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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NASCAR America: Erik Jones’ racing roots in Byron, Michigan

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After a feature looking at his upbringing in Byron, Michigan, Furniture Row Racing driver Erik Jones spoke with NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Marty Snider about the early years of his racing career.

The journey to his NASCAR career began with a yard cart that his late father, Dave Jones, brought home one day when he was 3.

“I rode that all day long around the yard,” Jones said. “Winter time would and we had like a gravel circle driveway in front of our house. When it would snow over I would get the kart out and ride it around in the snow because I could slide and I thought that was pretty cool. I would get it stuck about every five minutes out in the snow.”

Jones would then get out of the kart and find his dad in their barn to come out get him out.

Now 21, Jones also discussed how much his dad was involved in his career until his death in June 2016 after a battle with cancer.

He also explains how he’s never stayed in any series for more than one year in his career.

Watch the video above for the full discussion.

NASCAR America: Scan All from Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland

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“I sure as (expletive) hope that’s all out of our system.”

That’s what Kyle Busch had to say over his radio after he finished 15th, a lap down in the Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

Busch’s day went south after the first stage thanks to two pit miscues the sent him two laps down.

Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr. dominate the field to win his fifth race of the year and advance to the second round of the playoffs.

In the latest “Scan All,” True and crew chief Cole Pearn recap their day, which saw them bounce back from their own pit road mistakes.

Here are other highlights from this week’s “Scan All.”

  • “Can’t drive in a straight line. Something’s not right with the front end.” – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just before he made contact with the outside wall. A commitment line violation resulted in Stenhouse finish multiple laps off the lead.
  • “Tell the 1 (Jamie McMurray) I don’t know what happened there but we both got the short end of the stick.” – Ryan Newman after contact between him and McMurray sent McMurray spinning on a restart.
  • (Expletive), that 24 (Chase Elliott) can be so much (expletive) faster than us.” – Kasey Kahne after being told he was two laps down.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Erik Jones recounts rookie Cup season, being taught by Kyle Busch

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Erik Jones, the rookie driver for Furniture Row Racing in the No. 77 Toyota, joined NASCAR America Wednesday for a special show from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The 21-year-old driver won the 2015 Camping World Truck Series title and is teammates with Martin Truex Jr.

With Marty Snider, Dale Jarrett and Steve Letarte, Jones discussed the challenges and lessons he’s faced in his first full-time season in the Cup Series.

“The biggest (milestones) for me were trying to win a race and making the playoffs,” Jones said. “Obviously, making the playoffs didn’t happen. … I look back at the last few seasons and rookies that have been in the sport and it’s so hard to win races now. You just don’t see rookies do it a lot.”

Jones also discussed finishing second to Kyle Busch in the Bristol night race and his relationship with the driver who brought him into NASCAR beginning with the Truck Series.

“A lot of times when I was racing in Trucks and Xfinity and Kyle would come to race I’d always run second to him,” Jones said. “I’m like, ‘you know what the problem is? This is the guy who taught me how to race these cars. So I’m good at all the same tracks he’s good at. Except he’s been doing about 10 more years than I have.”

Watch the video for more.

 

PJ1 adhesive to be applied again to track for this weekend’s races at Loudon

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With the successful use of the PJ1 compound in July’s NASCAR Cup race there, New Hampshire Motor Speedway officials announced Wednesday they will apply the compound again to the track for this weekend’s racing.

The 1.058-mile flat track will play host to the Cup and Camping World Truck Series playoff races, as well as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the American Canadian Tour race series.

“There’s no question that the track bite compound we laid down in July allowed for some awesome racing around the entire racetrack,” NHMS executive VP and GM David McGrath said in a statement. “We received some very positive feedback from the drivers, teams and, most importantly, the fans. The support to do it again in September was overwhelming.”

McGrath said the PJ1 adhesive compound will be added to the first and third grooves in all four turns on Thursday evening. It will be reapplied again on Saturday night to be fresh for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race.

Several drivers gave their endorsement for the move:

Kyle Larson: “I think it’s awesome. I was surprised at how well it worked. I liked the element of it changing quickly and wearing out and then wearing out in different spots and stuff. It just adds an element to us that we have to adapt to. In the past … you kind of just run the same line all race long, but (in July) everybody I got around was running somewhat of a different line, and I thought that was a really cool thing.”

Joey Logano: “The question got put out to a lot of different drivers … from the (NASCAR Cup Drivers Council). We kind of got on our group chat and were talking back and forth about what we thought was best. (In the past) after 10 or 15 laps, everyone is kind of where they are at and passes don’t happen often. The wider we can make the racetrack, the more passes that can be made.”

Kyle Busch: “We always run that one lane here, which I call the middle lane. They were just trying to widen the racetrack a little bit and give a little bit more opportunity for us to be able to run side by side and not feel like we’re crashing here all the time or running into each other on restarts.”

Kevin Harvick: “I like the prospects of us trying different things. As the (summer Cup) race wore on, things changed. You had to move around. The PJ1 is one of those things that can definitely make the race better if you can add more lanes of racing.”

Austin Dillon: “I thought (the PJ1) held on good throughout the race in July; I’m a fan of it. July’s race was a blast and everyone is excited about it this time around. We’re going to be aggressive and just go after it this weekend.”