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Xfinity Series to use Indianapolis package at Michigan, Pocono in 2018

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NASCAR Xfinity teams will use the drafting package that debuted at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July also at Michigan International Speedway and Pocono Raceway next season, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

William Byron won at Indy in July. That race featured an event-record 16 leads changes in 100 laps. The previous record for lead changes in that race was nine.

NASCAR equipped cars with aero ducts, a different spoiler (64 3/4 inches wide and 6 inches tall) and a 7/8-inch restrictor plate for that Indianapolis race. All of those items also will be used at Michigan and Pocono next year.

Some drivers liked the package at Indianapolis, but Kyle Busch did not, expressing his dissatisfaction after his two-year winning streak in that event ended with a 12th-place finish.

“They wanted to slow down the fastest guy here so the rest of the field could keep up and they did,’’ Busch said after the July race.

Ryan Reed, who finished sixth at Indy, had a different viewpoint.

“I think anytime you make the cars … slower, they’re easier to drive,’’ he said. “When they’re easier to drive, you’re able to put them in more difficult positions and come out the other end OK and you’re going to have a little more confidence. I think you’ve got to find a balance because at this level a high-rate of speed is what help defines the sport.

“You don’t want us to go down and run 140 miles an hour and wide open every track, otherwise who wants to watch that? Just find a balance. I think that this may be a step in the right direction. It seems like the racing was better.’’

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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.

 

Cup qualifying headed to Saturday on more consistent basis in future?

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After two consecutive weekends of Cup teams qualifying shortly before they raced, are fans likely to see more of that next year?

Cup teams qualified on Saturday after the Xfinity race last month at Indianapolis. Cup teams qualified a few hours before they raced the past two weekends at Pocono and Watkins Glen.

The experiment is part of NASCAR shortening the weekend schedule. NASCAR has added a fan fest to compensate for one less day of track activity for the Cup Series. That could become more common next year.

“I think the key for us is to really create some fun activities for the fans with more driver access on Fridays if we can,’’ Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday.

“Tend to like the qualifying, if we’re going to move it, on Saturday. I think that is a really good experience for fans in terms of having that support race and being able to see the Monster Energy Series drivers qualify. So we’ll probably continue to look that way. The biggest thing for us is to creating those unique, fun fan experiences around the drivers and open up the access as much as we can.’’

Cup teams will qualify and race on the same day once more this year — at Martinsville in the playoffs. This weekend, Cup teams will qualify on Friday at Michigan and race on Sunday, the typical weekend schedule.

O’Donnell told “The Morning Drive” that there have been some questions raised by competitors about qualifying and racing on the same day.

“I think some of the feedback from some folks in the garage is that still is really tough to qualify, get ready for the race,’’ he said. “Folks like it, but I also think Saturday also gives you the opportunity maybe to plan a little bit more on race prep that you need for the car. It will be a balance as we look at both of those to see what is the best solution going forward for the teams.’’

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday that he’s glad to go back to a schedule where qualifying and the race won’t be on the same day this weekend.

Gordon noted the “anxiety” in how much preparation has to be done to the backup car in case a driver crashes in qualifying.

“If you were to wreck in qualifying, you had two hours to get a car back together ready to race,’’ he said.

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Chase for playoff points looms larger with five races left in regular season

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As Kyle Busch and his team found so many ways to lose races, it wasn’t the lack of victories that proved worrisome but the loss of playoff points.

“It was a huge concern,’’ crew chief Adam Stevens said.

It’s not a stretch to believe Busch could have eight victories at this moment, giving him at least 40 playoff points and a path through part of the playoffs — if not all the way to the championship race in Miami.

Instead, he scored his first Cup win of the year Sunday at Pocono Raceway. He has 13 playoff points, trailing Martin Truex Jr. (29 playoff points) and Jimmie Johnson (16).

All those lost opportunities for Busch could impact the playoffs. Each stage victory is worth one playoff point. Each race win is worth five playoff points. Those points carry through the first three rounds as long as the driver remains in contention for the championship.

“I don’t think any of us truly understand how important (playoff points) are,’’ seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said.

They’ll begin to find out when the playoffs open Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Stage racing and playoff points have created extra layers in the races this season. Those changes have forced crew chiefs to plot differing strategies and drivers to be more aggressive. It was evident at Pocono. 

Martin Truex Jr. pitted from the lead Sunday shortly before the end of the second stage. He and crew chief Cole Pearn were going for the race win instead of the stage victory. Many followed. Clint Bowyer stayed out to win the stage and collect the one playoff point and 10 bonus points. Bowyer, who is not in a playoff spot, needs all those bonus points.

While teams created models on what it might take to advance in the playoffs, no one knows for sure. It’s reminiscence of 2004 when NASCAR changed the way the championship was decided by implementing the 10-race Chase instead of having the title determined over the entire season. There were many theories of how to run the final 10 races but no one knew what strategy would work.

Drivers and teams that have lost races worry how their missed opportunities this season might impact their title hopes.

Brad Keselowski was the leader for the final restart at Indianapolis last month. He lost the race — and five playoff points — to Kasey Kahne. Could those points be the difference in Keselowski advancing another round in the playoffs?

He rues missed chances for more playoff points this season.

“I wouldn’t say that it was just Indy that I felt that way,’’ Keselowski said. “I felt that way at Richmond and Vegas where we finished second, had a shot of winning, were leading and it fell apart at the end.

“There’s other races where we won. Atlanta, Kevin (Harvick) was probably the best car there. Sometimes you win when you shouldn’t have and sometimes you don’t win where you probably should have. You hope to be on the better side of that. Steal more than you have stolen. Never feels like you are. That’s the bigger picture look that I have at.’’

Another key will be the bonus points the top 10 teams in points receive after the regular season ends next month. Barring a collapse or severe penalty, Truex is on pace to win the regular-season title and collect 15 playoff points. He has 29 playoff points and the regular-season title bonus would put him at 44 — and five races remain for him to score more playoff points.

To put those 44 points into context, when the playoffs start, every driver contending for the title will have their point total reset to 2,000 and have their playoff points added. It’s possible that Truex will lead some drivers by more than 40 points before the opening round begins.

That likely will help him advance to the second round (if he doesn’t win a race in the first round). He would then carry all those bonus points with him after the point totals are reset to 3,000 for the remaining title contenders. Truex still could have a big enough cushion over some title hopefuls that he could advance to the third round even if he struggles some in those three races.

While Truex appears to be in a good spot, these next five races could be critical to Kyle Larson.

He was leading the points after Daytona last month but a 35-point penalty and four finishes outside the top 25 in the last six races has dropped him to second in the season standings with Harvick and Busch closing. Should both pass Larson and he finishes the regular season fourth, he will have lost eight playoff points by fading from first (15 playoff points) to fourth (seven).

Those eight points could be significant in the playoffs.

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Eight Cup teams to lose practice time at Pocono

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Points leader Martin Truex Jr. will lose 45 minutes of the combined 1 hour, 45 minutes of practice time Cup teams have Saturday at Pocono Raceway.

His team is among eight that will lose practice time because of inspection issues last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Truex will miss 15 minutes in the opening practice for being late to inspection before last weekend’s race . He also will miss 30 minutes of the 50-minute final practice session for failing inspection before the race at Indy three times.

Truex’s teammate, rookie Erik Jones, will miss 15 minutes of the final practice for failing pre-race inspection twice at Indy.

Rookie Daniel Suarez will miss a combined 30 minutes of practice Saturday. He’ll miss 15 minutes in the opening practice for being late to pre-race inspection at Indy. He’ll miss 15 minutes of the final practice for failing pre-race inspection twice at Indianapolis.

Also missing 15 minutes of practice in Saturday’s opening session for being late to inspection at Indy are: Clint Bowyer, Corey LaJoie, Landon Cassill, Cole Whitt and Michael McDowell.

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