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Report: 2018 NASCAR schedule delayed, Brickyard 400 may run on road course

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The 2018 NASCAR Cup schedule was expected to be released some time this month.

But a report via Twitter from Adam Stern of SportsBusinessDaily.com and Sports Business Journal — citing unidentified sources — indicates the schedule release has been delayed.

Stern tweeted that those sources told him the holdup is partly related to the possibility of moving up the Brickyard 400 a couple of weeks on the 2018 NASCAR Cup schedule.

Also according to Stern, IMS is reportedly considering changing the format of the Brickyard 400 from its usual race on the famous 2.5-mile oval — which has hosted the 400 since its inception in 1994 — to a road course race in 2018.

Interestingly, if such a move is made, it would come on the 25th anniversary of the Brickyard 400 being contested at IMS. This year’s 24th annual running of the Brickyard 400 will be on July 23.

Such a race could potentially use the track’s infield road course and part of the fabled racetrack, similar to the Indianapolis Grand Prix format that will take place this weekend. 

A statement from NASCAR to NBC Sports addressed the schedule situation:

“NASCAR and our industry partners are working very closely to finalize a 2018 schedule that will deliver great racing to our fans. We look forward to sharing it soon.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s departure will be first among group that changed NASCAR

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They walked on to the screen in unison, fresh-faced, eager and so young.

They were the ones who would rock NASCAR’s establishment.

Now, they are ones moving one step closer to walking away.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he’ll retire after this NASCAR Cup season foreshadows how one of the sport’s greatest collection of drivers will soon leave the sport.

From 2000-02, NASCAR’s rookie classes included Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Earnhardt.

Through a marketing campaign with Gillette, they were billed as the Young Guns. But they earned much more in the careers — wins, championships and accolades.

The six drivers have combined to collect 10 of the last 14 Cup titles and won 228 races, which includes nine Daytona 500s, eight Coca-Cola 600s, six Brickyard 400s and four Southern 500s (Earnhardt won two Daytona 500s).

Sooner than later, they will follow Earnhardt out of the sport.

Matt Kenseth

The 2003 champion, who is 45 years old, is the logical choice to retire soon. When Joe Gibbs Racing announced a press conference recently that involved Kenseth, fans speculated it was a retirement announcement. It was a sponsor announcement instead.

“As long as you guys have known me, if I was going to do something like that, I wouldn’t call a press conference for it,’’ Kenseth told the media that day. “I probably just wouldn’t show up at Daytona and just everybody say, ‘Was Matt racing this week?’ Or I’d send out like a four-word tweet.’’

The Hall of Fame will beckon when he retires. Kenseth, rookie of the year in 2000, has 38 wins, two Daytona 500 victories, a Southern 500 win and a Coca-Cola 600 win.

JIMMIE JOHNSON

The seven-time champion’s contract expires after this season but he’s given no indication of retiring. His next contract likely will take him to 2019 or 2020 and be his final driving contract in the sport.

Johnson, 41, said last month that he expects to have a contract extension announced “before long.’’

He’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection when he’s eligible. He scored his 82nd career Cup win Monday at Bristol. He has also won two Daytona 500s, four Coca-Cola 600s, four Brickyard 400s and 2 Southern 500s.

KEVIN HARVICK

The 2014 champion signed what the team called a “long-term” contract extension last year.

“I’m very happy to have my future secure with a team so dedicated to winning,’’ Harvick said at the time.

Another driver headed to the Hall of Fame after his driving career. Harvick, who is 41 years old, has 35 wins, which includes two Coca-Cola 600s and a Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500 triumph. He also was the 2001 Rookie of the Year.

RYAN NEWMAN

His status was in question until signing a multi-year contract extension in October to remain at Richard Childress Racing.

The 39-year-old Newman won at Phoenix earlier this season. It was his 18th career Cup win. He has a Daytona 500 victory and a Brickyard 400 win. He has 51 poles, which ranks ninth on the all-time list. Newman beat Johnson to win the 2002 Rookie of the Year. Newman also likely will be a Hall of Fame selection after his career ends. 

KURT BUSCH

The youngest of the group at age 38. He won the Daytona 500 this year for his 29th career victory. The 2004 champion also has a Coca-Cola 600 win.

He likely will be the last of this group to retire and join them in the Hall of Fame. If he’s the last of this group to retire, he’ll close the chapter of a remarkable class.

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Ryan Reed, Blake Koch gives positive review of restrictor-plate test at Indianapolis

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Last October, three Xfinity Series teams journeyed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help figure out how to make NASCAR racing at the historic track better and more enticing.

The teams of Blake Koch, Ryan Reed and Brandon Jones spent Oct. 11 trying eight different car setups – with various splitter heights and gear ratios – for a 2017 rules test.

Koch, who drives for Kaulig Racing, remembers three of those setups which were used in mock races as an evaluation for potential implementation of restrictor plates to the 2.5-mile track.

One package, which Koch “didn’t like at all,” was ineffective as all three cars couldn’t keep together.

Another saw the trailing cars able to “really suck up to the car in front of you and try to make that pass, but you kind of stalled out when you got next to them.”

The third package inspired NASCAR’s announcement last week that restrictor plates would be used for the July 22 race at IMS. Koch said it may lead to “a wild race” at the track known for hosting the “Great Spectacle in Racing” in May.

During a series of five-lap races between the three cars, Koch told NBC Sports he, Jones and Reed were “bumper-to-bumper” the entire time, with the lead changing as much as twice a lap.

“It just opened up a bigger air pocket to where you could get a run on the car in front of you and just keep that run going and clear them,” Koch said. “Once two of you cleared the first-place car, that first-place car could actually get back behind you and suck up back to you and pass you back.”

This is the type of action NASCAR is seeking to replace what fans have become accustomed to at the track that also hosts the Indianapolis 500 (which has produced at least 30 lead changes for five consecutive years, including a record 68 in 2013 and 54 in 2016)

MORE: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman share thoughts on plate racing at Brickyard

Last year, Kyle Busch led 62 of 63 laps in the Xfinity Series’ main event at IMS. The next day, Busch led 149 of 170 laps before winning the Brickyard 400. Reed says that such dominance will be a thing of the past.

“It’s less of an advantage (where) one car’s going to hit it and they’re just going to dominate the race. You’re not going to have that,” Reed told NBC Sports. “You’re going to have at least the top 10 be able to win the race.”

In the July 22 Xfinity race, in addition to the restrictor plates, cars will have the spoiler and splitter measurements from 2016 along with the first use of aero ducts, or “drag ducts.” The ducts work in concert with the existing brake ducts (for brake cooling) on the car. The aero ducts help direct more air into the car and shoot it out the side through the wheel wells. By kicking air out the side, it helps punch a bigger hole in the air, allowing the trailing car to get more momentum.

“You’re not going to be able to break away,” Koch said. “There’s no way the lead car will be able to break away from anybody.”

Koch predicts racing packs of about five cars, while Reed sees groups ranging from 10 to 15 with gaps between them.

Koch cautioned the final result won’t look exactly like what fans are used to with one pack of cars at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

“You’re not going to be able to run around that place wide open in a pack, you’re just not,” Koch said. “You’re going to have to make methodical passes and spit someone out and they’re probably going to go from first or second to 25th in one lap. Then they’re going to get help and they’re going to shoot to the front.”

Reed, who captured his second Daytona win last month, disagrees with the last part of Koch’s assessment.

“When we go back there with 39 other guys, it’s going to be a lot different,” Reed said. “When you get in 20th place and you’re in the middle of the pack in dirty air it’s not going to be easy. That place isn’t easy to run around in dirty air if there’s one car in front of you. You get 20 cars in front of you it’s going to be really tough.”

And if the race that is delivered in four months doesn’t live up to expectation and hopes?

“If the fans want to see something different, then we need to do something different,” Koch said. “I think it’s just proof NASCAR’s always trying to please the fans, which is a big deal I think. They are important to us. If they don’t like this package, I’m sure we’ll change it again.”

But Reed sees nothing in the October test to make him believe fan’s expectations should be tempered for the July 22 race.

“It’s going to make the racing a lot better,” Reed said. “Fans are going to have a lot more fun with it. It’s going to be a lot more competitive race. I believe that with 100 percent confidence.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman share thoughts on restrictor plates at Brickyard

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The upcoming Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will serve as a testing ground for the future use of restrictor plates at the historic 2.5-mile track.

NASCAR announced earlier this week the July 22 race would be raced with plates, which reduce horsepower by sapping airflow to the engine, that have previously were used only at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and a September 2000 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Depending on the effectiveness of the plates, they could be used in future Cup Series races at the track.

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was “up for whatever” in hopes of improving the racing at a track that seen drastic declines in attendance in the last decade.

“That race is really suffering as far as the show and how entertaining I think it is to watch,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t really know what the answer is to make it more exciting, but I think this is a great opportunity to find out if this is the direction to go.  I am all for it. And I like the idea of trying it in the Xfinity Series or the (Camping World) Truck Series or what have you whatever track it is at to try it in that feeder series.

“That is an opportunity to see if we can get it right without ruining anything for the Cup guys.”

NASCAR has been visiting IMS since 1994 and will return for the 24th Brickyard 400 weekend in July. But the competition in the race pales in comparison to what usually is produced two months earlier in the Indianapolis 500.

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing has produced at least 30 lead changes for five consecutive years, including a record 68 in 2013 and 54 in 2016).

“I think NASCAR watches the Indy 500 and they see those guys drafting and passing and they are competitive,” Earnhardt said. “They have to try to put on that type of show if not better at that racetrack.  It is not good in conversation to have the IndyCar race be more exciting to watch than the NASCAR race there.  That is just business.  I think it’s great for them to be aggressive.”

Earnhardt referenced the big swing NASCAR took in the Brickyard 400 two years ago when Cup cars were equipped with a “high drag” aero package that included 9-inch spoilers in an attempt at creating pack racing. The result was disappointing and widely panned.

NASCAR held a three-car test at IMS last October to try eight configurations with restrictor plates that included various splitter heights and gear ratios. The plates also will be used in the July 22 race with the NASCAR debut of “aero ducts.”

Xfinity teams also will use the 2016 specs for splitters and spoilers.

When it comes to the restrictor plates, 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman said his view is they are used where there is a need for “a balance there on speed and safety.

“I don’t know what their sim results are or what their testing has been to validate what needs to be done, but I believe it’s all based off of safety,” Newman said of the decision to use restrictor plates. “Indianapolis is unique in the fact that the corners really are kind of 90 degrees. You never really hit at 90 degrees, but you’re hitting more so at a sharper angle than you are at a place like Fontana or Michigan or even at 1.5-mile race tracks.

“But given the driver’s throttle response and acceleration and the ability to pass people is equally important. And we’ve seen some racing that gets pretty spread out at Indianapolis. I don’t know if a restrictor plate would make that the same or worse; or even better for that matter. To me, I think the restrictor plate, or at least the term restrictor plate, is usually more about safety and top speeds than it is anything else.”

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NASCAR America: Dale Jarrett on restrictor plates at Indy — ‘An awful idea’

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett makes no bones about his feelings that NASCAR is expected to use restrictor plates in July’s Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s an awful idea, in my opinion,” Jarrett said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America.

Jarrett knows what he’s talking about. He’s a two-time winner (1996, 1999) of the Brickyard 400 at Indy and a seven time top-10 finisher at the 2.5-mile IMS in 13 career Cup starts.

MORE: NASCAR will use restrictor plates at Indy, could Michigan and Pocono be on the horizon?

However, if NASCAR likes how plates work in the Xfinity race at Indy, don’t be surprised if NASCAR also uses them in the Cup race there in 2018.

Again, Jarrett disagrees.

“Taking horsepower away, that’s the one thing a driver can utilize to make passes at a racetrack that is so flat,” Jarrett said. “We tried restrictor plates one time at New Hampshire. Jeff Burton led every single lap of that race and went on to win.

“It was a terrible race except for Jeff Burton. He was the only one that thought it was good that day.”

Jarrett is definitely a proponent of keeping cars plate-free at Indy.

“Taking power away, I think is a bad idea,” he said. “There are other options, I think. Open the aerodynamic rules some, that’s where you’re going to get more passing involved. But let them have the horsepower trying to do it.

“I just don’t like this idea, as you can tell.”