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Friday 5: Drivers call for schedule changes? Then try this …

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Is it time for NASCAR to start over in regards to the Cup schedule?

Ryan Newman says so.

“I think our sport, in a lot of ways, has become stale because it’s been so consistent, going to the same race tracks schedule-wise year after year after year,’’ he told NBC Sports this week.

Former champion Kevin Harvick shares Newman’s sentiment.

“Do you really want to get me started on schedules?,’’ Harvick said this week and did, suggesting a rotation of tracks to host the championship race and altering what tracks host playoff races.

“People don’t like the same thing,’’ Harvick said. “You have to keep their attention.’’

Harvick applauded the changes NASCAR has made to the schedule this season — Las Vegas and Richmond host playoff races for the first time, Charlotte’s roval will host a playoff race and Indianapolis is the final regular-season race.

But Harvick suggests more can be done. 

“I think Harvick has got a really good point about changing it up, keeping it new, keeping it interesting,’’ reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. said.

Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger also spoke out about the schedule and need for change.

Understand that NASCAR, its TV partners and track operators work together on the schedule and it isn’t as easy as just putting races on a calendar because of weather issues, other major events in that area, travel matters, etc. 

Yes, there will be challenges. Some tracks may not want to change dates for various reasons. Some fans won’t be able to go to a track if it changed dates. Because a schedule change impacts so many people, any change likely would be met with as much groaning as cheering. Still, that shouldn’t keep all involved from looking at ways to create a different look with the schedule. If a change can help make the sport better, it should be done. If not, move on to something else. 

NASCAR figured out stage racing and gave fans plenty of action throughout last season. NASCAR and its partners can handle this task.

So what to do?

Here’s one person’s view.

Mix it up even more!

Have a summer series

Remember when TNT did the summer races between Fox and NBC? With that in mind, create a summer series of midweek races. Run five Wednesday night races in a row in June and July.

Make Martinsville the first midweek race. Move its spring date to June. Middle of the week, under the lights for the first time for a full race. What a sight.

One note, for any midweek race, the goal should be for it to go no more than three hours. That would require cutting Martinsville from 500 laps and maybe some of the other races run in this time period.

A week later, go to Bristol, followed by Richmond and Daytona. That would put Daytona on July 3 next year. Want something really different? Light Watkins Glen and run that on a Wednesday night. Imagine the action on the track and the party in the infield for that event?

So the summer series would have three short tracks, a restrictor-plate race and a road course. That’s quite a combination. 

Rotate the championship race

No doubt Homestead has provided its share of drama in recent years. Admittedly, this is one I had to hear more to even consider such a notion.

Look at a rotation of Homestead, ISM Raceway (Phoenix) and Auto Club Speedway for the finale. All three tracks provide good racing. Drivers rave about all the lanes and how little grip there is at Auto Club. ISM Raceway will move the start/finish line beyond what is now Turn 2, meaning cars will restart in the corners, which should be dramatic. Homestead has shown what it can do.

The example often cited is that the Super Bowl moves each year and people still go and watch. Same with how NCAA football rotates its playoff games among bowls. The notion is that a big-time event in sports is viewed as one that moves around.

Want to mix it up, throw Las Vegas in the mix every so often as the finale. Or want to do something really different? Make Martinsville the finale. Just think about a short track hosting the championship race. Wow.

Of course for Martinsville to happen, NASCAR would likely need to …

Start the season earlier so it ends earlier

Want to avoid more of the NFL? Why can’t the Daytona 500 be held the week after the Super Bowl instead of two weeks? Even if one kept the schedule the same from that point on, it would end the season earlier in November. 

Want to tighten the schedule more, move the All-Star Race to the Thursday of the Coca-Cola 600 and put another race in its spot the weekend before. That’s if the All-Star Race remains at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Maybe it would be better at a place like Iowa Speedway or at South Boston Speedway or some other short track in the country that could accommodate the series.

2. One more change …

Ryan Newman has another suggestion for the schedule.

“I think there’s great opportunities for us to have a dirt track in our future,’’ he told NBC Sports. “We talk about doing things like in the past. Dirt racing was where it all started. Before there was Daytona, there was dirt.

“Do an exhibition race on a weeknight with 10 or 12 cars at Eldora. Think there would be a lot of people that would interested? I think a few guys might come out of retirement for that. I think that would be special. I think it would be crazy.’’

Or just make it the All-Star Race?

Hmmm.

3. Who is that guy?

Drivers were asked by NBC Sports to describe themselves in one word.

“Mysterious’’ was the word one driver used.

“The reason why is because I feel like I come across and I get labeled a lot as kind of a quiet guy, that kind of keeps my mouth shut and just kind of listens. I think once people get the opportunity to learn me, they start realizing that I’m a little more complex, a little bit different and a little more unique than what people think.

“I’ve kind of carried this mysterious tag a little bit more than what I probably would like to. That’s something I’m trying to develop in myself and growing in social media, let people get the opportunity to know who I am and to follow me and give them more opportunity to see what I’m passionate about.’’

The driver?

Ty Dillon.

4. What was he thinking?

We’ve all had times when a song gets stuck in our head. For Chris Buescher, it’s happened in a race.

“I got Chris Stapleton stuck in my head at Bristol and it was our best run in 2016,’’ Buescher told NBC Sports. “So ever since then, I try to get Chris Stapleton stuck in my head when we go back there.’’

5. The last word goes to Clint Bowyer

Asked what is one thing he would change about his car from last year, Bowyer, whose last Cup victory came in Oct. 2012, didn’t hesitate.

“Confetti,’’ he said. “More confetti.’’

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Podcast: Front Row Motorsports explains how it improves with smaller budget, unique sponsor deals

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Running a Cup Series team is not a cheap endeavor.

One person who knows this is Jerry Freeze, the general manager of Front Row Motorsports.

Owned by Bob Jenkins, the two-car team runs the No. 34 of Michael McDowell and No. 38 of David Ragan and has a technical partnership with Roush Fenway Racing.

Freeze sat down with Nate Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss how FRM works with smaller budgets and its unique business-to-business sponsorship deals through Jenkins’ trucking company, MDS Transport, and restaurant business, Charter Foods.

Freeze calls Love’s Travel Shops, which sponsors half the races on McDowell’s car, a “textbook example” of such a deal. Their partnership began in 2013.

“Bob owns a trucking company with about 300 over the road truck on the road,” Freeze said. “They’ve got to get fuel somewhere. That’s kind of how the Love’s Travel Shop deal started for us.”

Freeze describes it as a “slightly smaller scale” version of the relationship between Team Penske and Shell.

Unlike larger teams, Front Row doesn’t yet have an optical scanning station at its shop like the one cars are inspected with at the track.

“We went into it thinking, ‘We’ll never need to have one of those, NASCAR’s got one, we can go over there whenever we want,'” Freeze said.

The team also relies on the scanner located at Roush Fenway Racing. But it’s a challenge to take cars to Roush, with its shop in Concord, North Carolina, about an hour away from Front Row’s in Statesville.

Buying its own scanner is beginning to look like a “necessary evil” for Freeze, who said he’s heard it would cost $300,000.

“I think if you’re really going to try to optimize the car through each step of what you do, that might be the way to go,” Freeze said.

When it comes to becoming more competitive, Freeze and Jenkins have been encouraged to invest more resources and money into the team by moves NASCAR has made to lower costs, including requiring teams to use engines in multiple races, spec radiators and the controversial common pit guns.

“It put it in a place where, yeah, it’s still pretty tough for Front Row to get to, but it’s not as high as it use to be,” Freeze said of the engine rule. “With spec radiators, we were spending $9,000 for radiator in the past. Now a spec radiator is, I don’t know, a third of that.”

Freeze also addressed the future of one of the team’s three charters, which is leased to TriStar Motorsports this season.

“You can’t do that forever with the way the rules are set up,” Freeze said. “We’ll have to make a decision, either we’ve got to operate (it) ourselves or maybe we sell it to TriStar some day, I don’t know. … Even though we weren’t in a position to run three cars and we’re still not today, it’s kind of nice to have in your pocket just in case something came along that was just phenomenal and we needed one.”

Click on the embed above to hear the podcast. It also is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Stitcher.

August Cup race at Michigan to be called Consumers Energy 400

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The Aug. 12 Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway will be sponsored by Consumers Energy as part of a multi-year deal, the track announced Thursday.

Consumers Energy is Michigan’s largest energy provider, providing natural gas and/or electricity to 6.7 million of the state’s 10 million residents.

The company takes over for Pure Michigan, which sponsored the race from 2011-17.

“We are excited to expand our collaborative relationship with Consumers Energy,” said track president Rick Brenner in a press release. “We strive to work with Michigan-based companies like Consumers Energy who continue to give back to the community. We are looking forward to working together to provide our guests an awesome experience each August for many years to come.”

Consumers Energy will also sponsor the inaugural MIS Charity Dinner on June 9 and the track’s 50 Years of Racing Exhibit in the fan plaza for both of the track’s race weekends.

The MIS Charity Dinner, which benefits the Henry Ford Allegiance Health Foundation Patient Immediate Needs Fund and the MIS Cares Fund, will feature a strolling dinner, dessert and drink stations, live and silent auctions, music, a photo booth and more. The event will also feature a question and answer session with Dale Inman, Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood.

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Weekend schedule at Richmond for Cup, Xfinity

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NASCAR heads to its third short-track race of the season this weekend at Richmond Raceway.

Kyle Larson won the Cup race at Richmond last fall and Joey Logano won there last April.

Here is this weekend’s schedule at Richmond:

(All times Eastern)

FRIDAY, APRIL 20

7 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

8 a.m. – 9 p.m. — Cup garage open

8 – 8:45 a.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)

9:40 – 10:25 a.m. — Final Xfinity practice (Fox Sports 1)

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network)

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

4:05 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (FS1)

5:10 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

5:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (FS1, MRN)

6:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions

7 p.m. — ToyotaCare 250 Xfinity race; 250 laps/187.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

SATURDAY, APRIL 21

1 p.m. — Cup garage opens

4:30 p.m. — Driver/crew chief meeting

5:50 p.m. — Driver introductions

6:30 p.m. — Toyota Owners 400 Cup race; 400 laps/300 miles (Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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NASCAR America: Short tracks are Clint Bowyer’s favorites

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It was a question that needed to be asked, although the answer was not a surprise to anyone. What is Clint Bowyer’s favorite type of track?

“Short tracks are obviously my favorite,” Bowyer answered. “I think they’re probably everybody’s favorite. That’s what we grew up doing. That’s probably where we feel most comfortable.”

“I love back-to-back short track races because the drivers don’t have time to forget about who they’re mad at,” Steve Letarte interjected.

But Bowyer’s love of short tracks is not limited to Martinsville, where he snapped his long winless streak earlier this year. He is even more excited about coming to Richmond Raceway this week.

“I feel like Richmond is the perfect-sized race track.”

Bowyer went one step further, suggesting there is a way to add more tracks like Richmond to the schedule.

“I feel like, some of these mile-and-a-half tracks, we need to just use as parking lots and build Richmond in the infield,” Bowyer said.

For more of what Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to say about short track racing, watch the video above.