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Ryan: Why Goodyear hasn’t signed an extension . . . and more musings from Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Ga. – As the exclusive tire supplier of NASCAR for more than two decades, Goodyear always is in the news (or crosshairs) for its ubiquitous presence.

When tires mysteriously deflate (or don’t), Goodyear gets blamed.

When a track repaves its asphalt, Goodyear faces heat to maintain quality racing.

When NASCAR adjusts its rules, Goodyear feels the pressure to accommodate durability and handling.

What would happen, though, if there were no Goodyear to kick around anymore?

Actually, that remains a possible scenario for next season.

A month into the final season of their current contract, Goodyear and NASCAR finally have started negotiations on an extension – much later than the typical timeframe.

Consider its five-year deal that expires this season was signed in October 2011 – more than 15 months ahead of the end of its previous contract.

In an interview with ESPN.com and NBC Sports, Goodyear worldwide director of racing Stu Grant said the company had its first major negotiations meeting with NASCAR in mid-February.

With the past year being devoted to finding a Cup Series title sponsor, Goodyear understandably was less of a priority.

“The NASCAR guys had a lot on their plate,” Grant said. “We had early discussions with NASCAR and agreed to put our extension on the back burner, but now we’re having discussions in earnest. We’re committed to NASCAR. NASCAR is committed to us. Our negotiations are going well.

“I think we’re in good shape.”

Still, it is clear that Goodyear now has some leverage. If the negotiations were to hit a sticking point, NASCAR would seem to lack options. Finding a replacement would be difficult. Even if it had a suitor, it would be a very tall order with less than a year of prep time to construct and deliver tens of thousands of tires for the 2018 season.

So Goodyear, which spends much of its time deflecting criticism about its product, would seem to be in the catbird seat to call more of the shots for this contract. That could be significant given that many improvements made to the cars over the past decade adversely have affected the tires.

But there don’t seem to be any stumbling blocks so far. Grant expects a new deal to be finalized by the season’s midpoint.

“NASCAR was in for our first face to face half-day meeting,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of earlier discussions, but that was the first big dialogue we’ve had that was all good. So we’ve kind of really kicked off that process, and having been through a few of these in the past, once you agree on the deal points, then you get the fine points and so on.”

Other observations from Atlanta:

–Runner-up Kyle Larson has been passed for the lead with fewer than 10 laps remaining in the past three Cup races.

Miami (losing first because of an all-time move on the final restart by perhaps NASCAR’s all-time driver) was forgivable. So was Daytona (running out of fuel on the final lap).

But Atlanta might be harder to reconcile for car owner Chip “I Like Winners” Ganassi.

The explanation provided by Larson for why he chose the slower high lane to fend off winner Brad Keselowski ostensibly makes sense. Keselowski previously had shown speed in the high lane, and Larson is among the best in running against the wall.

But you can make a case that the No. 42 Chevrolet driver overthought the move. The lower lane seemed faster on the 1.54-mile oval throughout the weekend. Why not force Keselowski to beat you on the outside and hope for the best?

And when Keselowski swings high, why not throw a block as Denny Hamlin did to Keselowski on the last lap of The Clash? OK, maybe the outcome is the same, and neither car wins. So what? It’s for the win.

Larson is an immensely talented driver whose ethics have been highly praised by his peers (see: last year’s Dover finish when he also chose discretion over playing rough). That praise can be damning, though.

He should have more than one victory on NASCAR’s premier circuit. It might take an unpopular — and unnatural — change in his approach to get the next win.

–The sample size is only two races, but it should be at least noted that Ford is undefeated since adding powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing (and that the Blue Oval led all but 12 of 325 laps Sunday between Keselowski and Kevin Harvick).

The uptick in performance for the Fusion brigade isn’t unexpected, but there’s one element that is. Team Penske, which typically is notorious for walling off other teams even when under the same manufacturer umbrella, seems to be embracing a greater spirit of camaraderie with SHR.

Team owner Roger Penske (who made “the unfair advantage” a thing in auto racing) even alluded to helping Stewart-Haas with its chassis over the offseason.

“Obviously (we) worked with Roush last year, they weren’t quite as competitive as maybe we were, but we knew coming in with Stewart‑Haas that they were going to be guys that could set a bar for us,” Penske said. “In fact, we built some chassis for them before Daytona, some center sections, and we had our cars in the wind tunnel and compared them.  So we know what they have and they know what we have.

“I felt that the camaraderie at Daytona was something we haven’t had for a number of years because we pretty much played by ourselves, and I think that that’s made us much stronger. But from a comparison standpoint, I think that we need that because if they’re better than we are, we’ve got to figure out why and vice versa, and we’ll shoot it out on the track there in the last lap or the last 10 laps.”

Toyota Racing Development made a shrewd move last year in aligning Furniture Row to the powerful Joe Gibbs Racing stable and effectively creating a six-car team. It can’t be that way with Stewart-Haas and Penske, but Ford definitely will get more championship contenders out of this arrangement. If Penske plays nice in a way it didn’t with many others in the past, it increases the title odds for Ford’s expanded field.

–Roughly nine hours before he would be celebrating his first win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Keselowski was carrying his daughter, Scarlett, around the garage, giving the nearly 2-year-old a tour of his No. 2 team. After the win, he took a page from the Steph Curry playbook and briefly brought her on stage for the postrace news conference.

Keselowski delivered a typically thoughtful answer when asked about it:

I’m really lucky to be a race car driver, but it’s challenging to balance your work life and your professional life.  I’m no different than most everyone else.  I want to have a family and I want to do all the cool things and see all the cool things you get to see when you have kids and a wife and all that, but I also want to win. That means I have to be the best professional possible, and I have to put in hours that aren’t always going to be fun, right.  So part of that and trying to maximize my work‑life balance means trying to find the appropriate times and places to blend the two, and that was my opportunity, and I’m going to always look for those opportunities with my wife and daughter and family in general.

“It’s part of the challenge of doing what we do, but I’m still really lucky to live this life and to have an opportunity to race for a great team and travel around the country and see all kinds of cool things and meet all kinds of cool people and have fans and all that, but I feel lucky that I have a team that’s kind of letting me have some slack with all those things and try to find that right balance because I’ll never forget Roger’s son Greg told me, this is one of the first questions he asked me.  He said to me one day, he said, ‘How do you balance your work life and your home life?’

“For a lot of years, I had a terrible work‑to‑life balance with respect to just being all work. … I would say that my time with my family is my time to sharpen the axe, and believe me, when Scarlett wakes up at 7 a.m. and I’m still really tired, I really want to go to work.  I get some good reminders there how fun work is. But in general, I just enjoy the time, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, and I feel like I’ve got the best balance I’ve ever had, and I feel very fortunate.

–It’s been a less than auspicious debut for the ballyhooed 2018 Camry that is running as a 2017 race car. Though Matt Kenseth (third) salvaged a decent day for JGR, Kyle Busch’s struggles were perplexing.

Las Vegas isn’t make or break yet, but TRD and Gibbs will want to make a statement about their new model on a 1.5-mile track.

–Regardless of where you come down on the DeLana vs. Dillon debate, there is no question that it has elements of the type of rivalries that have built NASCAR. There’s so much backstory over the past five years here, it’s hard to pick a spot to begin explaining Sunday night’s flare-up.

While feuding isn’t fun for drivers (or their significant others/wives), it’s compelling to follow.

–Good nugget from NBCSN analyst/NBC Sports.com columnist/occasional ace driver Parker Kligerman on NBCSN’s Monday Morning Donuts podcast about why two Richard Childress Racing cars had battery problems.

Kligerman noted that teams are employing batteries so powerful, there might not be a need for an alternator, which can add a few horsepower. Kligerman said many drivers toggle their alternator off for qualifying laps or on restarts for extra oomph. There could be some kinks to work out if teams are trying to employ that strategy for a 500-mile race.

–Let’s not forget how Dale Earnhardt Jr. feels about splitters, both on his podcast and on Twitter. At this rate, #TeamValence could be trending nationally during a Cup race this season and continue to build the momentum for eliminating the front-end part. Until then …

NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

Long: Hall of Fame moment is special for father and son

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CHARLOTTE — Sleep has not come easy for Doug Yates in some time.

It has only gotten worse lately.

He can’t stop thinking of his father, Robert, who battles liver cancer. Robert has undergone chemotherapy, but at one point doctors said they weren’t sure what how to treat the 74-year-old former NASCAR team owner and engine builder who was selected to the 2018 Hall of Fame Class on Wednesday.

That helpless feeling of not solving a problem counters what Robert and Doug have done all their lives. If there was an issue with an engine, they worked harder and longer until they fixed the matter.

This they can’t.

While Robert Yates undergoes experimental treatments, Doug is there to help take care of his father. There are bad days, Doug says, wincing.

“What I see is a man who is broken down and built back up because he is watching his father,’’ said Whitney Yates, Doug’s wife. “Sometimes (Robert) is so sick he can’t do anything and Doug is there.’’

They are more than father and son. They share a treasured relationship not every boy and his dad experiences, their bonds woven early and strengthened with each day together.

Doug fondly recalls sleeping on a cot in a race shop when he was about 5 years old while his father worked on an engine through the night. They traveled to races together. Doug reminisces of a trip to Richmond where his father, tired from work, told his son, then 12, to take the wheel while he slept. Yet, when a deer ran across their path, it was Robert who asked his son if he saw that.

They often went to the race shop together. Although family, Robert was still the boss. He would be hard on his son at times, but Doug cherishes even those memories.

Robert was only teaching his son what it took to succeed. Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett won two Daytona 500s and Davey Allison won another for Robert Yates Racing. Jarrett won the 1999 Cup championship with the team. As an owner, Robert Yates won 57 Cup races and 48 poles.

Now, Doug is the boss. He oversees the “vision” his father had of the Roush Yates Engines shop, which powered Kurt Busch to a Daytona 500 win and Ford teams to four other victories in the season’s first 11 races.

“He wants to make (his dad) proud,’’ Whitney said of Doug. “He’s always trying so hard.

“Doug is always moving the bar. I think Robert is so proud of that.’’

While Doug does what he can for his father and the family business, he couldn’t control what happened at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The past three years Robert, Doug and the rest of the family came to the Hall of Fame to see if Robert would be selected. Five are chosen each year. Robert ranked sixth in votes received twice, just missing enshrinement.

Robert Yates reacts after he is announced to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Each time, Robert said the voting panel got it right.

“Selfishly, I didn’t think so, but he did,’’ Doug said. “That was a lesson for me. Everything happens for a reason.’’

As Wednesday approached, Doug Yates’ anxiety grew. It was worse Wednesday morning and throughout the day.

As Doug walked into Hall of Fame, ahead of his father, he conceded he was “nervous.’’

He also was prepared.

Doug stocked multiple tissues in the pockets of his slacks.

“If he didn’t make it, I was going to break down,’’ Doug said of his father making the Hall of Fame. “If he did, I was going to break down.’’

Robert also felt nervous.

“If I don’t get in,’’ Robert told himself before the announcement, “that’s the reason to work real hard to be here next year to get in.’’

The family didn’t have to wait long to celebrate.

Robert Yates, who received 94 percent of the vote, was announced first.

“Wow,’’ Doug said. “I’m glad that’s over.’’

His father, sitting a row in front of Doug, reached back. Doug leaned forward. They held hands. 

After that it was a matter of relishing what had happened as four other men — Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ken Squier and Ron Hornady Jr. — were selected to join Robert Yates in the next Hall of Fame Class.

Doug stay composed throughout. He wiped his eyes once.

When the ceremony ended, Robert Yates reached his arm around wife Carolyn and embraced her.

“My family means so much to me because they allowed me to work night and day,’’ Robert Yates said. “Do I love engines? Yes, whether one cylinder, two cylinders, six or 12 or 24. I love engines.’’

That passion led him to this moment.

“I feel like I could take a jack,’’ said the former jackman.

“I don’t know if I’ll sleep tonight.’’

Doug Yates will.

His father will be in the Hall of Fame.

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