Phoenix Raceway

NASCAR America: Ryan Newman on how early Phoenix win impacted his season

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Ryan Newman‘s win at Phoenix Raceway this year was a big deal.

It was Newman’s and Richard Childress Racing’s first wins since 2013. But the victory, made possible by Newman staying out during a late caution, also gave Newman a spot in the upcoming playoffs.

The driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet was a guest of NASCAR America on Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Newman discussed the impact of the win after a long drought of not going to victory lane.

“It changed the year, but it didn’t change the way we fight,” Newman said. “It gave us a lot of hope for the sake that we were maybe locked in. There was no guarantee at that point. That was huge, not just for this year, for the last three years we had been close several times.”

Newman also discussed how his team is looking at the final 13 races.

“We want to be fighting right now,” Newman said. “We don’t want to be riding along thinking ‘it’s going to be easy, it’s going to be a cakewalk.’ We’ve seen some guys do that. I think the guys when they come to pounce come Chicago, Loudon and Dover, might get surprised.”

Watch the video for the full segment.

 

 

NASCAR Xfinity Series to use composite body for three races this season

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NASCAR Xfinity teams will be allowed to use a flange-fit composite body for races at Richmond, Dover and Phoenix, series officials announced Wednesday.

The announcement is part of NASCAR’s move toward the composite body, which series officials said could provide cost savings for teams. The composite body can be used in 2018 for all races except superspeedway events. Series officials plan to make composite bodies mandatory for all Xfinity races in 2019.

Whether this will transfer to Cup remains to be seen.

“Right now we’re 100 percent focused on the success of this body in Xfinity,’’ said Brett Bodine, senior director of R&D at NASCAR, during a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll certainly learn about the performance of the body and the durability, and certainly always look at potentially moving things into other series, but currently we are just worried about Xfinity.’’

The composite body has 13 separate panels that attach together on flanges. Bodine said several body panels have security features to prevent teams from tampering with them to gain an advantage.

The body panels come from Five Star RaceCar Bodies in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.

NASCAR said the inspection process won’t change for teams with the composite body.

If a car crashes during practice, repairs to the car body should be easier, NASCAR states.

“Say you damage a right rear quarterpanel,’’ Bodine said. “It can be easily unbolted from the other body panels and from the chassis and another one can be bolted on in its place. And not only at a race event weekend, but that is how we envision this repair process taking place after an event. The turnaround time for a team that might have received damage at an event should be significantly reduced by the fact that these panels can be unbolted and a new one put on.’’

Wayne Auton, Xfinity Series managing director, said that the damaged vehicle policy remains. Teams will not be able to add new parts to the car during a race.

While NASCAR typically doesn’t create rule changes during the playoffs, Xfinity teams will run twice in the playoffs with the composite body.

“We looked at different models to roll this out, preferably in 2017,’’ Auton said. “Number one, we wanted to get it on the racetrack.  We’ve worked for a year to get the body finalized. We’re at the point now that teams are putting race cars together. They’re getting to do some aero testing with them. 

“So we feel confident that whenever they go into these three races …  that you won’t see a significant difference in the competition. We think it’ll bring the competition closer together, and that was just a collaborative effort of the teams on the type of racetrack that we wanted to start them on, and working with our third‑party vendor of when parts could be ready for teams.’’

For those teams that choose the steel body instead of the composite body at Richmond, Dover and Phoenix, they’ll face significant challenges.

“There will be competition restrictions on the steel body versus the flange fit,’’ Bodine said. “Obviously we want the flange fit to be the body of the future and phase out the steel body. There will be weight and aero differences between the two to make sure that the flange fit body has a competitive advantage.’’

The Xfinity Rule Book notes the difference in weight between the two car body styles. A composite body car with a driver who weighs between 130-139 pounds can have a minimum total combined weight for the driver and car of 3,540-3,549 pounds. That will be about 90 pounds lighter than a the minimum combined weight for a car and a similar driver in a steel body vehicle.

Another advantage that Bodine touts is the potential savings teams could experience as they use the composite body more.

“The efficiencies of using a composite flange fit body really are across the board from potentially needing less chassis to do the Xfinity Series because of the turnaround time on repairs, to the actual amount of time it takes to hang a complete new body on a chassis,’’ Bodine said. “The repairs most likely can be done by the team instead of potentially having to farm it out to a body hanger that they do business with now with the steel bodies. There’s a lot of areas that this cost savings of this type body will provide for the team owners.’’

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Even in victory, frustration prevailed for some with Joe Gibbs Racing at New Hampshire (VIDEO)

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For as much as Joe Gibbs Racing celebrated Denny Hamlin scoring the organization’s first Cup win of the season and Daniel Suarez tying his career high with a sixth-place finish Sunday at New Hampshire, there was much to lament.

Matt Kenseth saw his chances to win end with a questionable pit call late. Kyle Busch’s hopes of victory faded when he was caught speeding twice in the final 65 laps.

Without the missteps from Busch and Kenseth’s team, Hamlin likely doesn’t win.

That’s the type of season it has been for Busch, who has found numerous ways to lose Cup races, allowing five drivers to score their first win of the season.

Consider Busch’s season of frustration:

  • He pits from the lead during a late caution at Phoenix. Ryan Newman stays out and leads the final six laps — the only laps he leads — to win. Busch finishes third.
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passes Busch on the final lap of overtime to win at Talladega. Busch finishes third.
  • Austin Dillon gambles on fuel to win the Coca-Cola 600. Busch finishes second and follows it with his mic drop in the media center.
  • Ryan Blaney passes Busch with 10 laps to go to win at Pocono. Busch, on older tires, falls back to ninth.
  • Busch starts on the front row for the final restart at Kentucky. He has two fresh left-side tires, while Martin Truex Jr., the leader, did not pit. Truex wins. Busch finishes fifth after starting on the pole
  • Busch leads 95 laps at New Hampshire but two late speeding penalties on pit road end his chances to win. He finishes 12th.

“This is another one I threw away for us,’’ Busch said on the radio to his team after the race Sunday.

Crew chief Adam Stevens replied: “We win as a team and lose as a team.’’

Busch is winless in his last 35 Cup races heading into this weekend’s event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — site of his last Cup win.

There’s no doubt his car is fast enough to win. He’s led at least 95 laps in seven races since his Indy triumph a year ago but has yet to return to victory lane.

While Kenseth hasn’t had as many close calls, he can relate to miscues hurting him. He finished third at Atlanta despite two speeding penalties. He placed fourth at Bristol despite a speeding penalty.

Then came the pit call that cost Kenseth the win at New Hampshire and extended his winless drought to 36 races, a full season. When the caution came out on Lap 263, most of the lead field pitted. Kenseth led. Ratcliff called for a two-tire change. That got Kenseth off pit road first but the rest of the cars behind him took four tires. 

Kenseth restarted alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr., who did not pit. Kenseth took the lead after the restart but could not hold off Hamlin, who quickly passed with his four fresh tires. Kenseth never had a chance at the lead the rest of the 301-lap race and finished fourth.

“I let you down,’’ Ratcliff said on the radio after the race. “We should have won.’’

The Gibbs teams are getting closer to winning. Just as Hamlin forecasted in April at Richmond.

“I think we are slowly getting better, we’re gaining more knowledge trying to figure out what it is that we need to work on,’’ Hamlin said at the time. “I think we’ve identified some areas where we need to work. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen this week, it won’t happen in a month. Some things are going to take a long time for us to get better at, but I’m very confident that when push comes to shove, we’re in September starting the (playoffs), we should be hopefully back where we were, if not better.’’

Hamlin notes that even with his win at New Hampshire, more work remains.

“I think we’re there except for two cars,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports on Sunday. “(Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson) are the only ones that continually beat us on speed. As far as the rest of the field, I feel we’re there on speed. Our teammate (Busch) has been like the third-fastest car and we’ve been the fourth consistently just about every week. We’re there where we need to be, but I still feel like for speed-wise, we need more to catch those two.’’

As the Gibbs cars contend for more wins, the difference will come down to execution and not making mistakes.

“There’s a lot of things we can do to be better,’’ Hamlin said. “We have a championship-caliber team. We just have to get our cars a little bit faster. I’m running laps out there as good as I feel that I can do. My car is doing everything that I need it to do but (Truex) is just faster.

“He’s running me down, and he’s passing and putting a straightaway on me. I’m thinking (crew chief Mike Wheeler) there’s nothing else I can give you. I don’t want to screw up our car and finish sixth. Just leave it where it is and hope those guys make mistakes.’’

Sunday, it was his teammates who made the mistakes and Hamlin took advantage.

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Phoenix Raceway $180 million reconfiguration progress can be watched 24/7

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If you’re curious to see what Phoenix Raceway will look like after its $180 million makeover, there’s no need to wait until the project is complete. Rather, you can watch as it progresses step-by-step in the largest capital improvement project in the track’s 53-year history.

Phoenix Raceway officials announced Thursday that, in conjunction with DC Solar, a 24-hour livestream camera will provide viewers all over the world a visual record of the construction progress as it happens.

The site can be accessed at www.NewPhoenixRaceway.com.

In addition to the streaming webcam, there will be three time-lapse cameras in place throughout the property: outside of the current Turn 1; outside of the Turn 2 dogleg; and outside of the current Turn 4. Those cameras can be accessed at PhoenixRaceway.com.

The Phoenix Raceway project is somewhat of a smaller scale version of the $400 million Daytona Rising project that completely transformed Daytona International Speedway into the self-proclaimed world’s “first motorsports stadium.”

The Phoenix project will reduce seating to 45,000, but will include new and wider seats, and the start-finish line will be repositioned in what is now Turn 2.

The current seating on the frontstretch will be demolished. The Allison grandstand in Turns 1 and 2 will be extended just beyond the dog leg.

The project is expected to move into high gear in the next couple of months and is expected to be completed by November 2018’s NASCAR playoff semifinal race weekend.

“This is going to be a great way for fans to keep up with the project,” said Phoenix Raceway President Bryan R. Sperber. “To be able to have this technology at our fingertips to put the progress of the project into the homes of Phoenix Raceway fans, is only going to heighten the anticipation for November 2018.

“There are going to be plenty of milestone moments to come over the next 19 months, and we encourage all fans to check it out.”

Construction will continue into next year, but will stop temporarily for this November’s and next spring’s NASCAR weekends.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Cup season could lead to greater ticket sales

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he will retire from the NASCAR Cup Series after this season could help minimize attendance declines that have become common at tracks.

Asked about the impact Earnhardt could have in the final 28 races of the season, Marcus Smith, chief executive officer and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., likened Earnhardt to another famous athlete.

“Dale Jr.’s announcement yesterday is significant, it’s similar to when Michael Jordan decided it was time for him to retire from basketball,’’ Smith said Wednesday in a conference call with investor analysts. “The opportunity for fans to see Dale Jr. race one more time is certainly special and something we expect will be inspiring to a lot of fans to come to races.’’

Speedway Motorsports Inc. reported that admissions revenue was down 4.5 percent in the first quarter this year compared to the same time last season. The first quarter covered race weekends for Atlanta and Las Vegas. SMI reported that attendance at Atlanta was “up a little bit” and attendance at Las Vegas was “down a little bit” but did not provide numbers.

Earnhardt will be the fourth major NASCAR driver to leave the Cup series since last year Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart ran their final races last season. Carl Edwards announced before the season that he would not race this year.

International Speedway Corp., which owns tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and Homestead-Miami Speedway, cited the absence of Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt (when he missed the last 18 races of last year) as impacting admission revenue last season.

ISC reported its fourth-quarter admissions revenue was down 9.3 percent last year from the previous season. The company hosted Cup races at Darlington, Richmond, Chicagoland, Kansas, Talladega, Martinsville, Phoenix and Homestead during that quarter.

“The impact of Jeff Gordon’s retirement was underestimated, which was compounded with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing races throughout the season,’’ said John Saunders, ISC president, in January about one of the reasons for the decline.

Earnhardt’s announcement that this will be his last Cup series already has some fans purchasing or looking to purchase tickets.

Richmond International Raceway reported an increase in interest for this weekend’s race after Earnhardt’s announcement. Richmond also is selling tickets to its fall race weekend. Earnhardt is scheduled to compete in both the Xfinity and Cup races there Sept. 8-9.

The series heads to Talladega next weekend and Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, anticipates more Earnhardt fans showing up.

“If you’re going to go see him one more time, why wouldn’t you go to the track where he runs the best,’’ Lynch said. “We think that’s the a positive for Talladega. He’s always been great at Talladega. It’s an Earnhardt track. I hope folks will take the attitude that ‘Wow, I’ll get two more chances to see him,’ see him next weekend and come see us again in October.’’

The greatest demands for tickets likely will come for races at the end of the season.

Earnhardt’s final Cup race will be Nov. 19 at Homestead. The track is selling three-day weekend packages. Deposits for single-day tickets, which go on sale May 5, are being taken. That race sold out last year.

The week before Homestead, the series races at Phoenix Raceway. The track is in the renewal process for the Nov. 12 race with fall race ticket holders. The track is selling tickets to its new Club 64 section above Turn 1 now. Grandstand tickets and camping go on sale June 2.

The week before Phoenix, the series races at Texas Motor Speedway. The track is selling weekend ticket packages only at this point. The track will sell individual tickets to its fall Cup race in June. A date has yet to be determined but it will come after the June 10 IndyCar race there.

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