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Brad Keselowski says NASCAR leader should be at track every weekend

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Former champion Brad Keselowski’s comments this week that NASCAR’s leader needs to be at the track more often is a refrain that has hounded NASCAR Chairman France throughout his reign.

Unlike his father, who was at the track each race and ruled from a perch near the NASCAR hauler, France has repeatedly said that the demands of running the sport are different and require him to be elsewhere. France, who became NASCAR Chairman in Sept. 2003, also notes that NASCAR executives are at the track each week when he isn’t.

Even so, Keselowski raised the issue when asked Wednesday what he would change if he was a NASCAR official for a day.

“If I could make one change it would be that the leader of the sport is at the race track every weekend,’’ the 2012 Cup champion said. “That would be my change.”

Keselowski explained why:

“It is important for any company that relies so heavily on outside partners to have a direct interface. This is such a big ship with so much going on week to week. With some respect, I would say that it is impossible for the sport to be managed with someone being here every week because of the travel situations being what they are and different things that come up. I completely understand that. But to some extent you have to be here.”

Asked about the sport’s future, Keselowski said: “There are some bright spots and some dark spots too. I think we would be arrogant to not think there aren’t some spots that could use some work. The sport isn’t going away tomorrow.”

Keselowski’s comments about NASCAR’s leadership come two years after Tony Stewart told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that drivers “never see Brian France” and were worried that he was not hearing their concerns.

“I want to see Brian France at the track more,’’ Stewart said in Jan. 2016. “I want to see him walking through the garage more. I want to see him being more active than just showing up and patting the sponsors on the back and going up in the suite. I want to see him down in the trenches with everybody and understanding what’s truly going on. I think that’s where he needs to be for a while.’’

Stewart also called for France to attend a driver’s council meeting. France indicated he had not attended those meetings to avoid stifling discussions between drivers and NASCAR.

“I want to see he cares enough to be there, not sit there and get a report from somebody,’’ Stewart told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio then.

France attended a driver’s council meeting in April 2016 at Talladega Superspeedway. France was in the meeting for about an hour before leaving for a prior commitment.

“There’s a tremendous amount of good faith that is earned when Brian comes to a meeting,’’ Keselowski said after that meeting.

This week wasn’t the first time Keselowski has raised questions about how NASCAR’s leadership operates. In 2013, Keselowski discussed his vision of the sport to USA Today and raised questions about how well France and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, then president of International Speedway Corp.) worked together for the sport. Shortly after his comments, he met with both Frances separately.

In Nov. 2008, amid questions that were growing more prevalent about his absence in the garage, he was at Phoenix and spoke to the media for about 25 minutes in one of the longer sessions with the media that year.

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Forbes’ annual NASCAR report: Team values dip slightly, but sport is still strong overall

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The value of NASCAR teams dipped slightly in the last year, but the sport is still strong overall — and has increased promise and growth going forward with things such as young drivers and social media/video engagement.

Also, last season’s top-12 highest-paid NASCAR Cup drivers earned a collective $155 million between them.

Those are among the conclusions from Forbes magazine in its annual analysis of NASCAR team values and driver salaries, released Thursday.

“The top eight NASCAR teams are now worth an average $158 million, down 2 percent from last year,” Forbes reports.

Hendrick Motorsports remains the most valuable organization in the sport, leading the way in both team value ($325 million) and 2016 Revenue (the most recent results available) of $180 million.

Joe Gibbs Racing is second ($220 million team value, $131 million in 2016 revenue), followed by Stewart-Haas Racing ($175 team value, $109 million in 2016 revenue).

Among Forbes’ other observations:

* There is concern that several sponsors have left the sport in the last two years, including Target, Subway, Cheerios, Coors Light and Dollar General. Also, some of NASCAR’s biggest current sponsors are reducing their racing budgets. Forbes cites as an example Miller Lite, which has sponsored Team Penske for nearly 30 years, but will see its sponsorship slip from 24 races to just 11 races per season in its new contract extension with the team.

* On a more positive note, the story talks about the increasing impact of young drivers in the sport, particularly in light of major stars retiring over the last two years including Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

* Another good sign: “Digital fan engagement numbers are up as well. Last season social engagements increased 12 percent year-over-year, while video views saw a 44 percent increase. Stage racing was strongly supported, with around four out of five NASCAR fans preferring it to the prior format.”

Here’s Forbes’ list of NASCAR teams with the most value and their 2016 Revenue:

  1. Hendrick Motorsports, Team value: $325 million, 2016 Revenue: $180 million
  2. Joe Gibbs Racing, Team value: $220 million, 2016 revenue: $131 million
  3. Stewart-Haas Racing, Team value: $175 million, 2016 Revenue: $109 million
  4. Richard Childress Racing, Team value: $170 million, 2016 Revenue: $145 million
  5. Team Penske, Team value: $142 million; 2016 Revenue: $63 million
  6. Roush Fenway Racing, Team value: $140 million, 2016 Revenue: $97 million
  7. Chip Ganassi Racing, Team value: $68 million, 2016 Revenue: $49 million
  8. Front Row Motorsports, Team value: $21 million, 2016 Revenue: $19 million

Also, Forbes lists NASCAR’s 12 highest-paid drivers from 2017:

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2017 Total earnings $22 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $14 million
  2. Jimmie Johnson, 2017 Total earnings $19.2 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $14.2 million
  3. Kyle Busch, 2017 Total earnings $14.7 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $13.1 million
  4. Denny Hamlin, 2017 Total earnings $14.6 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $12.9 million
  5. Kevin Harvick, 2017 Total earnings $13.8 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $11.6 million
  6. Brad Keselowski, 2017 Total earnings $11.2 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $9.8 million
  7. Kasey Kahne, 2017 Total earnings $11.2 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $9.8 million
  8. Danica Patrick, 2017 Total earnings $10.3 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $5.8 million
  9. Joey Logano, 2017 Total earnings $10.2 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $8.6 million
  10. Kyle Larson, 2017 Total earnings $10.1 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $9 million
  11. Martin Truex Jr., 2017 Total earnings $9.9 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $8.9 million
  12. Matt Kenseth, 2017 Total earnings $9 million, 2017 Salary/winnings $7.9 million

Click here to read the full story.

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Final two episodes of ‘Bubba Wallace: Behind The Wall’ Facebook Watch series released

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The seventh and eighth (and final) episodes of the Facebook series “Bubba Wallace: Behind the Wall” were released today and it capsulizes Wallace’s run-up to the Daytona 500, including the Can-Am Duels at Daytona International Speedway in Episode 7 and his first Daytona 500 appearance and ultimate runner-up finish in Episode 8.

Among the highlights of Episode 7, called “Embrace It”:

* On “black driver” continuing to be an identifier among the media to describe him: “A lot of media outlets, their headline is ‘black driver’ or ‘African-American driver.’ And fans are getting tired of that.

“So I was letting them know that, look, I’ve accepted it – and I know almost every story you call up is going to start with that – embrace it and carry on back with your day.

“I’m going to be labeled. It’s going to happened, so it’s all part of it, so just enjoy it, sit back, embrace it, so when you look back at it 10 years from now, you want to make that image look good.”

* He wrote “Daytona 500” on his shoes to remind himself that he was there. It was kind of his way of pinching himself that all this was really happening to him.

Then he said about being in the 500, “I’m just glad to be here. I’ve worked real hard to be at this level and it all just starts right now, you know?”

* Showed him visiting sick kids in a hospital on Valentine’s Day. Said Bubba: “I do think I made some new fans, I definitely think they’re going to be cheering on purple (for sponsor Click n’ Close). Everybody loves purple.

“I love visiting the kids. It’s something special that if anybody has the time to set aside to do this, to give back, it’s so special for the kids to be able to just enjoy it all. They have idols and people that they look up to and want to be like some day, so for me, I’d like to be that person.”

* He has a humorous exchange with best friend and fellow driver, Ryan Blaney, after last Thursday’s Can-Am Duels. Blaney shakes Wallace’s hand, prompting Bubba to quip, “Thanks, dog, wash your hands after.” To which Blaney responds, “What, did you just poop?” Wallace replies, “No, I’m sick.”

* One of the more poignant conversations captured on film include this exchange between Wallace and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer before the Can-Am Duels:

Bubba says: “About time (he can’t wait to get racing).”

Replies Drew: “It is, it is. This is the easy part, just do our deal. This will be the start. Whatever happens tonight is not going to define us. But it will be the start of a big ball of momentum to get rolling here.”

* Blaney won the Duel, Joey Logano snuck by Bubba to finish second, with Wallace a close third.

When Wallace climbed out of the car, team owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty gave him a big hug, saying, “You done damn good.”

When Wallace got into the Daytona media center, he said of Petty: “I just had a bodyguard walk me from the car to (the media center), and his name was Richard Petty.

“I have never seen him that excited before. That was the coolest thing, him coming up, huge hug, his sunglasses were off, and that was so the highlight of the night. It was one of these full-wrap (hugs) and then walked with (his arm around Wallace) all the way (to the media center).

“… I feel like we had just won the race, as proud as he was.”

Click here for the full Episode 7.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

And then there’s the final episode of the series, titled “My First Daytona 500.”

Among its highlights:

* Bubba on the eve of the Daytona 500: “The 60th running of the Daytona 500 is tomorrow, my first Daytona 500. Got through this whole week, going to bed knowing I’m waking up for the biggest race of my career.”

* Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer giving Wallace pre-race advice and the team’s commitment to him on the parade laps: “We will claw and scratch and fight our ass off for you all day long. We know you’ll do the same for us. And at the end of the day, we’ll take what we get.”

* His mother, Desiree, admits she’s a “nervous wreck” before the race.

* As he goes around the racetrack during pre-race introductions, a group of fans are screaming, “Bub-ba, Bub-ba, Bub-ba!” To which Wallace replies, “Did y’all hear any boos? I didn’t hear any boos. Damn right, I didn’t hear any boos. (That’s) before the race starts though. We’ll see how many we get after the race.”

* Just before Wallace took a phone call from Baseball Hall of Famer and fellow Mobile, Alabama native Hank Aaron, wishing him a good race, former NFL player Charles Woodson stopped by to say hello and poignantly added, “Keep breaking down barriers. Good luck.”

* Wallace’s final comments before the race: “This is the Daytona 500. All of a sudden, the mood just gets amped up. It’s a physical race, it’s an emotional race, I finally get to experience it all. Pretty special.”

* There’s an emotional scene almost halfway through the episode when his girlfriend and mother are concerned about Bubba in one of the late big wrecks. Blickensderfer asks him if he’s okay, and Wallace replies with a quip, “Yeah, but by drawers aren’t.”

* Wallace wasn’t sure where he finished, so he asked Blickensderfer. “P2, P2.” To which Wallace and his girlfriend seemed to reply at the same time, “Holy (expletive).”

* The best part of the episode starts with about six minutes left, the post-race segment. He hugs Richard Petty and refers to him as his “grandpa,” talks to the fans and then starts crying in the media center. “I’m just so excited to be where I’m at today,” Bubba says. “It’s an incredible opportunity for a 24-year-old who just goofs off and happens to drive race cars for a living.”

Then, with tears in his eyes, he says, “I try to play tough guy most of the time, keep my emotions to myself, but man, there was just so much leading up to this moment, there was just a lot riding on us. I think it was all the pressure that was there finally hit me.”

Bubba then has a very touching moment with his mother, both crying their eyes out, where he tells her, “You act like we just won the race!”

During the post-race press conference, Wallace says to himself, “Pull it together, bud, pull it together. You just finished second. It’s awesome.”

Another poignant moment by Wallace afterward late in the episode: “Holy (expletive). We just finished second in the Daytona 500. That just hit me now. That’s so cool, my phone is going to be blowing up – and I didn’t even win the race.”

* One thing Wallace did not address in the final episode was his post-race tete-e-tete with Denny Hamlin.

* Click here to watch Episode 8.

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Ryan: NASCAR and Danica Patrick parted on faint and familiar terms

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The secret to unlocking the most candid and insightful sides of Danica Patrick in an interview was always simple but somewhat counterintuitive.

Stay away from the racing questions.

If you wanted to get her comfortable, the conversation was best steered toward the topics of lifestyle and pop culture (for which Patrick always has had a soft spot). The jokes quickly would follow about Mercury being in retrograde, the Millennials who shopped for Lululemon yoga pants on the Magnificent Mile and the appeal of a raglan sleeve.

When talk shifted on track, the guard usually went up, and justifiably: Few drivers have had their demeanors and performances scrutinized as closely, so every word was chosen carefully and, in some ways, clinically.

This isn’t implying she lacked passion for racing.

For anyone who has met the steel-cable grip of her handshake, there is no mistaking Patrick always is determined, serious and unwavering about excelling in whatever has her focus.

Stock cars just happened to become the vessel for her competitive fire and zeal.

It was almost incidental that Patrick landed in NASCAR, and now’s the moment to reflect on how and why the fit always felt less than perfect.

For the first time in five years and 181 races, the green flag will drop on NASCAR’s premier series Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway without Patrick in the field.

She will be missed by a circuit that was greatly impacted by her transcendent appeal, but Patrick probably won’t be missing much about NASCAR (at least not immediately).

In in-depth sitdowns with Brant James and Jenna Fryer, two reporters who built a long rapport and trust with Patrick and know how to channel her honesty, the most successful woman in racing revealed a mix of ambivalence and relief about stepping off the Cup merry-go-round and away from racing in general. She told Fryer she didn’t plan to watch many races nor mentor young women drivers and wouldn’t be selling gear at track, dedicating herself to her fitness books, winery and clothing line.

Yet though she could have done without the 10-month travel schedule and the tunnel-vision vibe of an insular garage, her departure wasn’t exactly dripping with disdain for NASCAR.

There is some notable indifference, but it shouldn’t be confused with a lack of spirit to conquer whatever athletic pursuit in which she chooses to commit.

Breaking a glass ceiling that stands for decades takes a certain “damn the torpedoes” swagger that Patrick has. During a 2013 interview that branched into her love of fitness and cardio, her eyes once turned black as coal when it was suggested a marathon might be out of reach.

“I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have to train,” she said. “I don’t think there’d be much difference in going from 7 miles to 17 miles.”

What about 26.2?

“I feel I could just do it,” she said. “I want to do one. But I’m so competitive, I don’t know if I can go into it blind.”

“Blind” would be a fair description of how she arrived in NASCAR, which she felt offered more challenge, exposure and money than the limits she’d reached in IndyCar after seven seasons. She made no bones knowing little about stock cars in her early days.

When crew chief Tony Eury Jr. talked about “yaw” in handling, she thought he was saying, “Y’all.” After an Xfinity qualifying lap at Dover International Speedway in 2010, she embarrassingly got lost on the way back to the pit lane. And she struggled to grasp NASCAR’s peculiar lexicon.

“I don’t know if I could have studied more,” she said after her first partial season in 2010. “At first I probably jumped in a little too deep, and I wanted to see setup sheets and tried to do it like IndyCar. It’s just damn gibberish to me. Especially talking about truck arms. On a car?”

This isn’t restricted to Patrick. Many drivers wheel vehicles they don’t fully understand. In an episode of Racing Roots last year, Kyle Larson playfully was exposed for knowing little mechanically when starting out in the sprint cars he dearly loves.

For every Mark Martin and Jeff Burton who remember the weight and size of every shock and spring they ever ran, there are multi-time Cup champions who couldn’t explain the setup under their cars even if you spotted them a small army of ASE-certified mechanics.

Yet stock cars never seemed to strike Patrick’s fancy the way that IndyCar did (she told James that an Indianapolis 500 victory naturally would rank ahead of Daytona). Undoubtedly, that stems mostly from an exclusively open-wheel career path that began in go-karts and took her to Europe before returning for Indy.

But it was more than just an unfamiliar environment. Patrick has hinted a few times recently — notably in the 2017 documentary, Danica — that she believes her Stewart-Haas Racing crews sometimes didn’t believe in her (Tony Stewart refuted that, telling ESPN.com’s Bob Pockrass at Daytona that her team was overhauled on her demand). Undoubtedly, there are traces of bitterness and resentment from a career chapter that probably feels more transactional than sentimental.

So as NASCAR moves on without her this weekend, it’s understandable that Patrick is moving on, too. Her new life is marked by a blueprint for major branding but apparently few race cars after the 2018 Indianapolis 500.

And though she didn’t win or contend regularly in NASCAR (while enduring some wicked crashes, particularly in her last season), she leaves with the respect of its stars, some of whom once openly questioned her credentials. During Daytona 500 Media Day, several credited her for an attendance surge of young girls (usually identifiable because they were clad in “Danica” T-shirts).

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson spoke eloquently about what Patrick meant to his two girls, 7 and 4. He tweeted a photo of Patrick holding his youngest, Lydia, who ran through the pits with her older sister, Genevieve, to greet Patrick before her last start.

“Danica has been someone for my daughters to look up to,” Johnson said. “That’s top of mind for me.  The impact she’s had in sports, (for) women in sports.”

That impact is an indisputable part of her resonance beyond NASCAR.

For Patrick, it always has been about more than just racing.

Just ask her.

Tyler Reddick reflects on closest finish in NASCAR history

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On Saturday night in Daytona Beach, everyone was hanging out at BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse.

At one table sat 10 people. Among them was Tyler Reddick, the winner of the day’s Xfinity Series race just down International Speedway Blvd. at Daytona International Speedway.

The 22-year-old driver ate and had a few drinks with friends and competitors, including Spencer Gallagher and his girlfriend.

At another table, Reddick’s spotter Earl Barban dined with his wife and a friend.

Ryan Reed, who finished third to Reddick, was at another with his family and some of Reddick’s friends.

At one point, a friend told Reddick he was getting together with people for drinks 10 miles away, right on the coast at Riptides Raw Bar & Grill.

Reddick tagged along.

When the JR Motorsports driver entered the establishment, a surprise gathering of between 30 and 40 friends and family members were waiting for him.

They were there to celebrate Reddick’s triumph in the closest finish in NASCAR history.

A HEAVENLY PUSH

Not among those celebrating with Reddick was his grandmother, Carolyn Brown, who passed away from health complications in October.

Saturday’s win was the first for Reddick since.

For Reddick, she was there to help put his No. 9 Chevrolet in the right place when the final of five overtime restarts began earlier in the day.

She was present in the form of the No. 1 Chevrolet driven by Elliott Sadler.

Due to a power problem stemming from the exhaust system on his car, Reddick had been unable to push or be pushed effectively in the draft most of the day.

That changed when an 18-car wreck broke out around Reddick on the backstretch on the first overtime restart, when he had restarted in the fourth row. Reddick was one of the few to make it through with minor to no damage.

“When there was not very many cars left and I was one of the few left to push, I guess they had no choice but to push me,” says Reddick.

On the final restart, Reddick restarted on the inside front row with Sadler behind him. Reed and Ryan Truex were on the outside.

The dueling set of drivers were nearly even for the first half lap. Then the push – similar to one Sadler was penalized for earlier in the race – came. It allowed Reddick to clear Reed heading into Turn 3. No one but Sadler would pull even with Reddick the rest of the way.

Thanks to Grandma Brown.

“That little extra push that we got, Elliott was her helping us, that’s how we looked at,” Reddick says

Tyler Reddick beat Elliott Sadler by a NASCAR record margin of victory of 0.0004. (Getty Images).

ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING

When the two cars leading the PowerShares QQQ 300 roared by pit stall 42 for the last time, David Elenz was pessimistic.

Sitting atop his pit box, the crew chief for Reddick and the No. 9 Chevrolet didn’t believe his car would win the drag race against Sadler to the checkered flag.

He had plenty of reasons to believe either way thanks to the race’s previous 142 laps, but specifically the last 22, which included all five overtime restarts.

The third one ended in a two-car wreck exiting Turn 4 with Reddick cleanly leading the field and preparing to take the white flag.

But the caution was issued moments before Reddick crossed the start-finish line.

“I was excited and I thought I had won, but I was like, ‘No, there’s no way. That was too easy. I’m sure that’s going to come back,”‘ says Reddick. “Sure enough, it did.”

As for Elenz, TV cameras had caught the 36-year-old crew chief celebrating his third Daytona win (Chase Elliott, 2016; William Byron, 2017). In the confusion of overtime, he’d forgotten NASCAR allowed unlimited restarts.

“It was pretty quick that Earl said on the radio that we were still under caution,” says Elenz, who quickly had to focus on his job. “It becomes factual at that point. … Thankfully, we had something we had to do. We had to work with the engineers and see where we’re at on fuel and see how much was in the box to make sure he could pick up on the apron or not. There was something for us to work on. I think if we had plenty of fuel and weren’t worried about it, I think it would be a little harder because you’d still be sitting there all pumped up and not focused on something you have to do. I think it helped that we were in a difficult situation.”

Two tries later, Reddick took the white flag and Elenz’s job was done.

Finally, mercifully, Reddick had enough fuel to also take the checkered flag.

After Reddick crossed the start-finish line, Elenz wasn’t going to get too excited.

“Heck, we’ll wait a little bit longer, because we didn’t wait long enough the first time,” Elenz thought.

Tyler Reddick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway (Getty Images).

ONWARD

Three days after his win over Sadler by 0.0004 seconds, Reddick’s voice is shot.

“Too much hootin’ and hollering and all that stuff,” he says.

In his first start in the No. 9 Chevrolet, with a new crew chief, new spotter, new everything, the native of Corning, California, won his second Daytona race. He was the victor of the 2016 Truck Series race.

Reddick’s two-for-six so far at the “World Center of Racing.”

“Some people try and go their whole careers just getting one win and I somehow got me two already,” says Reddick. “It obviously hasn’t sunk in because it hasn’t hit me in the face what we accomplished in our first outing as a team together.”

Reddick was still catching up on about 300 text messages and an avalanche of social media messages congratulating him on the win.

“You can see where obviously the race just ended,” says Reddick of the text messages, which included a message from his former owner Chip Ganassi. “Twitter blew up so bad that I can’t even scroll pass one day of feed or notifications, even if it’s just mentions.”

The time for celebrating will end soon with the Xfinity Series continuing its season Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“I have a really good feeling about it since we tested there a month ago,” says Reddick. “I feel like we’ve already gotten the ball rolling pretty good.”

He’ll be doing it with Elenz, who won last year’s Xfinity title with Byron in his first year working with just one driver.

“I told him I’m going to make him mad a lot this year,” says Reddick. “Not because I mean to, I’m very frustrating to work with sometimes because I’m so black-and-white with how I break things down, being the dirt racer that I am. Nevertheless, I know we’re going to have fun this year.”

Reddick’s new owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. agrees.

“In the offseason he was texting me about how their tests were going,” Earnhardt said this week on the Dale Jr. Download. “He’s on his own shooting me text messages about how the day is going and I love that about him because he just wants to be engaging. We have great relationships with all our drivers but he’s fitting in so well to JR Motorsports.”

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