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NASCAR executive defends rules package after lackluster All-Star Race

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After an All-Star race that featured three lead changes in 70 laps, a senior NASCAR executive defended the rules package but conceded that the option tire “didn’t make a huge impact.’’

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that one race isn’t going to lead to significant rule changes.

“I think we’ve got to keep it in context,’’ O’Donnell said Monday. “I find it ironic that you can go from one week of everyone saying this is the greatest rules package and then you walk into one race with a bit of a different format (and opinions not as high). We feel still really bullish on the rules package we have, the work we’ve done with the industry to get where we’re at. Certainly you want every race to be the best it possibly can be.

“We’ve got to look at the facts and the facts are a lot of different organizations winning this year, the (manufacturers) having an ability to win, Kyle (Busch) his first win ever (in Cup) at Charlotte, which is surprising to me, and a lot of young drivers really putting their names out there competing out front. Really like where we’re at right now.

“Our job is to look at the whole year. If I reacted to every comment you had on Twitter, it would be very different. It’s one of those things we’ve got to look at the overall picture, we’ve got to take the input from everybody in the industry and we do that. I think from a rules package standpoint we continue to see the sport moving in the right direction in terms of what we’re seeing in competitiveness from different organizations. That’s really how we judge it from an overall standpoint and not just one race.’’

Heading into this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, there have been eight different winners in the first 11 races. There have been at least eight different winners in the first 11 races in three of the last four years.

Among organizations, seven different teams have scored victories this season: Chip Ganassi Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Four organizations had won a race in the first 11 events last year and in 2015.

In the five races run on 1.5-mile tracks this season — Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas and the All-Star Race — lead changes are down compared to the same events last year. There have been 63 lead changes in those five events this year compared to 94 in those same events a year ago and 99 two years ago.

The three lead changes in the All-Star race were the fewest since 2007, although Saturday’s race had the fewest laps (70) since that 2007 race, which was 80 laps.

Still, the hope was that there could be plenty of cars moving forward and backward with the use of a second tire compound, a softer compound. The goal was for the tire to be a few tenths quicker at the onset but wear more quickly than the regular tire.

“Goodyear delivered on exactly what we had asked,’’ O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We wanted three to four-tenths on a tire and by the practice times and the early part of the race we saw that. Kudos to Goodyear. I think what you saw Saturday night was really the difference probably in the car versus the tire and maybe a need to go even further if you were going to pursue that avenue in terms of difference in speed. That’s something we could look at for the future. Obviously you guys saw what I saw, it didn’t make a huge impact.’’

Asked if the option tire is something still on the table for future events, O’Donnell said: “I think so. I think you look at what may be the impact versus the car. I think the bigger thing is, when you look at tires in general, continuing to focus on rain tire, what should be our priority. There’s talk, I don’t want to tip the hand, but way down the future could you ever run Martinsville if the track was damp because Goodyear is able to, in terms of the speed, put something together.

“It’s a balance for us of where do we put their focus. Obviously they’re capable of doing all things. I think something we’d look at All-Star for sure, not sure in terms of a points race.’’

Another question was about the splitter after Erik Jones’ bid for the lead in the final laps of the Monster Energy Open was foiled when he ran below the apron and through grass on the frontstretch. He damaged his splitter in the incident.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was critical of the splitter on Twitter.

O’Donnell defended the splitter’s purpose on the car.

“Why we have it, I think everybody, including the drivers and the industry wanted to look at going toward the lower downforce package,’’ O’Donnell said. “That’s part of the package. It’s part of what we worked on with the (manufacturers). We’re actually very happy with the product we’ve had.

“If you look back to Kansas, one of the better mile-and-a-half races we’ve had. It’s always interesting with one incident and everybody jumps on, ‘Hey, why do we have this on the car?’ Certainly something down the road you can always look at, but it’s part of the overall aerodynamics of the car. It all fits in.

“For now, we continue to like the direction of lower downforce and going to continue down that and see if there are certain tweaks we can make. We absolutely would do that but that’s where we’re at today.’’

O’Donnell also said that the 2018 schedule is expected to be released this week.

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SiriusXM sponsoring Erik Jones for six races, beginning with All-Star weekend

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The upcoming All-Star Race weekend will mark the beginning of a six-race sponsorship deal with SiriusXM radio and Furniture Row Racing’s No. 77 Toyota, driven by Erik Jones.

Jones appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” Wednesday afternoon to make the announcement.

Source: SiriusXM

The satellite radio provider will be on Jones’ car in the Monster Energy Open as he attempts to race into his first Monster Energy All-Star Race.

SiriusXM will then be on the No. 77 at Pocono, Kentucky, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville.

The rookie is still finding his way in his first full season of Cup competition. Through 11 races Jones is 19th in the point standings. He has just one top 10 (Phoenix) and three DNFs.

“It’s definitely the first year where I’ve felt like a true rookie,” Jones said on “Tradin’ Pain.” Jones was the 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion and came in fourth in the Xfinity Series last season after earning four wins.

“In Truck and Xfinity we came right out of the box and were contending for wins and running up front,” Jones said. “In the Cup Series, it’s definitely taken more time. We’ve had fast cars and we’ve had moments where we were running up in the top 10 and top five. But I don’t feel we’ve truly contended for the win. I hope that day is coming soon.”

Jones is currently tied in the points with former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez.

“Obviously one of your goals this year is to win Rookie of the Year,” Jones said on “Tradin’ Paint.” “We want to make the (playoffs), win Rookie of the Year and I think that’d be a good year for us. It’s something I pay attention to throughout the week and keep up on and make sure we’re still in contention. It’s been close all year. … It’s good to see a close rookie battle like that. It’s good for the fans and good for the sport. It’s a strong rookie class.”

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Furniture Row Racing aims to rebound from Talladega DNFs at Kansas Speedway

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Things didn’t go well for Furniture Row Racing last week in Talladega.

Both Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones began the day next to each other on the starting grid in 13th and 14th.

But their day ended together as well. The No. 78 and No. 77 Toyotas were both collected in an 18-car crash on Lap 168. Truex finished a season-worst 35th with his first DNF, while Jones left Alabama in 33rd with his third DNF and second in a row.

Now their attention turns to Kansas Speedway, a track Jones has some experience at and one Truex has done everything but win at.

In 17 starts at the track, Truex has five top 10s and four top fives. Since 2012, he has led in four races for a total of 486 laps.

Despite finishing runner-up in both races therein 2012 and leading over 90 laps three times, the eight-time Cup winner has never visited Victory Lane in Kansas.

“No matter how many heartbreaks we had at Kansas, I have all the confidence that our team will provide me with another fast race car and we will once again be competing for the win,” Truex said in a press release.

The latest heartbreak came in last years’ Go Bowling 400 when Truex led 172 laps from the pole and saw his hopes fade in the pits.

Following a stop on Lap 210, Truex reported a loose wheel was causing the car to shake. It turned out a broken head bolt off a brake caliper that landed on the stud. It eventually shredded the tire. After pitting again, Truex finished 14th.

“Why that tiny bolt didn’t fall off the stud was beyond me,” Truex said.

Truex went on to win his first race of the year two weeks later in the Coke 600. He wound up winning four times in 2016.

Through 10 races this season, Truex has one race win (Las Vegas) and leads the series in stage wins (five).

As for Jones, the 20-year-old driver is still looking to catch a break in his rookie season. Through 10 races, he’s finished in the top 10 once (eighth, Phoenix) and had an average running spot of 17.1.

Jones hopes to finally leave his mark on the season at a track he made his official first Cup start at in 2015. He drove Kyle Busch‘s No. 18 Toyota as the last substitute driver for Busch as he recovered from leg injuries.

In that race, Jones started 12th and led a lap before he crashed with 75 laps to go.

Now, making a start in a car built specifically for him, Jones hopes to take advantage of a mid-week tire test at Kentucky Speedway.

“This week’s test at Kentucky Speedway was really good for the 5-hour ENERGY team,” Jones said in a press release. “We learned some things that we think will benefit us this weekend as well as the upcoming one-and-a-half-mile tracks like Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was nice to get some data on a repaved track like what Kansas Speedway is as well. The goal is to use that information to get our season going back in the right direction.”

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Rookie Erik Jones continues to show speed at Richmond, leading second practice

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RICHMOND, Va. — Rookie Erik Jones led the first of two Cup practices Saturday at Richmond International Raceway.

The Furniture Row Racing driver turned a 120.714-mph lap in his No. 77 Toyota during the 55-minute session, leading Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, Chris Buescher and Martin Truex Jr.

Jones also was fast in Friday’s opening practice on the 0.75-mile oval, ranking second to teammate Truex.

The final practice for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.

Click here for the speeds from Saturday’s first Cup practice.

 

 

 

Truex: ‘we’re all clicking’ as Furniture Row Racing sweeps first Cup practice at Richmond

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The first practice for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond was led by the Toyotas of Furniture Row Racing.

Martin Truex Jr. led the way with a speed of 124.178 mph around the .75-mile track. His teammate Erik Jones followed at 123.035 mph.

Filling out the top five was Ryan Blaney (122.772), Trevor Bayne (122.084) and defending Richmond winner Denny Hamlin (121.726).

Kasey Kahne had the best 10-lap average at 119.324 mph.

Click here for the full practice report.

With the Furniture Row Racing teams at the top of the chart, it continues the trend of the first eight races of the year of the team being generally faster than the four Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing. The two teams are part of a technical alliance, but only the smaller team based out of Denver, Colorado, has a win this year (Truex, Las Vegas Motor Speedway).

After Hamlin, Kyle Busch was eighth fastest (121.125), Daniel Suarez 18th (120.466) and Matt Kenseth 21st (120.278).

While Truex is third in points and leads the series in stage wins, none of JGR’s cars are in the top 10 in points.

“Well, I think it’s just – there’s no real reason,” Truex said Friday morning of his teams’ advantages over their Joe Gibbs Racing counterparts. “We all get the same information. I guess at the end of the day it’s how you use it, how you put it to use. I think our team, (crew chief) Cole (Pearn), (engineer) Jazzy (Jeff Curtis), (competition director) Pete (Rondeau), our guys in general are just – right now we’re just clicking. We have a lot of confidence. Things are going well.”

The disparity between the two teams comes in a season where Toyota introduced its 2018 body style in the Cup Series.

“My guys are doing an amazing job of filtering through all that information and making sure the right things are going into the car,” Truex said. “The communication between all of us at the racetrack has been a big part of that. So I mean, it’s not one thing. It’s just right now it just seems like we’re all clicking and we’re making it happen. You know, I think that the good part for those guys is that they see that.

“They see what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and they know it’s possible as well. Hopefully they’ve done so much for us since we moved to Toyota last year to get us going and kind of get us up to speed that it’s fun to be there and try to help those guys and show that our team is a big part of being competitive, running well, making sure Toyotas are up front each and every week and it kind of shows that they made a good decision by bringing us in and making us part of that team.”

Furniture Row Racing is seeking its first short-track win with this weekend’s race at Richmond, a track Joe Gibbs Racing has won the last three races at.

MORE: Richmond a “pivotal” race for Joe Gibbs Racing