Nate Ryan

Cup cars could be under the lights at Martinsville Speedway as soon as Friday

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No one is hoping for it to become a reality so quickly, but Cup cars could make their debut under the lights Friday at Martinsville Speedway.

Track president Clay Campbell said he has talked with NASCAR about the possibility of flipping on the new LED lighting system at the 0.526-mile oval if inclement weather were to delay Cup qualifying.

“(Friday’s) weather is a little iffy, so if we don’t get on-track activity done during the day, I talked to NASCAR about it, and that’s what the lights are for, so if we’re not done by say 6 o’clock, if we need to go later, we have that option,” Campbell told The Morning Drive in a Thursday morning interview on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. “That means a lot to the fans when they plunk down hard-earned money to see an event. They got a pretty good shot of seeing the whole thing now that we have lights. We don’t have a window of opportunity now that closes at the end of the day.”

The idea for Martinsville’s lights began to germinate after the Nov. 1, 2015 race that was finished at dusk (“We’re in the playoffs and here almost didn’t finish a race because of darkness,” Campbell said. “That’s just unacceptable.”). The track will hold its first race weekend under the lights with its Late Model extravaganza in late September.

Campbell is betting that eventually there will be a NASCAR premier series race under the lights of the track that dates to 1947, but he downplayed a recent column by ESPN.com’s Ryan McGee that NASCAR could move the All-Star Race there.

“I think we’d like to have a night (Cup) race, absolutely,” he said. “This would be the ultimate for a night event whenever it is.

“That talk about the All-Star Race, we’re not lobbying for it, and there have been no discussions whatsoever. It has a home, and that’ll be NASCAR’s decision on where that goes. We don’t have a dog in that hunt. We’d be willing to entertain that.

“But I think the day will come you do see a night race here, and I think it would be fantastic.”

Martinsville held a Wednesday night event for season ticket renewal customers and allowed them to drive their personal cars on the track.

“They loved that,” Campbell said. “We turned the lights on at 7 o’clock and could hear people in the campground cheering and clapping. It was special to hear the reaction.”

 

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 72: Jeff Gluck on the Kyle Busch-Joey Logano video at Vegas

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Longtime NASCAR reporter Jeff Gluck joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss his viral video of the Kyle BuschJoey Logano confrontation and his foray into self-service journalism.

Gluck, who started his own website (www.jeffgluck.com, which has a revenue model based on reader donations) to cover racing in January, captured Busch’s march through the pits at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and subsequent swing at Logano after the Cup drivers were involved in a last-lap crash.

For several years, Gluck’s postrace routine has been to canvas the garage and pit area for incidents such as this, but he had no inkling that he would capture this moment.

He was headed toward the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski (who lost the lead in the closing laps because of a mechanical failure) when he spotted Busch.

“I see this yellow blur out of the corner of my eye, not walking super fast, but walking faster in the same direction I was,” Gluck said on the podcast. “And I turned around and thought, “Kyle! Why is he going this way? The care center is not this way? Oh he’s mad at somebody.’

“But I didn’t know who or why. So, the bottom line is when you see Kyle Busch angrily walking down pit road, you take your phone out.”

Gluck lingered in the pits and talked to Logano and briefly contemplated waiting on Busch outside the care center before deciding to upload the video, pronto.

“There was a huge moment of hesitation,” he said. “I stood there for about 30 seconds and was a little shocked.

“Judging by the Twitter mentions, I realized it wasn’t on TV. I should probably post this right away.”

The video quickly garnered more than 1 million views on YouTube and spread around the world (emails seeking approval of use arrived from Denmark).

“Thor from Denmark,” Gluck said with a laugh. “(He) said, ‘Hi, your great video has made it all the way to Denmark. We have much interest in this! Can we play it on our local sports broadcast? He of all people doubled back to me a couple of times to make sure there were no rights issues.”

Other topics discussed:

–The aftermath of the video and the decisions he made on distribution.

–The progress of his eponymous site through its first two months.

–Why he thinks there was such an overwhelming reaction to his site (he attributes some of it to the 2016 election cycle).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes 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 Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

Kevin Harvick: Kyle Larson is the best driver to enter NASCAR since Jeff Gordon in 1993

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Kevin Harvick made his debut as a SiriusXM Satellite Radio host Tuesday night and made some news by announcing Stewart-Haas Racing was withdrawing its Phoenix appeal.

But those weren’t the most interesting comments made by the 2014 champion, who had a strong opinion on the most recent winner in NASCAR’s premier series.

Kyle Larson is the best driver to come into this sport since Jeff Gordon, in my opinion,” Harvick said. “I think Kyle Larson is that good.”

How good is that?

Well, let’s peruse a partial list of drivers (and their credentials) who have entered NASCAR’s premier series since Gordon’s arrival in 1993 and Larson’s in 2014:

Jimmie Johnson: Seven championships, tied for the most in NASCAR history. Also led the points and scored three wins as a rookie. He is the only driver who has qualified for the playoffs in all 13 seasons.

–Tony Stewart: The three-time series champion became the first Cup rookie to win in 12 years (and notched three victories in his first season). The 1997 IndyCar champion is regarded by many as his generation’s greatest.

Matt Kenseth: The 2000 rookie of the year won the 2003 championship and has failed to qualify for the playoffs only once in his career.

Denny Hamlin: The 2006 rookie of the year has made the championship round twice and has won in 11 consecutive seasons in Cup.

Kyle Busch: The 2015 Cup champion has won in 12 straight seasons in Cup and has 171 victories across NASCAR’s top three national series.

Kurt Busch: The 2004 series champion has 29 wins on the premier circuit, finished sixth in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and also qualified for a Pro Stock event in the NHRA.

Brad Keselowski: The 2012 series champion has 21 victories with Team Penske since 2011 and has emerged as NASCAR’s top restrictor-plate racer.

Joey Logano: Two-time championship round contender and is tied with Johnson for most victories (14) since the 2014 season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: A two-time Daytona 500 winner missed the last half of the 2016 season but was a title contender in 2014 and ’15.

–Harvick: His performance since aligning with crew chief Rodney Childers at SHR three years ago has been astounding: the 2014 championship, 12 victories and more than 5,700 laps led on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

So given all of those names … what would be the purpose of Harvick’s effusively praising the Chip Ganassi Racing driver?

“He’s just a kid that not enough people know about, but he’s won and wins in everything that he’s ever driven,” Harvick said. “He’s just a racer. … I think he’s laser focused on what he does as a race car driver, and I think he’s the best talent to come through this sport in a long, long time and is going to win a ton of races because he’s that good.”

Hey, wait a minute. When is the 24-year-old’s contract up?

Chip Ganassi notoriously is secretive about the lengths of his drivers’ deals (in IndyCar and NASCAR, particularly because the team wants to avoid having its stars poached by other teams). Larson reportedly re-signed toward the end of 2015, but it’s unclear how long his deal runs. It’s believed to run through at least the 2018 season.

That’s why the last part of Harvick’s riff on Larson could have been telling.

“I hope Ganassi has a good contract with him because every team in the garage wants a Kyle Larson. He’s a guy that you can put in your race cars and win races even on a day when they’re not the best race cars. He’s going to make them look good.”

By the way, it also is worth noting that Ganassi was miffed four years ago when Stewart and Gordon had high praise for Larson. The team owner hinted he thought both drivers had motives of courting Larson to join their teams (Gordon openly has spoken about meeting Larson in his Hendrick Motorsports office years ago and pitching him on the organization).

Larson responded to Harvick’s comments in a SiriusXM interview Wednesday afternoon.

“Man, that’s so cool,” Larson said. “I look up to Kevin Harvick a lot. For people I race, there’s not anyone more talented and focused, definitely as focused as it comes, then Kevin Harvick. To see what he’s done since he’s gotten in the No. 4 car has been amazing.

“I always enjoy racing with him. He’s the one guy always on my tablet that I’m watching his lap times. I’m always learning off Kevin. I feel our driving styles are very similar. He’s really aggressive and gotten really good at running the top the last few years. That’s really cool to hear a guy I look up to talk about me like that.”

VIDEO: See what what Jamie McMurray thinks about his teammate’s surge in success in the video above.

Should Atlanta Motor Speedway have listened to drivers in delaying its repave?

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The delayed repaving of Atlanta Motor Speedway proves that the Cup Drivers Council successfully can lobby for what it wants.

Is that always a good thing, though?

NASCAR on NBC analysts Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte discussed that topic on Tuesday’s episode of NASCAR America (watch video of the discussion above).

“I think they’re the No. 1 factor in this decision,” Letarte said of the drivers. “While I side with the drivers that the old pavement is great for racing, and I’m a big fan of it, I’m not a track owner or promoter. I can’t imagine Atlanta Motor Speedway wanted to spend all that money to repave just because they thought they should. There had to be good reasons behind it.

“I think the global question is, ‘How did we get here?’ It seems to me this is the most public display of the drivers being vocal about a situation, and it ended up going their way. They didn’t want it to be repaved, Atlanta heard them and changed their decision. The question is, is it good for NASCAR to have your drivers that vocal. I’m not sure. Obviously, they are one of the biggest stakeholders and have to put the race on, but should it be a track decision or a driver decision?”

Burton said ultimately the decision should belong to the 1.54-mile speedway.

“The drivers trying to influence the decision, I think that’s a good thing just making the track owner understand, ‘Hey we love this surface,’” Burton said. “But I don’t think Atlanta Motor Speedway said, ‘Hey, let’s spend a couple of million dollars for the heck of it.’”

The risk is if the track falls apart because of its age or if massive delays are incurred by rain (such as Texas Motor Speedway last November).

“If something happens – if a piece of asphalt goes through a radiator (because of a crumbling surface), no word (should come) from the drivers,” Burton said. “The drivers are going to have to be perfectly quiet on that one.”

Said Letarte: “I don’t disagree with drivers being vocal, but be careful what you wish for, because now they got it. They got the old pavement for another weekend. If we get weather, or have an issue and can’t get cars on the racetrack, I hope those same drivers step up and back (track president) Ed Clark, who has now backed them and given them the old pavement for another year.”

Clark told NBC Sports.com’s Dustin Long that the track will make a few sealer patches for the 2018 race, which he expects could be the last on the surface that has been in place since 1997. Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Atlanta, repaved Kentucky last year and received positive reviews.

“Are you just delaying the inevitable if you’re going to have to pave it in 2018?” Burton asked. “I don’t know what you’re really buying other than one more race. My biggest concern is they wanted to pave it for a reason. They understand that paving racetracks is problematic. This group put a ton of effort into Kentucky so when they repaved Kentucky it wasn’t like the other repaves. They understand the problems with paving new racetracks. My concern is they wanted to do it, now they’re not doing it, is there a problem that’s created that we’re not aware of?

“Give the drivers credit. They brought an issue up. … If the track really had to be paved, I don’t think that Ed Clark or anyone  would say, ‘Just listen to the drivers and to heck with whatever happens.’ I believe the racetrack and owners have confidence that with changes and small improvements, it’s OK not to pave it. So ultimately the responsibility falls on (the drivers). If it doesn’t go well, the drivers have to stand up and back them and say, ‘Thank you for working with us, sorry it didn’t work out, thank you for making it work.’”

Kyle Larson explains details of passenger car accident after Fontana victory

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In a NASCAR America interview with Rutledge Wood, Kyle Larson explained the circumstances of a car accident that occurred leaving Auto Club Speedway after his win Sunday.

Larson’s Chevrolet Suburban was involved in a fender bender while leaving the 2-mile oval and heading to the airport.

“Yeah, we got in a little car accident yesterday leaving the racetrack,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who swept the Cup-Xfinity weekend at Fontana, told Wood. “One of the traffic workers ran a red light in front of us, and we blasted him. So thankfully, everybody was OK, and our Suburban was still drive-able. The toe was a little off, but we made it back to the airport after the police report and all that.”

Racing-reference.info shows that 10 of Larson’s 161 Cup starts have ended because of a crash, but this was different.

“That was exciting,” he said. “I know we’ve been in lots of wrecks, but that was the first car accident I’ve been in. It was slow motion for sure.”

Wood and Kyle Petty are in Northern California with Larson for an upcoming episode of NBCSN’s Racing Roots, which featured Kevin Harvick in his hometown of Bakersfield last year.

Watch Larson’s interview with Wood above.