NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 88: Steve O’Donnell on his special connection to an international push

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As the day-to-day overseer of NASCAR’s competitive direction, chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell is a man of action who spends most of his time listening.

Whether drivers, team owners, sponsors, media or fans, the 21-year employee of NASCAR constantly solicits the opinions of those who are impacted by his organization’s decisions.

“When you’re listening, you probably are going to learn something or gain a perspective you hadn’t heard about before,” O’Donnell said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “You have to make some tough calls. The toughest part is you’re not going to be everyone’s best friend. You have to make calls that drivers and teams don’t like.

“All you can do is hope they respect or understand why you made that call. The idea you’re going to be friends with everyone is something that’s tough and something you learn the hard way.”

O’Donnell gained an appreciation for the diversity of thought while growing up in Egypt, where his family moved to a town near Cairo from Massachusetts when he was in seventh grade.

Living amidst the volatility of the Middle East (one of O’Donnell’s close friends was Andrew Kerr, the younger brother of Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose father was assassinated in Beirut in 1983) brought real-world lessons in the importance of communication and compromise for common ground.

“It’s probably the greatest thing my parents have given to me,” he said about the exposure to “different cultures and traveling around the world.

“It was an interesting perspectcive to sit in a class on the Egypt-Israeli War, which Egypt clearly struggled with, and have an Israeli kid to your right, an Egyptian to your left, and both believe they destroyed each other in this war. It was fascinating to listen to those two kids who had a completely different perspective. You learned quick.”

Besides the lessons of human nature, O’Donnell also developed a worldly understanding, which he remains keen on in helping NASCAR’s international push. Citing the NBA as a model, O’Donnell believes NASCAR can put down roots by creating leagues in other countries to foster drivers coming to America as Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Suarez did from the Mexico Series.

NASCAR also has circuits in Canada and Europe, and O’Donnell said China and India could be on the horizon.

“You look at the car culture just emerging there, and some of the things that were built around NASCAR, the family aspect, the automobile, are coming together in both those countries and even parts of South America,” O’Donnell said. “If we can, in a smart way, go with OEMs to partner to create a series where NASCAR is part of the development, that can be a huge opportunity for us.

“It’s got to make sense for U.S. partners where they’re trying to break into those markets. One of things you’ve seen in other series, they’ve taken a race to a certain country that doesn’t really help any team owners or sponsors, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense for us.”

During the podcast, O’Donnell also discussed:

–How NASCAR is seeking more technology with its next Gen 7 model and the timeframe for rolling it out;

–His role in being a public face of NASCAR and dealing with negative feedback on social media.

–Why he believes NASCAR drivers need more swagger;

–What’s ahead for several key topics – the overtime line, monitoring lug nuts, making pit speeds available in real time, debris cautions.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on a host of other smartphone apps.

Erik Jones tops final Cup practice for Brickyard 400

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Rookie Erik Jones was fastest in the final Cup Series practice session for the Brickyard 400 with a top speed of 185.845 mph.

Jones’ top speed came on his third of nine laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Completing the top five were Kevin Harvick (185.824), Ryan Blaney (185.816), Jimmie Johnson (185.487) and Jamie McMurray (185.460).

Matt Kenseth, 20th fastest, recorded the most laps in the session with 34.

Johnson had the best 10-lap average at 180.951 mph. Kyle Busch followed him at 180.864 mph.

Click here for the full practice report.

During the practice session the spotter for Harvick, Tim Fedewa, told the driver over radio that he had his hard card taken by NASCAR after the sandwich he was eating fell from his perch on the Pagoda. NASCAR confirmed it returned his hard card after practice.

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Toyotas dominate opening Cup practice at Indianapolis

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Toyotas took the top three spots and four of the top six spots in the opening Cup practice session Saturday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin, driving a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, led the way with a lap of 187.414 mph. He was followed by Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., whose Toyota went 185.559 mph. JGR driver Matt Kenseth was next at 185.200 in his Toyota.

Kasey Kahne was fourth for Hendrick Motorsports, leading his Chevrolet to a lap of 185.151 mph. Kyle Larson was next at 185.002 mph in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The top Ford was Ryan Blaney. He was eight in his Wood Brothers Racing ride at 184.453 mph.

There were no incidents in the 55-minute session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled to go from 11 – 11:55 a.m. ET on CNBC.

Click here for full practice report

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Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch among those penalized practice time at Indy

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NASCAR announced that the teams of Jimmie Johnson and Corey LaJoie will miss 15 minutes of practice in Saturday’s first session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for being late to inspection before last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The teams of Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon will each miss 15 minutes in Saturday’s final practice session for multiple inspection failures before last weekend’s race at New Hampshire.

Today’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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Points leader Elliott Sadler continues his quest for his first Xfinity Series championship in today’s Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sadler has made five previous Xfinity starts at the historic Brickyard. His two best finishes there have come in the last two races – fifth in 2015 and sixth last year.

Sadler holds a 45-point edge over JR Motorsports teammate William Byron and a 90-point lead on teammate Justin Allgaier.

Here are the particulars for tonight’s Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:37 p.m. Green flag is set for 3:49 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 100 laps (250 miles) around the 2.5-mile speedway.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 15

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 60.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 9 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 2:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Corey Cox will perform the Anthem at 3:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. with Countdown to Green. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network will broadcast on radio and the Performance Racing Network at 3 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the IMSRN/PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 90 degrees at race time with a 23 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Kyle Busch started from the pole and led 62 of the race’s 63 total laps. Kevin Harvick finished second, while Paul Menard was third. Busch also won the 2015 race.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 12:45 p.m.