Kurt Busch

Daniel Hemric gets unexpected introduction to Cup car at Charlotte road course test (video)

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Being a native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, a lot of Daniel Hemric‘s racing firsts are connected to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The 26-year-old Xfinity Series driver got another one this week when an unexpected call shortened a vacation to Mexico and put him in a Cup car for the first time.

Hemric, who drives Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet in his rookie season, was visiting the country as part of a birthday vacation for his wife, Kenzie.

“As soon as the wheels touched down I got a call from some guys a RCR asking ‘Hey, would you mind driving a Cup car Tuesday at a test?'” Hemric said Wednesday.

“Do I need to fly home right now or what?” Hemric responded.

Come Tuesday morning, Hemric was sitting in the cockpit of Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet as one of four drivers taking part in the first Goodyear tire test on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, a 2.42-mile, 18-turn circuit made up of most of the original 1.5-mile track and the infield road course.

MORE: Cup drivers share thoughts on Charlotte road course

The two-day test could give Hemric a step up on his Xfinity competition as the series also will run on the road course next year.

“The first two or three runs was about getting me acclimated (to the car) but since then I think we’ve done a good job of communicating with Goodyear and trying to figure what we need to be able to make sure fans will be able to see racing and side-by-side racing and a lot of action, which I think you’re going to see.”

Added Hemric: “These Cup cars get up to speed so quick compared to the Xfinity car, with such low downforce and high horsepower. It’s been fun to figure out how to get that laid down here around the roval.”

Luckily, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray were all experiencing the road course for the first time.

“Obviously, being my first time in (a Cup car), you’re trying to be aware of what you’re doing yourself,” Hemric said. “But to be able to lean on those guys, have the same thoughts as them, really collaborate with NASCAR and the race track to figure out where we should place those chicanes and all that stuff. I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress working as a group.”

MORE: Daniel Hemric returning to RCR in 2018

 

Dave Pericak stepping down as director of Ford Performance on Dec. 1 after ‘heck of a ride’

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After a three-year stint as director of Ford Performance, Dave Pericak will leave the role Dec. 1.

Pericak will stay with Ford on its production side, serving as the engineering director for Unibody.

Motorsport.com first reported the news.

Pericak said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” that his time at Ford Performance was a “heck of a ride.”

His time included Ford winning the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Pro class and recruiting Stewart-Haas Racing to Ford from Chevrolet.

The first year of the relationship with SHR has seen Kurt Busch win the Daytona 500 and Busch and Kevin Harvick make the playoffs.

“We can’t underestimate what it’s like to switch to a new manufacturer and all the work that goes into that,” Pericak said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We weren’t able to start until the last race last year working together in earnest. There was a short amount of time to get ready and running. I think they’ve done an amazing job. I think they’re really gaining traction right now on understanding the Ford body and everything that goes with it. We’ve given them quote a few tools that were new to them as well. Next year, I have high expectations for Stewart-Haas and I know they do too.”

Harvick is one of four Ford drivers still alive in the playoffs, including Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

If any of those drivers win the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it would be Ford’s first since Kurt Busch won the title in 2004.

“I can tell you guys, rest assured, we are doing everything in our power to make sure that we end up at Ford Championship weekend with more than one driver there and for the ability to win that race,” Pericak said. “The championship means a lot to Ford. We haven’t had a championship in a while. I know the teams have recently said to me that they have even more of an incentive now that they know I’m leaving. They want to hand me the championship before I go.”

Pericak’s tenure also included the manufacture reeling off seven consecutive wins in Cup restrictor-plate races. That was capped off by Brad Keselowski’s win Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I think what you’re seeing now is everything’s coming together and it’s really starting to click,” Pericak said “This team is ready to continue on. They don’t need me to do so. I’m actually going back into the mainstream now and take all the learnings and approaches that I’ve had here at Ford Performance and take it back into the bigger Ford (body) and affect a larger portion of the company.”

With his new role as engineering director for Unibody, Pericak will be responsible for the engineering on all Ford products that are not trucks.

“Anything that’s not on a frame, engineering globally I will be responsible for,” Pericak said. “It’s a really big job within the company. Several thousand people will report to me. It’s the next evolution for me and my career.”

Pericak’s last year with Ford Performance also saw its NASCAR competitors, Toyota and Chevrolet, make significant body changes and announcements. Toyota brought a new nose to the Cup Series and Chevrolet revealed it will bring the Camaro to Cup after years of use in the Xfinity Series.

Pericak was asked if Ford plans to promote the Mustang from Xfinity to Cup in the near future.

“Clearly for 2018 we’ll be running the cars that we’re running now,” Pericak said. “We’ll have to see what we do in 2019. It would be great to see the Mustang out on the track. I think it would lend itself quite well to this racing. All I’ll say guys is stay tuned.”

Charlotte road course could be Talladega, Part II as Round of 16 cutoff race

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CONCORD, N.C. – There are many unknowns about the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course – passing zones, tire compound, even race distance – but Martin Truex Jr. said Wednesday there is one certainty.

When the new layout makes its debut as the Round of 16 cutoff race next season, playoff drivers will want to be assured of advancing ahead of time.

“I’m going to be hoping I’m going to win one of the first two in that round,” Truex said. “I’m going to put this right in there with Talladega.”

The Furniture Row Racing driver tested tires Tuesday and Wednesday on the 18-turn, 2.42-mile track (which incorporates most of Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval) with Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Daniel Hemric.

Busch said the layout was similar to the Daytona International Speedway road course but with a much smaller footprint that ratcheted up the intensity.

“There’s no room for taking a break or having a quick, deep breath down the straightaway,” Busch said. “As soon as you’re in high gear off turn 2, you’re in a chicane. Back through the gears, you’re downshifting on the brakes to go to the frontstretch chicane. It’s a very busy track.”

There is a 35-foot change in elevation on the course, which features two chicanes that track officials say are designed to encourage passing and provide an option for rain tires.

The transitions between the high-banked surface and the flatter road course make it tricky to navigate.

“There’s all kinds of craziness going on,” Truex said. “Turns 1 and 2 are pretty wild, narrow with concrete walls on both sides. Intimidating.

“It’s a unique track. I don’t know if I’ve run a road course anything like it because of the elevation changes, the bumps and the humps. Charlotte isn’t smooth to begin with and add in infield that has been around a long time, there’s a lot of swells in it. It definitely is interesting. It’s a unique challenge. I don’t know I’ve raced anything like it.”

The track announced the race distance as 500 kilometers, which would make it the longest road course race on the circuit, but NASCAR didn’t confirm the length of the first playoff race with right turns (saying “it provided valuable data that will be part of the equation in determining the distance for next fall’s race”).

Also in flux is the layout. Truex talked to Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith about adding some safety features such as curbing, runoff areas, tire barriers and walls.

Busch also has recommended eliminating Turn 8 to connect the seventh and ninth turn, reducing the number of slow corners on the track. “There are a lot of slow sections with turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting. We need to speed up the track a bit.”

Truex, who shaved 10 seconds off his lap time on the first day, estimated the top-end speed is about 175 mph and said the ninth turn (before entering the oval in Turn 1) is the slowest.

Where are the best passing zones?

“That’s a great question,” he said. “I can’t tell you that. Single-car runs so far, it’s hard to say. There’s a lot of places you can crash. I’m not sure about the passing yet.”

After starting on the Watkins Glen tire, it’s expected Goodyear could bring a softer tire next year for faster speeds and better grip. Lap times were in the 90-second range, which Busch said was slower than anticipated but illustrated the difficulty of balancing a tire between a high-speed oval and a road course that drove more like the technical Sonoma than the high-speed Watkins Glen.

“The corners are sharp, low grip and we have 800 horsepower, so we’re trying to put the power down and sliding the tires quite a bit,” Busch said. “The process is to work with Goodyear and Charlotte Motor Speedway to find things we can change safety-wise and recommend the shapes of chicane around the back straightaway and even the front straightaway section.”

Busch, who drove the No. 14 Ford in place of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer, said he volunteered for the race because of its playoff implications in 2018.

“It’s a cutoff race,” he said. “Teams better get their arms wrapped around it and their heads focused on it because it’s one of the most important races of the year. When it’s a new situation like this, there’s a lot of oddities and variables. Fans will see it.”

What Cup drivers said after Talladega playoff race

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Here’s what the field had to say after the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Brad Keselowski – Winner: “This is still sinking in. It is a special place to get to race and a special place when you win here. It was really a collaborative effort with the team and getting a real fast car and making the right moves as a driver and a lot of help from up above with staying out of those wrecks. It really takes all three, and we had them all today.”

Ryan Newman – Finished second: “We held them off longer than I expected. I couldn’t tell how much nose damage I had, and I hadn’t led all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I saw (Brad Keselowski) in the mirror backing up and then he lost his draft and then he backed up again and he caught (Joey Logano). That was all it took for him to get a good run. I would have maybe played it differently and backed it up in hindsight, backed up to them in hindsight, but I don’t think it would have made a difference. They were double-teaming me, and you know it was still a good race to finish second.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished third:  “I was right in the middle of it and, man, I was sliding backwards up the race track thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to hurt.  Somebody is coming through or I’m going to back it in the fence.’  I just kept turning the wheel to the left trying to get the nose to slide around and it did, and I ended up going straight, so that was pretty cool.  My guys did a good job of fixing the damage. We couldn’t have been back out there with speed if they didn’t assess it.  We got a red flag to be able to look at everything, and they did a great job getting the work done, getting it back on track and just thankful we finished one. We just survived better than everybody else. It wasn’t injury-free for sure.”

JOEY LOGANO – Finished fourth: “Brad and I worked well together, and we were able to help him win the race today, which was good.  I wish we could have won the race.  I had a good enough run, but the damage and all – even though the guys did a good job fixing it – you could tell the speed wasn’t there as much at the end, but we were still able to pick up enough to keep some speed in it and get a fourth-place finish.  It’s a good way to recover after a crash to finish fourth.  I guess you should be proud of that, but I’m still mad I didn’t win.”

Aric Almirola – Finished fifth:  “That was exciting.  The whole race was exciting.  Right there at the end I was really committed to making sure that we got a blue oval (Ford) to Victory Lane.  I was kind of watching (Brad Keselowski) and (Joey Logano), and we were all kind of trying to work together, and my car had some damage on it from earlier in the race, and I knew my car wasn’t probably good enough to lead, but if I could have done something right there at the end, we might have been able to pull one off.  But, nonetheless, we were able to get a (Ford) to Victory Lane.  It’s great for everybody at Ford and cool to see Brad win.  He’s obviously been really successful here at Talladega, but I honestly thought for a minute there we might have a shot at it.  Some things just didn’t work out going down the back straightaway.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished sixth: “I maybe should’ve pushed (Ryan Newman) a little bit longer. I tried to pass him in a different spot. Yeah, just a flick shy of clearing him there, and I knew if I could clear him, then the runs were going to be very small because there were very few cars out there. I did what I wanted to do. I pushed him out there to the lead, stayed attached and then made a move, but I just didn’t do a very good job there those last two laps.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished seventh: “Yeah, we got lucky. That was just luck being in the right place at the right time and not getting swept up in any of those wrecks. We had one there that knocked the splitter down really bad on the right front, and that is why we couldn’t do anything at the end.  The car was just dragging the ground and wouldn’t go, wouldn’t take off, so it was a little wounded out there at the end.  Still got a decent finish and came out of here in one piece.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 11th: “We were able to avoid a lot of the crashes today at Talladega, and the GEICO Chevrolet was really fast. We suffered a little bit of nose damage early, but it wasn’t anything that affected the car. I thought if we had a chance to work with another Chevrolet we would be able to get to the front, but I couldn’t get any help from behind. We ended up 11th. It was a good day for our team, but I know our car was better than 11th. It’s just tough, and it’s disappointing we couldn’t get any help from behind to make a run at it at the end.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 13th: “I think (Chase Elliott) got into (Daniel Suarez) and got him sideways and in to me. There are a lot of torn up cars, but we still finished 13th and maintained our points on the cutoff there. It would have been a worse day. But it also could have been better … could have won. I was glad we decided to race there in the second half. There was a lot of opportunities to get caught up in crashes. It was just crazy that a lot of the playoff guys, pretty much everybody except Brad (Keselowski) and Denny (Hamlin) got collected in wrecks. Pretty crazy day but a typical Talladega. Just need to go to Kansas and have a solid race. A top-10 run will be all we need to do probably.”

CHASE ELLIOTT – Finished 16th: “I had a really big run, Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) was giving me a great shove and Daniel (Suarez) had left enough room in the middle and (Kyle) Larson left me enough room from the bottom. There was a hole and I filled it. I don’t guess Daniel (Suarez) either saw me in time or what it was just had a high rate of speed coming and he didn’t know or tried to block it I’m not sure. We will move on.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 18th: “We were up by the wall, and somebody probably got turned, and I got in it.  I didn’t think there were enough cars to wreck that much anymore, but we happened to find it and a good day kind of down the drain.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 20th: “I’m fine. The last (wreck) we slowed down, and I got in the back of (Brendan Gaughan). I checked up and then (Ryan Blaney) popped up on the race track, and I couldn’t get slowed down. It was just a bad weekend. The Busch Light Ford wasn’t as good as we needed. We had to start in the back and went to the back a couple other times and just couldn’t make anything happen.  We were on defense the whole time and wound up wrecked twice, so not a good weekend.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 23rd: “I got into the right rear of (David Ragan) a little bit, and he got squirrelly, and then they started wrecking in front of us so I don’t know if I turned him sideways, and he hit somebody on the inside and then hit somebody on the outside in front of me. I’m not sure if that was the cause of the accident or it was just a secondary thing. I hadn’t seen anything up ahead of us. If it was my fault, I hate it for everybody involved. Just Talladega. Just everybody running hard with 18 to go and trying to get in a hole that really wasn’t there yet.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 24th: “Really hard to tell what started (the wreck with 16 laps to go). I just saw (David Ragan) turning down across the group and hooked me and sent me up into the wall. What we are trying to get to the bottom of is our spotter was informed to let us start working on the car, and I guess there was some miscommunication there from NASCAR to our spotter, and we may have lost some valuable points on pit road as a result. So, we’ve got to get to the bottom of that and find out what happened there.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 25th: “We got hooked in the right rear, and I was pretty close to the front of the pack. I am just happy everything turned out the way it did to just not get clobbered by all the cars coming by. My guess is the outside lane was all jumbled up getting aggressive and pushing and somebody spun out and clipped us in the right rear. I thought we were looking good. We were coming from behind and the inside lane was open and we were making hay but now here we are coming out of the infield care center. That is just Talladega. That is how it works out. We need to figure out how to make the cars better so everybody can bump draft a little harder.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 26th: “I really haven’t seen the replay. I was just running up the bottom there and (David Ragan) ended up right in front of us. It was a bummer. We were working on getting our track position back. We felt good in the first run and got hung out there at the end of the second stage and were just working on our track position. I felt like we had a really fast Ford to contend for a win and put on a show for all these fans that came out. Bummer we don’t get to do it but we will go on to Kansas next week and have some fun.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 27th: “I’m fine. I just didn’t know where the heck (Jimmie Johnson) came from with all of the headrests and all of that stuff I never saw him coming. I wish I would’ve obviously, I would’ve tried to dodge left and go to the apron and shoot down there. Looking at it, it looks like I could’ve missed it. Just never seen him coming, so unfortunately we got caught up in that mess. None of our own wrong doing. I thought when I cleared (David Ragan), I was home free of it and then had another one come up from the left side. Just hate it for my guys and everything going on with what our situation was today. We’ll just have to go on and go to Kansas now.”

Landon Cassill – Finished 28th: “Honestly, I just saw David (Ragan) sideways in front of me.  I don’t know what started (the wreck) or if he was the second thing that happened, but somebody hit me from behind or something and sent me into the wall.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 29th: “Just part of this racing. What do you do? You can go and race hard all day. You can ride in the back and try to not to get in one of those big wrecks. I was proud we got some of those stage points. Was trying to push back up there. We were in a pretty good spot. Had a little momentum there. Just got caught in the wreck. There was nowhere to go. You are just holding on after that. It took the car out. (Ryan Newman) got shuffled to the back and (was) just riding there. He does that a lot in these races and it seems to work out. Maybe I need to do that strategy. If your car is not fast enough to lead, you should probably stay in the back.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 30th: “It was just chaos. Just tried to get clear of it. I almost had it cleared and then somebody came down the track and got us. It is part of Talladega racing. You know there is going to be a big one, but you don’t where or when, you just hope you aren’t in it. Just doesn’t seem to matter if you are in the front, or the middle or the back. You just aren’t immune to it.”

Erik Jones – Finished 36th: “It was kind of hard to see from my view. I was behind (Kyle Busch) and he started checking up, he swerved off to the left, and (Jamie McMurray) was sitting there really slow on the race track so I didn’t really have any choice. Unfortunately ran him over and kind of caused a chain reaction from there. It’s a bummer. We didn’t get to race today and I was hoping we’d just get a chance to go up and see what we had. It’s unfortunate, but those kind of things are going to happen here.”

JAMIE McMURRAY – Finished 37th: “We wanted to pit a couple of laps earlier, and you’re somewhat dependent on the spotters to tell you when you’re going to pit. You assume everyone is working as a group. It was my fault. I assumed that they said (Kyle Busch) was going to let me in, so I thought we were all going to pit. I didn’t even know where (Erik Jones) was. When I got on the brakes, I thought we were all coming to pit road as a group. I’ll take the blame for that. I just kind of assumed we were coming to pit road right there. Obviously not everyone was.”

Big wreck brings out red flag late in race at Talladega; 17 cars involved

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With just 16 laps to go, a major wreck prompted NASCAR to throw the red flag for cleanup in the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The 17-car pileup seemed to begin when David Ragan lost control of his No. 38 Ford, triggering havoc in virtually every direction.

Six playoff-eligible drivers were involved: Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.

“(Ragan) ended up just parked in front of us,” Stenhouse told NBC. “We felt we had a car that was capable of contending for a win. It’s a bummer we didn’t get the win. … Just wasn’t our day.”

Added Kyle Busch, “Just never saw it coming. Unfortunately, we got caught up in the mess, none of our doing. We’ll just have to go on and go to Kansas.”

Added Truex, “I tried to get in a hole that was closing up at the wrong time. I got into the 38 in the right rear and it all got squirelly. We had nothing to lose today, but at the same time you don’t want to be the person that causes others problems. I’ve never been that guy here before, but today it looks like it was. I just wish I didn’t make that mistake. Bad judgment. I should have been more patient.”

Non-playoff drivers involved included pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who only had minor damage and was able to continue on), along with Austin Dillon, Landon Cassill, Michael McDowell, Brendan Gaughan, Matt DiBenedetto, Ragan, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Ty Dillon and Danica Patrick.

The race was red-flagged for 12 minutes, 30 seconds before resuming under caution.

Jimmie Johnson complained that NASCAR officials gave his team approval to work on the car on pit road, but it was subsequently sent to the garage for doing so (repairs aren’t permitted under the red flag), leaving Johnson to question the call.