five races of the season. Stockman was suspended for four races after a weight fell off Hemric’s car during practice for the Dover playoff race in September

After Hemric narrowly raced his way into the Championship 4 in the Phoenix elimination race, RCR stuck with Burnett for the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hemric wound up placing fourth in the standings after a battery issue resulted in him finishing 34th.

“I’m very excited about that,” Hemric said of Stockman’s return. “We had some situations that were thrown our way with five races left in the season. … I have all the faith in the world in Danny and in our race team and the direction we’re going as a company and knowing I’ve got him to lead our group is very exciting.”

Hemric finished his rookie year with no wins, seven top fives and 16 top 10s.

He’s still winless in three full-time seasons in NASCAR, including two in the Camping World Truck Series.

The 26-year-old driver addressed some of the struggles he faced in his transition into Xfinity.

“You’ve got more Cup guys on a regular basis,” Hemric said. “Those guys you’re trying to race but you’re trying to learn from them and you’re trying to as a rookie in this series and with a rookie team. We were all working together, so just trying to process all of that. But more than anything else, you’re racing so much more that you see the learning curve kind of take its own path a lot quicker throughout the year. It’s taking advantage of the moments knowing that you get to turn around every four or five days and get back on the race track and you get to work on your craft. It was good to be able to that and kind of have some success early on like we did.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominates in 2017 RCCA ELITE Diecast sales

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With Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring from Cup Series competition this season, that means one thing for diecast collectors.

Get them while you still can.

The Racing Collectables Club of America, through Lionel Racing, has released its top-10 list of 1:24-Scale RCCA ELITE diecasts for 2017. The list was included in the RCCA’s year-end catalogue.

According to the Lionel Racing website, ELITE diecasts are the most detailed produced, with more than 260 individual parts.

Earnhardt, who just earned his 15th straight most popular driver award, dominates the list with six of 10 cars.

The only other drivers represented on the list are Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott.

Below you can see a picture of the full top-10 list.

Here’s the entire top 10.

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Axalta “Last Ride” No. 88 Chevrolet – Earnhardt drove this car, based on the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet from his 2000 rookie season, in his final start at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
  2. Ryan Blaney: Motorcraft No. 21 Ford, Pocono race win diecast – Blaney drove this car to his first Cup win on June 11 at Pocono Raceway.
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Nationwide No. 88 Chevrolet, Darlington throwback paint scheme – Earnhardt raced this car, based on his ACDelco paint scheme from his two Xfinity Series championship seasons (1998-99), in the Southern 500.
  4. Kurt Busch: Haas Automation No. 41 Ford, Daytona 500 race win diecast – The confetti and grass-covered car Busch won the 59th Daytona 500 in to start the year.
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Nationwide No. 88 Chevrolet, primary paint scheme
  6. Austin Dillon: Dow Salutes No. 3 Chevrolet, Coca-Cola 600 race win diecast – The car Dillon drove to his first Cup win in May, sending the No. 3 to Victory Lane for the first time since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s last win in October 2000 at Talladega Superspeedway.
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Nationwide No. 88 Chevrolet, patriotic paint scheme – Earnhardt drove this scheme in the Coke 600.
  8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Mountain Dew/Ride With Dale No. 88 Chevrolet, race version – Earnhardt drove this car in his final start at Talladega Superspeedway in October. Fans were able to register to have their names inscribed in the scheme. Earnhardt started from his 15th and final Cup pole in this race.
  9. Chase Elliott: Hooters No. 24 Chevrolet – Elliott drove this car in the spring Talladega race and the playoff races at Phoenix Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway.
  10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Nationwide “Gray Ghost” No. 88 Chevrolet – Earnhardt drove this car in his final Cup start at Martinsville Speedway. Earnhardt originally intended to run the scheme in the 2016 Southern 500, but Jeff Gordon did when Earnhardt missed the last 18 races of the season for a concussion.

See the list below.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

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Social Roundup: Sights from the Xfinity, Truck Series Awards Banquet

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The NASCAR season officially came to a close Saturday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the annual Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center. The ceremony will air at 9 p.m. ET on Dec. 17 on NBCSN.

Xfinity driver William Byron and Truck Series driver Christopher Bell were recognized as this season’s champions before they move on with their careers. Byron will race in the Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports and Bell moves up to Xfinity with Joe Gibbs Racing.

NASCAR handed out plenty of annual awards for each series.

Rookie of the Year: Byron (Xfinity) and Chase Briscoe (Trucks)
Manufacturer title: Chevrolet (Xfinity) and Toyota (Trucks)
Comcast Community Champion: Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew department

Mobil 1 Driver of the Year: Kyle Busch (Xfinity) and Bell (Trucks)
Mahle Engine Builder of the Year: Roush Yates Racing’s Doug Yates (Xfinity) and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Mark Cronquist (Trucks).
Duralast Brake in the Race: Busch (Xfinity) and Bell (Trucks)

JR Motorsports’ Elliott Sadler was voted most popular driver for the third time after he finished runner-up in the season standings to Byron.

Brad Keselowski Racing’s Chase Briscoe was voted most popular driver in the Truck Series, though there was a slight mixup with his name on the trophy. We’ve all been there.

Here are more sights from the award ceremony brought to you by social media.

Your guide to the 2018 Cup Series paint schemes

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The 2018 NASCAR Cup season is still two months away from its start with the 60th Daytona 500.

But it’s not too early to start brushing yourself up on the various Cup Series paint schemes.

Some teams haven’t made many changes to their cars (Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing), while others have completely revamped their looks (Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing).

Here’s your look at all the released paint schemes so far for next season.

This post will be updated.

Jamie McMurray

Brad Keselowski

Source: Lionel Racing

Austin Dillon

 

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

 

Kevin Harvick

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

Trevor Bayne

Roush Fenway Racing
Lionel Racing

Chase Elliott

Lionel Racing

Aric Almirola

Stewart-Haas Racing

Denny Hamlin

Lionel Racing

Ryan Blaney

Team Penske

Ty Dillon

Lionel Racing

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Lionel Racing

Kyle Busch

Lionel Racing

Daniel Suarez

Lionel Racing

Erik Jones

Lionel Racing

Paul Menard

Lionel Racing

Joey Logano

Team Penske
Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing

William Byron

Hendrick Motorsports
Lionel Racing

Ryan Newman

Lionel Racing
Lionel Racing
Richard Childress Racing

Kyle Larson

 

Chip Ganassi Racing

Darrell Wallace Jr.

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Jimmie Johnson

Martin Truex Jr.

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Lionel Racing

Alex Bowman

Nationwide