Friday 5: Will Daytona Speedweeks repeat last year’s chaos?

4 Comments

As a new Speedweeks dawns, NASCAR teams hope this year won’t be a repeat of the carnage that took place a year ago at Daytona International Speedway.

One hundred and six vehicles were listed as involved in accidents in Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series races during Speedweeks last year, according to race reports.

That was a 29.2 percent increase from the previous Speedweeks.

Only once in the last 10 years were more vehicles damaged in races during Speedweeks. There were 122 vehicles in accidents in 2012.

The numbers were high last year because so many accidents took place at the front of the field — where drivers say they want to be because they believe it is the safest place.

A 17-car crash in the Daytona 500 was triggered when Jimmie Johnson, running third, was hit from behind.

An 11-car crash in the Daytona 500 started when Chase Elliott’s car was hit after a restart as Elliott was fourth.

The Xfinity race had a 20-car wreck that started when Tyler Reddick was hit from behind while running seventh.

A 16-car crash in the Xfinity race began when Elliott Sadler, running second, was hit from behind.

A 12-car crash in the Xfinity race started when Brandon Jones was hit while running fifth.

A 12-vehicle crash in the Truck race started when Matt Crafton, who was leading, was hit in the right side. Crafton’s truck went airborne.

Will last year be the start of a trend or prove to be an anomaly? This will be worth keeping an eye on in the coming days.

2. FASTER SPEEDWEEKS?

With Cup going to the no ride-height rule, the question is if the cars will be faster — and by how much — since they will be closer to the ground. NASCAR also added half an inch of spoiler to offset the elimination of the ride height requirement.

NASCAR expects speeds to be about the same but a prominent team expects speeds to climb possibly as much as 8 mph.

Chase Elliott won the pole last year with a lap of 192.872 mph. The fastest lap in practice last year came in the final session before the Daytona 500 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went 198.452 mph in the draft.

Even if speeds increase, NASCAR has made improvements to the cars to where it should be less likely for a car to get airborne on its own. NASCAR stated that 201 mph previously was the minimum speed for liftoff. Now it’s 233 mph. Of course, if a car hits another in a particular way it can launch it regardless of the speed they’re going.

3. EASIER TO OFFICIATE

Xfinity cars will have a new lower front fascia with a 4-inch ride height at the restrictor-plate tracks. This is intended to eliminate bump drafting. If all goes as NASCAR officials plan, the changes will create a gap of about 1.5 feet between cars, making it easier to police the matter. 

4. GOING FOR 4 IN A ROW

The No. 24 car — driven by rookie William Byron this season — is going for its fourth consecutive Daytona 500 pole. Jeff Gordon won the pole in 2015 with that number and Chase Elliott did the same in 2016 and ’17.

5. WILL DAYTONA STREAK CONTINUE?

Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 victory last year marked the eighth consecutive year a different driver won the season-opening race.

That streak includes Denny Hamlin (2016), Joey Logano (2015), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014), Jimmie Johnson (2013), Matt Kenseth (2012), Trevor Bayne (2011) and Jamie McMurray (2010).

 and on Facebook

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

 and on Facebook

Weekend schedule at Richmond for Cup, Xfinity

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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)

 and on Facebook

NASCAR America: Short tracks are Clint Bowyer’s favorites

Leave a comment

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.