Photo: Dustin Long

Friday 5: NASCAR ends practice of drivers sitting in cars to serve penalties

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The public shaming drivers, most notably Joey Logano, suffered last year because their cars did not pass inspection will not be repeated this season, NASCAR confirmed.

Logano was forced to sit in his car at the end of pit road for an entire 50-minute practice session in September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because his car failed to clear qualifying inspection.

At one point, Logano’s wife delivered water as he sat strapped in the car in full uniform. The intent for such penalties was that since drivers are part of a team they should also suffer consequences when their cars failed to pass inspection in a timely fashion.

But the Logano spectacle turned the penalty into “a joke” as Logano called it that day after exiting his car in the garage.

NASCAR will change how it will enforce such penalties this year.

Teams still will be docked practice time but they will serve it in the garage instead of on pit road. Also, the driver no longer has to be in the car. Teams cannot work on the car while it is serving a timed penalty.

Also, teams will serve their penalties at the end of a practice session instead of the beginning. So, if a team has a 15-minute penalty, the driver must take the car back to the garage at that point, exit the car and the team is done for the session.

The move keeps cars from being parked on pit road, drivers sitting in them for 15, 30 minutes or more and people talking more about a car not on track instead of those that are practicing.

2. More details revealed on NASCAR’s new pit crew rules

When NASCAR announced in November that it was eliminating one person from going over the wall to pit the car, it led to many questions. At the time, NASCAR couldn’t answer all those questions as they were sorting through the details of allowing only five people to service the car.

NASCAR provided a few more answers this week.

What happens if a pit crew member is injured during an event?

That person can be replaced by a backup — even if they are assigned to another team. Say, a member of Stewart-Haas Racing’s pit crew is injured and cannot continue. SHR, which has provided pit crews to Front Row Motorsports, could take one member from that pit crew to replace the injured person. Front Row then would have to fill the open spot with someone who is listed as a pit crew member on a team roster.

OK, what about a situation like what happened at Texas in 2010 when Chad Knaus replaced all of his pit crew with teammate Jeff Gordon’s pit crew during a race?

Teams can make changes based on performance within their organization as long as they are on a roster. Recall, teams must submit a roster listing their pit crew, road crew and organizational members each weekend.

Previously it was stated that the fuel man can only fuel the car during a stop. Has that changed?

NASCAR remains steadfast in that the fuel man can only fuel the car — he is not allowed to make adjustments on the car or help with tires. The exception that NASCAR will allow is that the fuel man can kick a tire down in the name of safety — to avoid being hit by a tire.

Wait, there is a time when a fuel man can work on the car?

Yes. Say a team has damage and comes to pit road for repairs. A fuel man can go over the wall to help repair damage but cannot fuel the car during that stop. If a team changes only tires and doesn’t add fuel during a routine stop, the fuel man cannot go over the wall. No fuel, no fuel man over the wall — unless it is related to repairing damage.

3. “Jimmie Johnson rule” goes away

A controversial call NASCAR made last year in the playoff race at Charlotte won’t be repeated this season.

Jimmie Johnson started to pull out of his pit box before his team stopped him because of an unsecured lug nut. Johnson backed his car but it was not entirely in his pit stall when a crew member secured a lug nut on the left front wheel.

As it happened, many figured Johnson would be penalized for having work done on the car outside the pit box.

NASCAR did not penalize, stating that it had routinely allowed teams to secure a lug nut outside the pit box, calling it a safety issue.

All such work this season must be done in the pit box, NASCAR confirmed. If not, it’s a penalty.

Another change involves the fuel man. Previously, NASCAR allowed the fuel man to have the fuel can connected to the car and follow the car as it exited its pit stall. That no longer will be allowed. The fuel man must unplug the fuel can before the front of the car crosses over the edge of its pit stall or the team will be penalized for servicing the car outside the stall.

4. Maybe next year

One of the changes Denny Hamlin said the Drivers Council discussed last year was the choose rule. That’s what is used at short tracks.

The premise is that as drivers cross the start/finish line a lap before a restart, drivers have the option to choose if they want to start on the inside or outside lane. On a track where one groove is significantly better .

I know we talked a little bit about cone choose rule on restarts for some tracks,’’ Hamlin said of the Drivers Council. “That didn’t come forth this year. I know several of us were hoping so, being that there was such a disadvantage at some racetracks such as (you) happen to come off pit lane in the wrong lane, you’re not going to win the race, and that’s not necessarily fair.

“I think giving the drivers a choose rule would be something good to look forward in the future, but overall it’s status quo on the way the stages went. The cars are relatively the same, so there’s good momentum that we need to build on from last year.”

5. One last weekend …

This is the final weekend before NASCAR resumes at Daytona International Speedway. This also marks one of only two weekends without any of NASCAR’s three national series racing between now and the end of the season on Nov. 18.

The other weekend? March 31-April 1 because April 1 is Easter.

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Go behind the scenes of NBCSN’s broadcast from New Hampshire Motor Speedway (video)

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Quite a bit goes into making a NASCAR on NBC race broadcast possible.

Last weekend, cameras were turned around to show the people and operations behind the broadcast from New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We have to have a group of people the size of what puts on a Super Bowl every single week,” lead announcer Rick Allen says in the video featured above.

Allen, Jeff Burton and Krista Voda share their thoughts on how a race day broadcast is put together, from production meetings to quickly tearing down the “Countdown to Green” stage on pit road and more.

“Everyone sees us on TV and assumes it may be the nine of us, there’s like 200, 300 people,” Voda says.

To see just a sampling of those people, watch the full video.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. explains his actions, comments in recent days

Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. says that “I care about the way the sport looks’’ and it is that passion that led him to be vocal on a multitude of issues recently.

Earnhardt discussed his actions the past week, including his tweet about peaceful protests that cited former President John F. Kennedy, during his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast.

Earnhardt’s tweet came after a weekend of controversy about NFL players protesting during the national anthem that was stirred when President Donald Trump said such players should be fired.

Before the NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, car owners Richard Petty and Richard Childress were vocal in their feelings of what they’d do if anyone on their teams kneeled during the anthem.

Earnhardt said in his podcast that he felt he needed to speak up.

“I kept seeing a lot of negativity about NASCAR on social media,’’ he said on his podcast. “It’s just the same tired stigma that we’ve dealt with for many, many years. So, I didn’t feel like that Richard’s comments and Richard Petty’s comments were the way the entire sport felt. I think that Richard was talking for himself and through North Carolina law they have the right to do the things that they would do.

“They have the right to their opinion. I just didn’t want anyone speaking for me. I felt like that you could assume that those were my own personal feelings as well. I wanted to make that clear.

“With that said, I stand for the flag during the national anthem, always have, always will. We have an incredibly large military presence at our races. We go above and beyond to show our patriotism and what it means to be Americans and how proud we are of that and how proud we are of the flag and what it stands for.

“No surprise to me everyone at the track stood and addressed the flag during the anthem, which I think will continue. But I also understand that the man next to me, if he wants to do something different, that’s his right. I might not agree with everything somebody does, but it’s their right to have that opportunity to do that. I can’t take that away from them, and I don’t want them taking it away from me.’’

Earnhardt addressed many other topics on the podcast.

— He discussed the penalty after the Chicagoland race to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott and the role social media might have played in that.

— He talked about his comments about burnouts

— He discussed a tweet he published last Saturday that included a cuss word and his thoughts about what he should have done in reaction to Joey Logano’s penalty of having to sit in his car for all of the final practice session on pit road without getting on the track.

— He discussed drivers who bring sponsors to rides.

— He also said where he sees himself in five to 10 years. 

You can listen to Earnhardt’s podcast, the Dale Jr. Download, here.

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Long: Dominant trio could put pressure on playoff drivers to advance to Miami (video)

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While this weekend’s focus turns to those seeking to advance to the Round of 12, the question could be if the field is actually racing for one spot in the championship race in Miami?

Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson have dominated this season and clinched spots into the next round, moving them one step closer to a potential championship showdown.

While the past doesn’t guarantee the future, the performance of Truex, Busch and Larson this year makes it easy to envision all three advancing to Miami.

Consider their achievements:

  • They’ve won 42.9 percent of the races (12 of 28), a total that could have been higher had Busch and Truex not had issues in some races they were strong and Larson won some of the eight races he’s placed runner-up.
  • They’ve won seven of the last eight races, including Busch’s win this past weekend in New Hampshire. The exception was the Southern 500. Denny Hamlin passed Truex in the final laps to win after Truex hit the wall.
  • They’ve won 35 of 57 stages (Truex has a series-high 19 stage victories).
  • They’ve combined to lead 55.5 percent of the 7,971 laps run this season.

If Truex, Busch and Larson avoid problems in the upcoming rounds and advance to Miami, that would leave one spot left among the 13 other drivers.

So who will it be?

Will it be Hamlin?

He finished 12th at New Hampshire, ending a streak of four consecutive top-five finishes. He’s placed in the top five in six of the last eight races.

Hamlin said he and his team have more work to do to challenge for a title.

“Our best race tracks are at the end of the season,’’ Hamlin said after Sunday’s race. “But I think if we’re going to win the championship, listen we can get ourselves to Homestead the way we’re running, but if we want to win we’ve got to get faster in certain parts of the run, for sure.’’

Will it be seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson? It’s hard to count him out regardless how strong others are. 

“When you look at fast laps, laps led, those guys are on it,’’ Johnson said at New Hampshire of the Toyota drivers. “I’ve been there before. Didn’t want anybody to take away from what we had and was frustrated when people said we had some kind of unfair advantage. When you do your hard work and got everything right and your manufacturer has got everything right, man, you’ve got to enjoy those days because they don’t come very often.

“They’re very fast in a lot of areas. It’s not just one thing. We won the championship last year with the fourth-fastest car at Homestead. If we’ve got a chance down there, we’ll make it happen.’’

Or could it be Matt Kenseth, adding another Toyota in the title hunt at Miami? Kenseth’s third-place finish at New Hampshire marked his eighth top-10 in the last 10 races. Although he’s not won this season, his team has progressed since July and become a factor in races.

Or could it be a Ford driver — Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney or Kurt BuschWhile Keselowski has stated that Toyotas have a speed advantage, the fastest car doesn’t always win.

The scary proposition for the field is if Truex, Larson and Kyle Busch don’t have issues that keep them from advancing, there will be just one spot left for Miami to race for the championship.

WHO IS SAFE?

So who can breathe and who will need to be careful this weekend at Dover to make sure they advance to the next round?

Only once in the previous three years has a driver gone to Dover with a double-digit lead on the first driver outside a transfer spot and failed to advanced.

In 2015, Jimmie Johnson had a 27-point lead on 13th in the points going into Dover. Johnson finished 41st because of a mechanical issue and failed to advance to the second round of the playoffs. Kyle Busch entered Dover 13th but climbed into a transfer spot and used that to begin his run to the championship.

Those with leads of 27 points or less on the first driver outside a transfer spot entering Dover are Ryan Blaney (26 points ahead of 13th-place Austin Dillon), Chase Elliott (26 points), Kevin Harvick (25 points), Jamie McMurray (nine points) and Ricky Stenhouse (tied with Dillon but owns the final transfer spot at this point based on a tiebreaker)

“You’re never really comfortable with your position, unless you have a win,’’ Blaney said.

Each of the previous three years a driver not in a transfer spot entering the Dover cutoff race advanced to the next round.

Last year, Kyle Larson held the final transfer spot by five points entering Dover and failed to advance after finishing 25th. Austin Dillon finished eighth to advance.

In 2014, AJ Allmendinger had a one-point advantage on the final transfer spot entering Dover but was knocked out by Denny Hamlin.

BATTLE HEATING UP?

Ryan Blaney finished ninth Sunday at New Hampshire but his focus was on another issue with rookie Daniel Suarez.

Asked about the racing, Blaney said: “It was good racing until (Suarez) just about took us out coming to the white for eighth. I don’t know why he did that. That’s twice in two weeks he’s done that to me. That wasn’t very cool, but, other than that, the race was really good. The people we were racing with in the playoffs seemed to race each other with respect, which is nice to see.” 

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NASCAR to reexamine rule that sat Joey Logano for entire practice

Dustin Long
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A NASCAR executive said Monday “it’s fair for us to take a look” at the rule that forced Joey Logano to sit on pit road for an entire 50-minute practice session after his No. 22 Ford failed pre-qualifying inspection four times the day before.

Logano called the rule “a total joke” following the practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The rule was addressed by Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

O’Donnell said the punishment was under the spotlight because no team had been handed a penalty for an entire practice session.

“So this was the first time we’ve ever had an entire practice (sat out),” O’Donnell said. “The reason the drivers are part of that is to have some teeth in the penalty. If the driver’s not part of that, we felt like teams may purposefully just continue to fail because it’s an entire team penalty and needed everybody to be part of that. We’ve done that many times this year and really hasn’t been a story because it hasn’t been the entire practice.”

Logano had to sit in his car on pit road strapped in with helmet and safety equipment on and the window net up. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was shocked when he learned of the punishment.

Logano was one of 14 drivers who missed practice time Saturday.

O’Donnell predicted the way practice penalties are handled could evolve for next season.

“I think there’s some different things we could look at in the future, maybe not for this year because we want to be fair to the rule that we’ve had in place,” O’Donnell said. “In 2018 you could look at the possibility of a driver going out to start practice and then being pulled off the track or black flagged if it’s a 20-minute penalty or whatever that may be and go that route. One of those things that until it happens in a totality of practice, it becomes more of a story and something to look at. I think it’s fair for us to take a look at that going forward.”

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