Roger Penske

Car owner Roger Penske confirms Ford will have new body in 2019

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Team Penske car owner Roger Penske confirmed after Sunday’s Clash that Ford will have a new body in 2019.

Asked about the challenges of having the oldest body among the manufacturers (Toyota updated its Camry last year and Chevrolet is using the Camaro ZL1 this year), Penske said the team will have help next year.

“We can’t really use that as an excuse,” Penske said of having the oldest body this year. “There’s no reason to. I think we thought the same thing coming out of St. Petersburg last year in IndyCar that we might not have the power Honda had and we won 10 races. I keep reminding the team that. We’ve got to race all year. We’ll have a new body next year.”

Brad Keselowski, who has been vocal since last year about the advantage Toyota had and expressed concern at Miami about Chevrolet’s new body, was asked about Penske’s comment.

“They don’t tell me those kind of things because they know I’ve got a little bit of a big mouth and they don’t trust me, which is probably smart,” Keselowski said after his win in the Clash. “If (Penske) says it, I would say go with him. He’s always pretty trustworthy.”

In a statement to NBC Sports, Mark Rushbrook, Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports, said: “This is racing, and we are always working on actions to improve performance and that includes engine, body, aero, everything on the car. We will make an announcement on any future body actions when we are ready.”

Toyota won 16 of 36 points races last year with the new Camry body, including 14 of the final 19 races and the championship with Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing.

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Friday 5: Questions about size of future Hall of Fame classes

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After NASCAR celebrates the ninth Hall of Fame class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), questions may soon arise about how many inductees should be honored annually.

NASCAR inducts five people each year. When NASCAR announced eligibility changes in 2013, a former series executive said that the sanctioning body would “give strong consideration” to if five people should be inducted each year and if there should be a veteran’s committee “after the 10th class is seated.’’

The 10th class — which Jeff Gordon will be eligible for and expected to headline— will be selected later this year and honored in 2019. That gives NASCAR a year to determine what changes to make if officials follow the schedule mentioned in 2013. NASCAR has discussed different scenarios as part of its examination of the Hall of Fame.

Among the questions NASCAR could face is should no more than three people be inducted a year? Should only nominees who receive a specific percentage of the vote be inducted? Should other methods be considered in determining who enters the Hall? 

Only one of the last five classes had all five inductees selected on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Five people in the last three classes each received less than 50 percent of the vote.

The challenge is that if NASCAR reduced the number of people inducted after the Class of 2019, it could create a logjam in the coming years.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (provided Edwards does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2020.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth (provided Kenseth does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2021.

Stewart would appear to be a lock for his year and it seems likely Earnhardt would make it as well his first year.

If the Hall of Fame classes were cut to three a year, and Stewart, Earnhardt and Kenseth each were selected in those two years, that would leave three spots during that time for others.

The nominees for this year’s class included former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki, crew chief Harry Hyde (56 wins, 88 poles) and Waddell Wilson (22 wins, 32 poles), car owners Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and Cup drivers Buddy Baker, Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd.

A 2019 Class that might feature Jeff Gordon, Harry Hyde, Buddy Baker and two others would still leave some worthy candidates who might not make it for a couple of years if the number of inductees is reduced.

Of course, there are those who haven’t been nominated that some would suggest should be, including Smokey Yunick, Humpy Wheeler, Buddy Parrott, Kirk Shelmerdine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Tim Richmond. That could further jumble who makes it if the number of inductees is reduced.

Those are just some of the issues NASCAR could face as it examines if any changes need to be made.

2. Hall of Fame Classes and vote totals

Note: NASCAR did not release vote totals for the inaugural class (2010 with Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr.). Below are the other classes with the percent of ballots each inductee was on:

2018 Class

Robert Yates (94 percent)

Red Byron (74 percent)

Ray Evernham (52 percent)

Ken Squier (40 percent)

Ron Hornaday Jr. (38 percent)

2017 Class

Benny Parsons (85 percent)

Rick Hendrick (62 percent)

Mark Martin (57 percent)

Raymond Parks (53 percent)

Richard Childress (43 percent)

2016 Class

Bruton Smith (68 percent)

Terry Labonte (61 percent)

Curtis Turner (60 percent)

Jerry Cook (47 percent)

Bobby Isaac (44 percent)

2015 Class

Bill Elliott (87 percent)

Wendell Scott (58 percent)

Joe Weatherly (53 percent)

Rex White (43 percent)

Fred Lorenzen (30 percent)

2014 Class

Tim Flock (76 percent)

Maurice Petty (67 percent)

Dale Jarrett (56 percent)

Jack Ingram (53 percent)

Fireball Roberts (51 percent)

2013 Class

Herb Thomas (57 percent)

Leonard Wood (57 percent)

Rusty Wallace (52 percent)

Cotten Owens (50 percent)

Buck Baker (39 percent)

2012 Class

Cale Yarborough (85 percent)

Darrell Waltrip (82 percent)

Dale Inman (78 percent)

Richie Evans (50 percent)

Glen Wood (44 percent)

2011 Class

David Pearson (94 percent)

Bobby Allison (62 percent)

Lee Petty (62 percent)

Ned Jarrett (58 percent)

Bud Moore (45 percent)

3. Charter Switcheroo

Five charters have changed hands since last season. One will be with its third different team in the three years of the charter system.

In 2016, Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports so the No. 46 team of Michael Annett could use it.

The charter was returned after that season, and Premium Motorsports sold the charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car of Erik Jones for 2017.

With Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing not finding enough sponsorship to continue the team, the charter was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher for this season. (The No. 37 team had leased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing last year).

So that will make the third different team the charter, which originally belonged to Premium Motorsports, has been with since the system was created.

4. Dodge and NASCAR?

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne excited fans when he said in Dec. 2016 about Dodge that “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.’’

One report last year stated that Dodge decided not to return to NASCAR, and another countered that report.

While questions remain on if Dodge will return to NASCAR, Marchionne announced this week at the Detroit Auto Show that he’ll step down next year, and that Fiat Chrysler will release a business plan in June that will go through 2022. The company will announce a successor to Marchionne sometime after that.

Marchionne said, according to The Associated Press, that the U.S. tax cuts passed in December are worth $1 billion annually to Fiat Chrysler.

A Wall Street Journal story this week stated that Fiat Chrysler makes most of its profit from its Jeep and Ram brands, writing that those brands “have been on a roll as U.S. buyers shift to these kinds of light trucks and away from sedans, which is a segment the company has largely abandoned.’’

5. NMPA Hall of Fame

The National Motorsports Hall of Fame will induct four people into its Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Those four will be drivers Terry Labonte and Donnie Allison and crew chiefs Jake Elder and Buddy Parrott.

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Ryan Blaney already has his bags packed for next November in Las Vegas

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Ryan Blaney has a new favorite song.

It’s an oldie but goodie by Elvis Presley, but the up-and-coming young NASCAR star can’t be faulted for singing, humming or whistling it: “Viva Las Vegas!”

The reason is simple: Blaney attended his first NASCAR Awards more than three weeks ago in Las Vegas. Because he qualified for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, he was among the 16 drivers that were feted and toasted in what was Martin Truex Jr.’s celebratory party.

After having so much fun in Vegas, including doing burnouts on the famed Strip, Blaney is bound and determined to make it back to the land of slots, shows and speed every year.

To do that, he’ll have to make the NASCAR Cup playoffs each year too, but at 23 years old (he turns 24 on Dec. 31), Blaney likely has another 15 to 20 awards shows still left to attend.

And maybe a championship or two or three for him to be feted just like Truex this year, Jimmie Johnson last year and so many others that have preceded him as NASCAR’s best.

“It was a good time,” Blaney said. “I had a lot of fun. I was out there all week. The things we got to be able to do like the podcast we did, meet a lot of fans, drive up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and do some burnouts, to see how many people lined the street to see us was pretty neat.

“It felt good to have fun with the other drivers outside of the season. And then of course the Awards Banquet was a blast, as well. It was my first experience with Champions Week and hopefully I’ll be able to keep going back there every single year for the rest of my driving days.”

Other than the Awards show, Blaney’s favorite experience was driving on the Strip. But you’ll love his reason why:

“For multiple reasons,” Blaney said. “First, you never can do a burnout on Las Vegas Boulevard without getting arrested and we were able to do that, so that was nice.

“Also, honestly, driving the No. 21 car for the last time, the last time I was going to be in that car, that was really special to me, driving up and down the Strip. That was probably the coolest experience, I think.”

Blaney said he’ll always treasure his time driving the No. 21 Ford for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing, especially winning his first career Cup race this summer at Pocono, which was the 99th win in Wood Brothers annals.

He tried his best to get the 100th win, but fell short.

“I’ve used that word, bittersweet, a lot the last couple months,” Blaney said. “As the races were winding down with them, it was really sad to leave the Wood Brothers because they were so good to me and a great family.

“I was kind of sad to leave there, but at the same time, it’s a dream to go drive for Roger Penske. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’m looking forward to that.

“But, yeah, it was bittersweet feeling, for sure. I can’t thank the Wood Brothers enough for the last two years.”

Now, Blaney takes the next big step of his career by driving the No. 12 Ford in 2018 for an equally legendary team owner, Roger Penske.

“I’m really looking forward to being in-house over at the Penske group,” he said, “and being able to bring back the 12 car, that’s a really big deal and we’re real excited to get that team up and running and expand and hopefully make us stronger.”

To drive for two of the most legendary teams and team owners in all forms of motorsports might be a heady thing for some young drivers, but not for Blaney.

Instead of worried, he’s relaxed. Instead of feeling pressure, he embraces that he’s been chosen to be an integral part of one legendary team and now another equally legendary team.

“No, not really, there hasn’t been any pressure,” Blaney said. “I’ve just been really lucky and fortunate to drive for a couple great owners and families and teams.

“They’re two of the most iconic teams in racing and I’ve been lucky enough to drive for both of them. To go drive for Mr. Penske is great and hopefully I’ll be there for the rest of my career.

“It’s been a lot of fun. I wouldn’t say there’s any added pressure, I’m just very fortunate to be in this position and be able to drive for some great people.

“I almost see it more as opportunity. It kind of makes me strive harder to do even better. I’ve always enjoyed challenges and feel like this is a good challenge and I’m excited to accept it.”

So Blaney will win the Daytona 500 two months from now, right?

“I hope so. We were close last year (finished second in this year’s 500). We’ll see if we can do one better this time around.”

And if he does win the 500, you can bet he’ll be singing “Viva Las Vegas” in victory lane.

 

Drive for Diversity program gives four-time Trans Am champ Ernie Francis Jr. a shot at NASCAR

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As of two weeks ago, Ernie Francis Jr. had only driven a stock car four times.

The 19-year-old from Dania, Florida, had been behind the wheel for a test at Hickory Speedway, during the two-day tryout for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program at New Smyrna Speedway and in this year’s Xfinity Series race at Road America.

Even then, Francis still has the numbers for Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi saved in his phone.

“I’ve met personally and had meetings with and still talk on the phone with them every couple of weeks,” Franics told NBC Sports on Nov. 7 when he was announced as one of the six members of the 2018 Drive for Diversity class. “It’s been a good climate for me in meeting these people and the more connections the better.”

What does an aspiring NASCAR driver with next to no stock car racing experience talk about with two legendary car owners?

The future. Or potential ones.

“Kind of just talking about what I’m doing with my career and where I’m trying to go and what’s it going to take for me to get behind the wheel of their race cars,” Francis said. “I’ve had a lot of talks with Chip Ganassi about that and hoping every step that I take out here will get me closer to getting behind the wheel of one of those cars.”

Why would Penske and Ganassi have interest in the 19-year-old driver?

Ernie Francis Jr. waits in his car at New Smyrna Speedway on Oct. 17 in New Smyrna, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

CHANGING LANES

Francis stands in the Rev Racing shop, located less than a mile from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Overlooked by banners with the faces and accomplishments of Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr., graduates of the Drive for Diversity program, Francis isn’t intimidated.

Not by the precedence or by the boxy stock cars he’ll drive in the K&N Pro Series East’s road course races in 2018.

He’s been in much faster cars and won. A lot.

“When I hop behind the wheel of a K&N car or a Xfinity car I already know how to deal with that power and how to deal with that speed,” Francis said.

While new to NASCAR, Francis has spent the last four years breaking records in sports car racing in the Trans Am Series.

Since he was 16, Francis has won four championships with the team owned by Ernie Francis Sr., Breathless Performance Racing Team. He’s the youngest driver to reach that mark. The first three titles came in the TA4 Class and his 2017 title came in T4, driving a Ford Mustang.

He’s also won 33 races, the last coming in the season finale at Daytona three days after his introduction as part of the Drive for Diversity program.

So why make the jump to a different racing ladder?

Francis Jr., who grew up a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, sees NASCAR’s path to its top level as more likely to payoff in the long run.

“I’d say it’s about the same if not easier in stock car racing,” Francis said. “Road course racing is a very steep ladder and that’s the problem with stock car racing. The thing with stock car racing in general also is it all costs money to get to the top. Either it costs money or you’ve got to get recognized by a team. I think it’s easier to get recognized in the stock car racing world than it is in road course racing. Being that there’s so many road course racers, whether it’s in endurance racing where there’s four drivers in a car, there’s so many drivers you’re competing against compared to NASCAR when you’re out there.

“It’s smaller fields with one driver per car and it’s kind of easier to be recognized if you’re a good driver standing out in a field.”

With three test sessions and 16 Xfinity laps under his belt at Road America before an engine problem, NASCAR has turned out to be more than he expected.

“After getting out there on track I realized there’s a lot more to it,” Francis said. “It’s a lot more technical than people think. People think that it’s just going out there just running a car in a circle. There’s a whole different side to it. These cars are so intricate on the way the suspension set up is and how they need it to be to go around the track properly that I’ve had to learn in the couple of tests I’ve done. I’ve really come to appreciate that.”

In addition to his K&N road course races for Rev Racing, Francis will also compete for the program’s late model team. But there’s also the possibility of Francis driving in his first K&N oval race toward the end of the year.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be yet,” Francis said. “I need some more seat time before I get out there and just practice on one. The first goal is just going to be finishing the race and then the next one will be focusing on where we finish.”

When he does get time on an oval again, he’ll have the voice of his spotter from his first Hickory test, Lee Faulk of Lee Faulk Racing and Development, still ringing in his ears.

“He was the one yelling at me, yelling all kinds of things about how I was going too slow and pressing the brakes too much and all kinds off stuff,” Francis said. “His voice is still in my head whenever I go out there and run on the oval tracks, kind of helps me out.”

Father-Son Team

The speed and the adrenaline.

That’s why Ernie Francis Jr. chose racing over other sports while growing up in Florida

“There’s no sport where you get going 150, 200 mph on a race car flying around heading toward a wall and basically cheating death every lap you go around,” Francis said. “It’s pretty exciting.

“There’s no rush like driving a race car.”

Francis was exposed to that rush at the age of 4 by Ernie Francis Sr., when he started competing in go-karts on the regional circuit.

Francis Sr. raced in sports cars and his son helped however he could.

“My dad would take me to the track and I just wanted to watch the cars,” Francis Jr. says. “I would clean the cars. I would help strap him in as much as I could and I just loved it from the beginning.”

The relationship swapped roles once Francis Jr. got into go-kart racing, which he competed in until he was 12.

“It was just me and my dad, he was the one working on my go-kart and I was the one driving it,” Francis Jr. said.

In 2013, the year before Francis Jr. began his historic tenure in the Trans Am Series, the two raced each other for one season in the Pirelli World Challenge’s TCB Class. At 15, Francis was the youngest driver competing in the Pirelli.

Francis Jr. won seven races and finished third in the standings, also earning Rookie of the Year honors while his dad placed fifth.

 

With three Trans Am titles under his belt, the duo first visited North Carolina last year to get a tour of the Rev Racing shop Francis Jr.’s cars will be built out of and where a future that could involve the names Penske and Ganassi will begin.

The younger Francis says his father has “never really been” into NASCAR, but says “he likes” what his son is getting into.

Though Francis Sr. does have one demand.

“His main thing that he says is, if I start doing NASCAR racing he wants tickets for every race,” Francis Jr. said.

Team Penske announces Xfinity sponsor for 2018

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Fitzgerald Glider Kits will serve as the primary sponsor for Team Penske’s No. 22 Xfinity car in 16 races next year, the team announced Wednesday.

Fitzgerald Glider Kits will be an associate sponsor on the car for the races it is not a primary sponsor.

As part of the agreement, Fitzgerald Glider Kits will be the sponsor for Ryan Blaney‘s Cup car in the Bristol night race next August and will continue as an associate sponsor on reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden’s car.

“Team Penske continues to grow its relationship with Fitzgerald Glider Kits and we welcome the company’s increased role as a sponsor with the No. 22 Ford Mustang team in 2018,” said team owner Roger Penske in a statement. “We work closely with Fitzgerald in our trucking business and the company has certainly made the most of its partnership with our race teams across different platforms since it joined Team Penske in 2016. We look to continue to build the Fitzgerald Glider Kits brand as we move to the next level next season.”

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