Darlington Raceway

NASCAR America: Danica Patrick reflects back on her racing career (video)

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Danica Patrick was the special guest in an hour-long appearance on Wednesday’s NASCAR America at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

In one of the segments, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton spoke with Patrick about her overall racing career, starting with go-karts at a young age, racing in Europe in her teens, her IndyCar years and of course her NASCAR career to date.

Here’s some excerpts of that segment and Patrick’s observations (watch the whole segment in the video above):

Making the transition from IndyCar to NASCAR: “It was a transition, that’s why I did Nationwide and two part-time years. I started slow and really enjoyed then made the full-time transition in the Nationwide Series in 2012 and then Cup in 2013.”

Big change from IndyCar to driving a NASCAR car: “Just driving it is fine.  If you can drive, you can drive.”

What really got her career going: “In the Formula Ford Festival (in England), there were over 100 entries, this is the series Jenson Button drove in. I finished second, which is the highest for an American and a female. I think it really got the attention of Bobby Rahal, who gave me a job when I came back to the U.S. a couple years later.”

The track she wanted to win the most at, either in IndyCar or NASCAR: “I always felt I would win at Indy. When I came to NASCAR, maybe it was because I didn’t clarify which car I would win in. I wouldn’t change anything. … I don’t ever look back at things and wish it was different. I believe everything happens for a reason.

Do she have any unfinished business? “Do I have unfinished business? I guess if you don’t accomplish your goal, there’s always some level of unfinished business no matter of who you are or what you do.”

What are her favorite and least favorite tracks: “Indy is special. Always has been, always will be. There’s an aura about it and I feel I know every inch about that place. If I had to pick a Cup track, I’d say it was Martinsville. Honestly, I hate Darlington. I just hate it. It is an exhausting race. It is four corners, next to the wall every corner, driving over the apron. It’s a tough track. I have not liked Darlington.”

Watch the full interview with Patrick in the video above.

 

Ryan: Have the Darlington penalties redefined what ‘cheating’ entails in NASCAR?

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Disqualifying tainted winners, revamping laborious postrace inspections, shortening the news cycle for announcing penalties.

There is a sprawling list of hot-button issues spawned by the postrace Southern 500 penalties that shook NASCAR this week. But there is a fundamental question at the heart of the controversy.

Where does NASCAR want to be positioned philosophically on its time-honored traditions of chasing the limits of the rules?

Can a sanctioning body whose Hall of Fame opened seven years ago with a prominently displayed moonshine still (a wink and a nod to charter member Junior Johnson’s bootlegging days of outrunning the law through the North Carolina hills) eradicate “cheating” from a sport where skirting the law has been endemic since its inception?

And does “cheating,” an emotionally charged, pejorative term whose use in racing seems best restricted to such high-level tampering as jet fuel additives, soaked tires and oversized engines, now apply to something so rudimentary as seeking performance advantages?

For decades, NASCAR has celebrated the ingenuity of crew chiefs who incessantly burn the midnight oil hunting for extra speed. When Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet constantly was in the crosshairs of officials midway through the summer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick were among those who came to the defense of Larson’s team for working on the edge of legality.

Conventional wisdom in NASCAR held that’s permissible provided there is no overt intent to deceive by building blatantly illegal devices or parts (a stance taken this week by Joe Gibbs Racing in explaining how Denny Hamlin’s penalties could be out of its control). There are no designators for misdemeanors and felonies in NASCAR’s court of law, but the distinctions always have seemed obvious.

And if the exhaustive examinations currently conducted weekly at the NASCAR R&D Center retroactively were applied to the sanctioning body’s first five decades, how many victories would need to be reclassified and how much history would need to be rewritten?

Unquestionably, though, there has been a tipping point reached on satellite radio and social media recently in which a vocal majority now wants teams that push the boundaries to be treated in the same heavy-handed ways as those that flaunt them.

In the context of a playoff structure that has made victories more instrumental to contending for a championship, a winner’s car being deemed illegal understandably will raise the support for increasing the accompanying punishments to include taking away wins.

But this groundswell also seems more than that – the rejection of a foundational part of NASCAR, in which the goal always has been to build the fastest cars possible with an understanding that pursuit inevitably will land teams on the wrong side of legitimacy.

Is it throwing out the baby with the bathwater to insist upon teams always following the letter of the law when NASCAR’s appeal has been rooted in testing the spirit of the law?

Can stock-car racing really go straight, in other words, and retain its soul?

Here are the other questions facing NASCAR’s oversight of the Cup Series entering the 2017 playoffs:

When does stripping wins become an option? Changing the longstanding policy of leaving wins intact despite postrace penalties isn’t going to happen during the 2017 season, but NASCAR will need to reconsider it for 2018.

–Short of that, can anything else be done to encourage deterrence this season? Yes, which is why NASCAR told teams Friday that it will increase the penalties for rear suspension violations and now include three-race suspensions for car chiefs.

–Could postrace inspections be finished at track through the end of the season? This might happen naturally next season as NASCAR moves toward a new inspection process (more below) that hopefully will de-emphasize – and perhaps eliminate – the need for R&D Center inspections. But again, it would be unlikely to happen in 2017, and it wouldn’t result in a new winner, just a more expeditious result (which might be preferable).

What about points penalties in the cutoff race of the playoffs for an advancing driver? Currently, it’s a penalty with no impact because the points immediately are reset for the next round. With the addition of playoff points that carry through the first nine races, NASCAR might need to consider having penalties for title-eligible teams with an impact on playoff points.

–Was Darlington the start of a trend or just a final test of NASCAR’s willingness to drop the hammer? For everyone’s sake, let’s hope it was the latter.

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Lost amid the penalty aftermath of the Southern 500 was the longest green-flag run (102 laps) to end a 500-mile race at Darlington in more than 11 years, underscoring NASCAR’s increasing willingness to holster its yellow flags for debris.

Through 25 races, there have been 16 debris cautions – the lowest total at this point in the season since there were nine in the first 25 races of 2000. NASCAR has thrown only four yellows for debris in 10 races since a late debris caution in the June 18 race at Michigan International Speedway raised the hackles of many competitors.

Darlington’s high-wear surface delivered a classic example of the drama that can be produced by letting a race naturally unfold, which can be a more satisfying conclusion than bunching up the field for a series of late restarts. Though winner Denny Hamlin’s postrace penalty dampened the finish, NASCAR still deserves credit for steering away from a quick trigger on the yellow flag.

It bears watching through the playoffs, too, because crew chiefs are taking notice and accordingly adapting their strategies – as Mike Wheeler did Sunday in choosing to call Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota to the win by presuming there would be no caution. “I think a lot of the races go green now with the stages falling out the way they do and NASCAR letting things race out,” Wheeler said. “It’s great to see because it makes its own storylines.”

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NASCAR demonstrated a new inspection process to news media at its R&D Center this week that is intended to increase efficiency and potentially provide teams with more areas to work on the car.

The new system, which will be tested on non-playoff cars starting at Chicagoland Speedway through the final 10 races of the season, will use eight projectors and 17 cameras to scan cars, measuring anywhere from 200,000 to 700,000 points on a car with 3-D mapping to ensure a car conforms to specifications.

It’s intended to reduce the number of prerace inspection stations from five to three and reduce in half the amount of time required to pass through them (roughly more than 6 minutes when including a 90-second scan).

The system ideally could eliminate the need for prerace template grids and laser inspection stations, rendering the postrace measuring of bodies obsolete (though suspension elements similar to those that drew penalties this week still would be scrutinized).

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Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., was the guest on the latest NASCAR on NBC podcast, explaining why Furniture Row Racing’s unorthodox approach has worked so well in producing the 2017 regular-season championship.

From being one of the only crew chiefs who wears a T-shirt instead of a firesuit or uniform (“It’s just me; I hate wearing a firesuit.”) to the team’s Denver, Colorado, headquarters, Pearn said the team’s nontraditional ways are keys to its success.

“We all have that rough around the edges feel, and as we’ve added people we’ve liked, it’s more people like that,” Pearn said. “We’re all a similar age and going through similar things in our lives together, and it just breeds a lot of closeness on the road-crew side. On the shop side, it’s a very laid-back atmosphere. … It definitely is a little bit different vibe than some of the bigger teams. It’s a group effort. There’s not a lot of hierarchy or chain of command. We ask all the time, ‘Who exactly is the boss here?’ ”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

NASCAR docks 7 Cup teams practice time at Richmond

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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Erik Jones and Landon Cassill each will miss one hour of Friday’s final practice session for failing inspection multiple times last weekend at Darlington Raceway.

They are among seven Cup teams that will lose time in the final practice session, which will be held from noon to 1:25 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Those penalized are:

Jones will lose 60 minutes of final practice after failing qualifying inspection three times and inspection before the race three times at Darlington.

Cassill will lose 60 minutes of final practice after failing inspection before the race four times at Darlington.

Clint Bowyer will sit for 30 minutes of final practice because his team failed qualifying inspection at Darlington three times.

Matt Kenseth will be docked 30 minutes of final practice because his team failed qualifying inspection at Darlington three times.

Jamie McMurray will miss 15 minutes of final practice after failing qualifying inspection twice at Darlington.

Austin Dillon will miss 15 minutes of final practice after failing race inspection twice at Darlington.

Kevin Harvick will miss 15 minutes of final practice after failing race inspection twice at Darlington.

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NASCAR America: Austin Dillon greets Darlington fans at 4 a.m. — until a gun shows up

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It was 4 a.m. early Monday morning at Darlington, and Austin Dillon couldn’t sleep after the Bojangles’ Southern 500.

It was kind of understandable: when you finish fourth at a place like the Track Too Tough To Tame, sometimes you get so wired that it’s hard to go to sleep.

And, the way Dillon figured it, if he can’t sleep, he wasn’t going to let others sleep — in a nice and fun way, that is, kind of.

Dillon and a couple of his also wide-awake buddies left his motor home in the infield and walked and rode around, looking for others that were also up at that point in the middle of the night.

“We had a solid run so I just hung out outside my motor home a little bit, had a couple nice drinks and still had my driver’s suit on,” Dillon retold the story on Wednesday’s NASCAR America. “We decided to check out the track, so a couple of us rode my golf cart around the track a couple times, and that was cool.”

And this is where the story gets all the more funny — and risky.

“Heck, I wanted to go see what the fans were up to, so we rolled into the infield and I walked into a couple motor homes,” Dillon said. “It was 4 in the morning at this point. They had gone night-night.

“People were starting to leave, it was pretty funny. I was waving to them, signing autographs. This lady had an Austin Dillon shirt on, leaving with her husband, taking their motor home out at 4:30 a.m.”

Everything was fun and games up to that point — until Dillon walked in the wrong RV.

“We walked in a motor home and one guy said, ‘I’ve got a gun in my sleeping bag,'” Dillon said. “I said, ‘Hey, man, I’m not Kyle Busch, it’s OK.'”

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Joe Gibbs Racing won’t appeal Denny Hamlin’s Darlington penalty; Chris Gabehart to be crew chief

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Denny Hamlin will start the Cup Series playoffs without crew chief Mike Wheeler.

Joe Gibbs Racing said Wednesday it won’t appeal Hamlin’s rear-suspension penalties after the No. 11 Toyota’s win in Sunday’s Bojangles Southern 500, which means Wheeler’s two-race suspension will begin with the regular-season finale Sept. 9 at Richmond Raceway (rather than be deferred while awaiting an appeal hearing that could have made him eligible).

Chris Gabehart will be the interim crew chief for Hamlin at Richmond and Chicagoland Speedway. 

Gabehart has been the crew chief for the No. 20 Xfinity Series team of JGR in 23 races this season, including four victories. He has worked three times in 2017 with Hamlin, winning the June 17 race at Michigan International Speedway. Gabehart was suspended two races after NASCAR ruled that victory also was encumbered becuase of an illegal splitter.