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Ryan: Five things you might have missed on the NASCAR Media Tour

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CHARLOTTE — Generational driver schism EXPOSED!

Top-secret EFI data REVEALED!

NASCAR chairman’s absence CALLED OUT!

If screaming headlines are your thing, NASCAR’s 2018 Media Tour delivered the goods with all the subtlety of a two-by-four to the forehead.

The annual preseason event provided its share of conversation starters (even if some topics seemed played out, or at least very familiar). The rift between the emerging class of budding stars and the establishment was notable, and a more widespread dissemination of acceleration, braking and turning information could have an impact on competition this season.

If you prefer nuance, however, you might have been left wanting for deeper analysis after this annual paean to pack journalism (in which the subject matter is limited to what is disclosed by a limited group of subjects – in this case, exclusively drivers with often limited agendas). And beyond the sexiest of storylines, there were other clues as to what might bear watching this season.

Here are five things you might have missed from last week’s Media Tour, particularly if you were following the updates in 280-character dispatches:

1. For Ford teams, it’s in Hawkeye we trust: It’s rare to find consensus among such a bull-headed constituency as race car drivers. But when asked how they will keep up with the newer Camry and Camaro, virtually every man behind the wheel of a Fusion cited NASCAR’s new inspection process as the saving grace. The system being implemented in 2018 will rely on cameras and computer scanning technology for more scrutiny.

Publicly, this was hailed as a win by Ford drivers who spoke mostly in generalities about the why. Privately, many were saying the new system will neutralize body advantages gained by the more recent models of Chevrolet and Toyota. Theoretically, it will eliminate precious wiggle room under the previous laser inspection and template processes.

As NASCAR has adjusted its rules to strip downforce in recent seasons, Ford’s older model seemed to lack the adjustability needed to regain rear downforce. This partly accounts for why Brad Keselowski has been lobbying for help since last season, warning ominously after the 2017 season finale that Ford could be headed for “a drubbing.”

The Hawkeye system seems to have ameliorated some of those concerns. It probably will be at least two months until its impact can be fully evaluated. But based on their confidence at the Media Tour, the Blue Oval brigade clearly has bought into the idea that the inspection changes will offer a fighting chance – at least until Ford rolls out a redesigned body (likely the Mustang) next season.

2. Teams have made big offseason changes … : After essentially operating as two two-car teams (competing out of adjacent buildings) for more than a decade, Hendrick Motorsports’ reorganization into a more universal approach is indicative of the teams’ struggles last season but also of the engineering-driven assembly line mentality that has taken root in Cup.

Traditionally, crew chiefs have stood as the king of the mountain at Hendrick, but its latest organization chart suggests that decision-making will become more diffuse. That could be an adjustment (and perhaps a welcome one) for Chad Knaus, who has enjoyed unprecedented success while leading Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet for the past 16 seasons. After arguably the most underperforming season of Johnson’s career, it seems an acknowledgment that the teams’ cars and setups would benefit from more input and “a think-tanking of ideas,” as Johnson alluded (while also hinting that shrinking sponsorship also makes standardization an easier choice over customization).

On a lesser scale, internal moves by smaller teams such as JTG Daugherty Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports seem aimed at enhancing the efficiency and leverage afforded by forming alliances with large teams. The blueprint is last year’s championship campaign of Furniture Row Racing, which outran Toyota ally and chassis supplier Joe Gibbs Racing with a much smaller budget and staff.

3. … and so have some drivers: After living much of the past two seasons in Aspen, Colorado, Johnson indicated he will be spending more time in Charlotte this year, aiding his team’s transition to a new structure with younger drivers. Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne is headed in the other direction, relocating to his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee (though he will make frequent trips to the shop).

Kasey Kahne outlined his plans for running a couple dozen sprint car races with his teams now that his contractual shackles have been loosened. While the moonlighting surely will keep him loose, it was telling that Kahne recalled his 2011 with Red Bull Racing was “awesome” and more enjoyable than any of his six seasons at Hendrick.

Though he did score a win at Phoenix (in Red Bull’s penultimate race in NASCAR) and a respectable 14th in points (better than his final four years at Hendrick), it wasn’t the results that made him happy at Red Bull – it was the less constrained atmosphere of a smaller team. Kahne probably won’t have the same caliber of cars at Leavine Family Racing, but he will have less pressure, and that might make a difference.

4. Kyle Busch’s drive: The runner-up in last year’s championship race hasn’t rewatched the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale, and he probably won’t have another screening until November when Kyle Busch hopes to be advance to the championship round for the fourth consecutive season.

While he concedes that Martin Truex Jr. was deserving of the title because of his season-long excellence, Busch and his team believed they were as good or better than the No. 78 at Miami. That compounded the sting from Busch feeling as if he should have repeated as champion in 2016. “It’s tough when you feel like you should have won it three years in a row,” Busch said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “You’re obviously feeling like a failure and a letdown and not just for yourself but your team and organization and everyone around you.”

Busch had five wins last year but easily could have had twice as many, and those misses linger with him as much as the triumphs. His cutthroat determination makes him a star as much as his singular ability, and his edge already is evident this year. With the growing pains that slowed the Camry at the start of 2017 long gone, Busch seems primed to open 2018 the way he did a decade ago (when he won eight of the first 22 races in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing) and don’t forget that the Daytona 500 remains a glaring omission on his resume.

5. Kyle Larson (literally): The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was missing from the Media Tour because of an illness. But Larson was present at a sponsor announcement the previous week and provided some interesting reflections on last year’s finale and this season’s outlook.

He also reaffirmed his desire to have more Cup drivers run in grassroots series such as the Chili Bowl, laughing at Keselowski’s suggestion of being too tall to succeed (“He would barely be above average height in a Midget”). But he also empathized with those who worry about the reputation risks of parachuting into the Chili Bowl.

“I’ve thought about running a big dirt late model race, but I can’t even get the courage to go do it because I don’t want to embarrass myself not having practiced or raced it before,” Larson said. “So it would be really tough for a NASCAR guy to have high expectations or anything like that. I’m sure a lot of fans would have expectations of some sort for them, so it would be tough, but I’d love to see everyone give it a try because it’s a huge event and they’re amazing cars to drive. I think they would all be amazed at the power they have compared to what they’re used to, so it would be cool for sure to see them run.”

Cup commuter: Trevor Bayne has a long drive (or a short flight) to work

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CHARLOTTE – Trevor Bayne will be commuting to Roush Fenway Racing farther than he races for the team on most weeks in NASCAR’s premier series this season.

The Knoxville, Tennessee, native relocated his family last December from the Charlotte area to his hometown, which is more than 200 miles from Roush’s headquarters in Concord, North Carolina.

Bayne, though, plans to travel weekly to his team’s shop so he can meet with officials and crew members on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“They’ve been great with it,” Bayne said during the NASCAR on NBC podcast of Roush’s reaction to the move. “As long as I’m committed in getting my work done, they shouldn’t know a difference.

“A lot of drivers will (use video conferencing) or call into the meeting, and it’s like being there, but I actually want to be present as much as possible for the guys who aren’t in the meeting. The guys working in the shop or body shop that want to see you and know what’s going on to know that you’re committed.”

Bayne said he was encouraged by drivers (such as Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott) who have enjoyed out-of-state residency while racing for North Carolina-based teams.

His Knoxville home is about a three and a half hour drive to Roush Fenway, but Bayne plans on mostly flying to work. He is working on a pilot’s license and can rent planes while compiling his required hours for certification.

“Last year I started flying a little bit, and it’s a really short flight to get there,” Bayne said. “A little treacherous over the mountains. You’ve got to pay attention, but I feel it’s good for my mental state to travel back and forth and spend time with the guys.”

With two children under 2, it also will be good for childcare. The parents of Bayne and his wife, Ashton, live in Knoxville. “I really think this is going to be great for my racing and for our personal health,” he said. “Having grandparents around for a night a week if Ashton and I want to go on a date night or if I’ve got an appearance somewhere. … I think it’s going to be a really good thing.”

Bayne finished 22nd in the points standings last season, his third full time in the Cup Series. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner had a career-best six top 10s.

“Last year, we had a lot of big changes on our team with structure and different people,” he said. “This year, it’s more about refining those changes and seeing where we missed the gaps.”

You can hear Bayne at the 13:00 mark of the podcast, which also features William Byron, Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell, AJ Allmendinger and Clint Bowyer.

Click on the embed above to hear the podcast or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you download podcasts.

Joey Logano, Ty Dillon adapting to sleepless nights as new fathers

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — It’s been three weeks since Joey Logano and wife Brittany welcomed their first child, Hudson, into the world.

How bad has the kid wrecked Logano’s sleeping habits?

“Dude. Dude,” Logano said Wednesday during the NASCAR Media Tour when asked by an older media member. “You have no idea. I’m sure you know. Actually, you should know. You know.”

Three fellow Cup drivers definitely know.

Ty Dillon, Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick joined Logano in having children in the last few months.

Dillon and his wife Haley became parents for the first time with daughter Haley in late November. Menard and his wife Jennifer had their second child at the beginning of November. Kevin and DeLana Harvick welcomed their first daughter, Piper Grace, before the New Year.

On Wednesday, Logano was euphoric about the amount of sleep he got the night before thanks to his brother-in-law taking his shift.

“It’s a big day today,” Logano said. “I have never felt better with seven hours of sleep in my life. This is great. Usually it is about four, so this is awesome.”

Three weeks in, the 27-year-old Team Penske driver has reevaluated some aspects of his work-home life balance.

“Mainly that I can’t halfway do something,” Logano said. “When I go to work, I have to be 100 percent at work and when I go home, I have to put my phone down, and that’s it. I have to learn to do that a little better probably. Sometimes it is hard to detach. That is probably one of the biggest things I think that will be very important moving forward as he gets older. There is a time for work and a time for family. I need to do 100 percent at each one of those and not try to do 50 percent at all of them. It just doesn’t work. I don’t think that is the best avenue at least.”

The late nights of trying to rock Hudson to sleep have been a humbling experience.

“I think it probably changes the perspective you have of your parents a lot,” Logano said. “I tell you I appreciate them a lot more. Not that I didn’t before but holy moly. I sit there in the middle of the night and it is three in the morning and he is crying his eyeballs out at me and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, my parents had to do this for me. I was like this at one point.'”

For Dillon, the 25-year-old father gets introspective during his late night tours of duty.

“When I’m sitting there at midnight or one in the morning trying to rock her back to sleep or hold her and just kind of looking into her and seeing small parts of myself and my wife in her is the coolest feeling in the world,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

The Germain Racing driver said he has realized “what life is truly about.”

“Just looking at what life starts as gives you such a perspective on living,” Dillon told media members. “So I hope to take what I’ve learned from being her father for just two months and kind of adapt it to every aspect of my life and the appreciation for what I have and what I am and who I am.”

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

It’s the second time around the baby block for Harvick and Menard.

Even so, the Harvick household has been a “war zone” since Piper Grace arrived, complete with Harvick having to walk around in a protective mask.

“Keelan (his first-born) was a handful the first couple of weeks trying to get adapted to someone else taking some of the attention,” Harvick told NBC Sports. “Then we all got sick the third week. So we’ve had Piper quarantined in one room. I was quarantined in another room. Mom and Keelan were in the middle of the house. I’ve been walking around with a mask on for three days. Finally got to get rid of my mask. I feel like everything is starting to flow as a house of four instead of a house of three. The family travel will be different for sure. But we also have to make sure that Keelan gets to do the things that he’s accustomed to doing and being a part of. That will be a main focus of family for sure.”

Harvick said he was “scared to death” when Keelan was born. But things are different the second time around with a baby girl.

“You expect no sleep, you know you’re going to get pooped and spit up on,” Harvick said. “There’s going to be some challenges of getting it all situated.”

According to Menard, his new-born son already has racing on the mind.

“I was holding him on the couch the other day and I had a little race car on my hoodie,” Menard told NBC Sports. “I had a Wood Brothers Racing sweatshirt on and it had a little race car on it and he stared at it for 20 minutes so I know we’re already in trouble with him.”

Menard said his son will get likely his first exposure to racing at next month’s Daytona 500.

MESSY SITUATION

For a long time Dillon told people he wouldn’t change any child’s diapers unless it was his own.

That time is here.

“The moment finally came and the first diaper up and this black tarry substance is in there and I’m changing the diaper very slowly and using like 20 wipes and every detail,” Dillon told NBC Sports. “She’s almost two months and a week (old) now and I can change diapers blindfolded and in zombie mode at two in the morning in like five seconds. It’s funny how you develop.”

Logano said his favorite moments as a dad so far have come in those late-night sessions with Hudson.

“You’re changing diapers and he’s crying and yelling and fussing at you and then he decides to take a leak all over you,” Lognao told NBC Sports. “At the time it’s not that funny but now it’s funny. If you’re a parent you understand. A few weeks ago someone told me this I’d say, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I get it now. Everything ends up great. You can get crapped on and you still like it. Go figure.”

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Darrell Wallace Jr. critical of Kyle Busch’s comments on marketing of young drivers

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Darrell Wallace Jr, a former driver for Kyle Busch in the Camping World Truck Series, called Busch’s criticism of NASCAR’s marketing of young drivers “dumb” and “stupid” Wednesday during the NASCAR Media Tour.

On Tuesday, Busch called a perceived emphasis on marketing young drivers over veterans “troublesome” and “stupid.”

The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran also claimed that drivers in Wallace’s generation “are bullied into doing more things than the older guys are because we say no a lot more because we’ve been there, done that and have families.”

When asked about Busch’s comments, the 24-year-old Wallace asked the gathered media, “You got video of this?”

He then let out of a mocking laugh.

“Ha Ha! That’s so dumb. So stupid,” Wallace said.

Wallace, who is embarking on his rookie Cup season with Richard Petty Motorsports, framed Busch’s comments as hypocritical based on his early years in the series. Busch’s rookie season was in 2005 at the age of 20.

“I know Kyle, I raced with him and I know how he is,” Wallace said. “I don’t know how old he is, 30 something, right? 32?  Damn, he’s that old? Getting up there, bud.  He was in the same kind of spot we were. They had the Gillette Young Guns back then. He’s still got the baby face now. Not really sure what he’s trying to say. He had kind of the same treatment we’re going through.”

Busch was made part of the Gillette program in 2011 with teammate Denny Hamlin. The program was established to highlight young NASCAR drivers in 2004. The 2011 class was the first to include athletes from other sports. Busch and Hamlin were the only NASCAR drivers included.

“I will say when certain drivers, if I ever get to this level, pinch me and try to bring me back down,” Wallace said. “But when it gets to a certain level, they stop doing stuff. Drivers stop doing stuff. We get requests all the time, some stuff we turn down, some stuff is like, ‘How does this help me? Does it help? Good. Ok, let’s do it.’

“It’s kind of like pulling teeth when you get well-established in the Cup Series.”

The comments reflect those made earlier in the afternoon by Wallace’s friend, Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney.

“I feel like if some drivers were more willing to do these things they’d get asked more to do it,” Blaney said. “The reason I get asked to do it a lot is because I say yes a lot. Because I think it’s good for the sport and myself. I can tell you personally (Busch) doesn’t like do a lot of stuff so that’s why they don’t ask him to do a lot of stuff.”

Both Wallace and Blaney had cameo roles in Pixar’s Cars 3 film released last year. They also went viral with they took over NASCAR’s SnapChat account during a road trip to a track.

Wallace will be the first full-time African-American driver in Cup since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott competed in the late 60s.

Wallace explained how he approaches marketing opportunities that are presented by NASCAR.

“It’s one of those things where I look at how is it going to promote my brand, promote the sport and promote the youth movement,” Wallace said. “If I’m promoting the sport, that means I’m promoting everybody in this room. We’re all part of this sport together. It’s actually like, ‘You’re welcome,’ for doing the dirty work. I wouldn’t really call it dirty work because some of it’s fun. We get to go to LA and hang out and be on Nickelodeon and do all this stuff. We like doing that. I don’t have the M&M’s sponsor (Busch’s primary sponsor) to carry me full-time. I have 13 races. So I have to put myself out there, I have to sell myself. If NASCAR’s going to do that and I don’t have to pay for it, hell yeah, sign me up.”

When Wallace’s time with the media was up, he rose from his chair, accidentally dropping his phone on the ground.

“Let’s see if I got a text from Kyle yet,” Wallace joked as he leaned over to pick it up.

“Nope, not yet”

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Kyle Busch calls publicity emphasis on young Cup drivers ‘bothersome,’ ‘stupid’

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Kyle Busch was critical of how much more attention young Cup drivers receive in marketing and publicity compared to veterans, calling the gap he perceives “stupid” and “bothersome” during the NASCAR Media Tour Tuesday.

The topic arose when the 2015 Cup champion was asked if he thought there was an emphasis on the younger generation of drivers.

Absolutely there is. Do you feel like that, too?” Busch deadpanned in response.

The 32-year-old driver for Joe Gibbs Racing was pressed on whether it bothered him.

It is bothersome,” Busch said. “We’ve paid our dues, and our sponsors have and everything else, and all you’re doing is advertising all these younger guys for fans to figure out and pick up on and choose as their favorite driver. I think it’s stupid. But I don’t know, I’m not the marketing genius that’s behind this deal. You know, I just do what I can do, and my part of it is what my part is.

“I guess one thing that can be said is probably the younger guys are bullied into doing more things than the older guys are because we say no a lot more because we’ve been there, done that and have families, things like that, and want to spend as much time as we can at home. You know, maybe that’s some of it. … Some of these marketing campaigns and things like that, pushing these younger drivers, is I wouldn’t say all that fair.”

The 2018 season opens next month with a growing field of drivers under the age of 30. Rookies William Byron (20) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (24) join the ranks of Chase Elliott (22), Ryan Blaney (24), Erik Jones (21), Kyle Larson (25), Alex Bowman (24), Ty Dillon (25) and Austin Dillon (27).

Busch is teammates with Jones, Daniel Suarez (27) and Denny Hamlin (37).

Jones, entering his second year in Cup, is replacing Matt Kenseth in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota. Kenseth, 45, ended last season as the oldest full-time driver in Cup.

Kenseth’s departure from the sport coincided with the retirement of 15-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both had been in Cup since 2000.

Clint Bowyer, 38, also called the focus on younger drivers “bothersome,” but allowed that some of the attention is warranted and necessary for the growth of the sport.

“You have somebody getting in Jeff Gordon’s car (Byron), somebody getting in Dale Jr.’s car (Bowman),” Bowyer said. “We have to figure out how to fill that void somehow and it can’t always be the same guys that have been there. I get it.

“If they deserve it, push it now. If people are beating them — there were drivers last year. Look at Matt Kenseth. He was outrunning them pretty much every week and not getting the limelight. Some of those things are bothersome at times. Did I deserve it (the spotlight)? I wasn’t running as good as I needed to. If I was running up front and should have been in the limelight I would have been barking back a little bit.”

Busch, who was on the cover of the “NASCAR Heat 2” video game last year, won five times in 2017 and advanced to the Championship 4. There he finished second in the race and standings to Martin Truex Jr.

Kevin Harvick, who has been in Cup since 2001, was blunt when asked about Busch’s perception.

“That is like the child that’s whining for some attention,” Harvick said. “I can’t complain about that because of the fact our sponsors have been so involved with the things that we do. NASCAR’s been very open to the things that they’re doing and involved us in. I can’t back (Busch’s comment) up to be honest with you. Honestly, you have to have a push for the younger generation drivers as well in order to help introduce them to the fans and in the end that only works if they have the success on the race track. But there has to be a push for the guys coming up to introduce them to who they are and if they happen to perform like they need to perform on the race track and start acquiring these race fans that are looking for drivers to support. That’s good for everybody.”

Meanwhile, other Cup veterans, like Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne are OK with not being the center of the spotlight

“All of us, as race car drivers or as humans, some seek attention more than others,” said McMurray, who turns 42 in June and has been in Cup full-time since 2003. “I don’t really seek attention. So I’m OK with all that. I think some want attention more than others.”

Bayne, 26, is seven years removed from winning the Daytona 500 the day after his 20th birthday. The Roush Fenway Racing feels like the “middle child” when it comes to the two major generations of Cup drivers in the field.

“I was a young guy at one point getting that attention, so I think it’s fun when you’re a young guy coming in, and I don’t necessarily want all that attention,” Bayne said. “I just want to do my job well and win races and be fast and get attention for that, not because there’s media hype or because of my age.”

What does Byron’s generation think about the dynamic between generations?

According to Byron, “it’s all relative.”

The driver for Hendrick Motorsports will make his first Cup start in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

“When new guys come in it’s a kind of fresh thing to talk about, but we’re ultimately going to have to prove ourselves on the race track and do the things that we’re capable of,” Byron said. “I think that’s going to show over time, and hopefully a couple of us young guys can win some more races.”

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