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NASCAR explains when it calls debris cautions, when it doesn’t

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After criticism from the sport’s most popular driver and a former champion, NASCAR defended its calls on debris cautions Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart were critical of NASCAR calling a debris caution with 20 laps left in Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway. That bunched the field. There were two cautions within the final 13 laps because of accidents with the field so close together. Twelve of the last 20 laps were run under caution. 

Stewart, a three-time champion, tweeted: “It’s a shame that so many drivers and teams day was ruined by the results of another “debris” caution towards the end of the race today.’’

Earnhardt, the 14-time most popular driver, said on Periscope after the race: “I don’t know why they’ve got to throw so many damn debris yellows.”

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, explained on “The Morning Drive” how the sanctioning body decides to call a debris caution.

“We use all the resources that we have to try to identity what it is that is out there – that being camera, turn spotters and the communication that we’ve got around the race track to different people who may be able to see it,’’ Miller said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“If we are actually able to identify what it is and feel like it’s something that is OK to leave out there, then we’ll do so. But if we can’t identify what it is exactly, and it could pose something dangerous, then we’ll usually, or almost always, error on the side of caution and safety and put the caution out in those circumstances. Sometimes it’s untimely and a little bit unfortunate, but we do have to do our job and make sure that everybody is safe.’’

Miller was asked about why NASCAR didn’t call a caution Sunday when a cowboy hat blew on the track.

“We saw the cowboy hat,’’ Miller said. “We knew it was straw, and that it would disintegrate if somebody would hit it. Obviously, that was right in front of us. Clearly, we could tell what it is, and we opted to keep it green because we knew that it didn’t really pose any kind of a safety risk.’’

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What caused the brake issues at Pocono?

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Add another team to the list that had brake issues in Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway.

Crew chief Todd Gordon said on “The Morning Drive” that Joey Logano’s car lost its rear brakes with five laps to go.

“That actually was the demise of our day,’’ Gordon said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Logano finished 23rd — his fifth consecutive finish outside the top 20.

Others who reported brake issues Sunday included Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott. Kevin Harvick said he had to be careful with his brakes.

“We never could stop like we needed to all weekend, so you just had to be really careful with the brakes,’’ said Harvick, who finished second to winner Ryan Blaney. “If I’d overdrive it for a lap or two, the pedal would start going down, and then I was really at a deficit. I had to be very aware of where I let off every lap.’’

So what was the issue with the brakes that affected some drivers?

Gordon cited the lower aerodynamic package NASCAR instituted this year.

“We’ve continued to evolve the aero packages here, and as we make the spoilers smaller and smaller, we’ve got a lot less drag in our cars,’’ Gordon said. “Drag just being when you lift off the throttle, there’s enough aero force to slow the car down. As that drag goes away, then we’ve got to slow the car down mechanically. That goes to brakes.’’

Drivers are relying on brakes as they eclipse 200 mph entering Turn 1 at Pocono.

“Without that spoiler on the back, there’s a lot more brake usage,’’ Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “That kind of compounds itself. The more you use the brakes, the hotter it gets, the more the wear rate goes up. It kind of works on itself.’’

Asked if he was worried about brake issues after his teammates had such troubles Sunday, Elliott said: “I wasn’t real pleased with it. That’s not a comforting feeling if your brakes are going away. But, mine weren’t bad enough. I could manage it. I could kind of keep them in check. I knew kind of when I was pushing them the pedal would fade, but if I took it easy on them they’d come back. So, it was on the edge but manageable.”

Kahne said he had been “fighting serious brake problems for a while” before he crashed. Johnson said his brake pedal “went right to the floor” before he wrecked.

The series returns to Pocono in seven weeks. Teams could be faced with these issues again.

“I would say of all the intermediate (tracks), outside of our short tracks, (Pocono is) probably one of the most aggressive on the brakes, especially in the rear because there’s so much decel that has got to happen,’’ Gordon said.

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NASCAR informs teams they could lose race tires for inspection issues

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NASCAR has notified teams that they could lose tires for a race as a penalty for further inspection issues.

It was a point Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, made Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Asked about inspection violations, Miller said: “If we continue to have problems, there’s the potential to add more penalties, take tires away, do several different things to kind of make it more painful for the teams not to qualify. We don’t really want to have to do that, but we do have some things in our back pocket in case we continue to struggle.’’

NASCAR mentioned the option of taking tires in a scheduled call with crew chiefs this week.

Teams start races on the tires they used in qualifying except in the Daytona 500. If teams don’t make a qualifying attempt because they couldn’t get through inspection in time, they start on new tires. That can be an advantage compared to cars that qualified and ran a handful of laps on their tires.

Tire management has become more important this year with NASCAR cutting back the sets of tires teams can use in some races. For next month’s race at Kentucky, teams will be limited to nine sets. Last year, they were allowed 10 sets for that event. Teams will be allowed 10 sets in the season finale in Miami. Last year, teams were allowed 12 sets for that race.

Even with nine sets of tires last weekend at Dover — the same as last year — a series of early cautions led teams to bypass pit road at times to save tires for later in the race.

Although all Cup teams passed inspection in time to qualify last weekend at Dover, that hasn’t been the case at some tracks.

  • Eleven cars failed to pass inspection in time to make a qualifying attempt last month at Kansas Speedway.
  • Nine cars failed to make a qualifying attempt in April at Texas Motor Speedway because they did not pass inspection in time.
  • Five cars did not make a qualifying attempt at Atlanta in March because they did not pass inspection in time.
  • Two cars failed to pass inspection in time to qualify last month for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Teams also have been penalized practice time or the loss of pit stall selection for failing inspection before qualifying.

Matt Kenseth’s team lost its pit stall pick last weekend at Dover for failing pre-qualifying inspection multiple times. Erik Jones’ team lost its pit stall pick at Las Vegas for pre-qualifying inspection issues there.

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Crew chief explains order to Kyle Busch to do ‘doughnuts to the right’

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Crew chief Adam Stevens explained what he meant when he told Kyle Busch on the radio to do “doughnuts to the right” after Busch’s victory in Saturday night’s All-Star Race.

Stevens provided an explanation Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.’’

“That had nothing to do with any damage being received,’’ Stevens said. “That was just an effort to make sure that we could meet the (Laser Inspection Station) tolerances after the races. Doughnuts and burnouts are very hard on the car. It puts a lot of stress into all the suspension components. If we go out there and do the doughnuts to the left the same way that we’ve been turning all day, it’s going to eat into more of that tolerance.

“The only car out there doing doughnuts is the winner. We’re going to use up all of our tolerance doing doughnuts potentially. If we have that opportunity to do doughnuts, it just makes sense to do them the other direction so we’re not stressing the components in that manner.’’

Busch’s car passed inspection after the race.

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NASCAR executive defends rules package after lackluster All-Star Race

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After an All-Star race that featured three lead changes in 70 laps, a senior NASCAR executive defended the rules package but conceded that the option tire “didn’t make a huge impact.’’

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that one race isn’t going to lead to significant rule changes.

“I think we’ve got to keep it in context,’’ O’Donnell said Monday. “I find it ironic that you can go from one week of everyone saying this is the greatest rules package and then you walk into one race with a bit of a different format (and opinions not as high). We feel still really bullish on the rules package we have, the work we’ve done with the industry to get where we’re at. Certainly you want every race to be the best it possibly can be.

“We’ve got to look at the facts and the facts are a lot of different organizations winning this year, the (manufacturers) having an ability to win, Kyle (Busch) his first win ever (in Cup) at Charlotte, which is surprising to me, and a lot of young drivers really putting their names out there competing out front. Really like where we’re at right now.

“Our job is to look at the whole year. If I reacted to every comment you had on Twitter, it would be very different. It’s one of those things we’ve got to look at the overall picture, we’ve got to take the input from everybody in the industry and we do that. I think from a rules package standpoint we continue to see the sport moving in the right direction in terms of what we’re seeing in competitiveness from different organizations. That’s really how we judge it from an overall standpoint and not just one race.’’

Heading into this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, there have been eight different winners in the first 11 races. There have been at least eight different winners in the first 11 races in three of the last four years.

Among organizations, seven different teams have scored victories this season: Chip Ganassi Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Four organizations had won a race in the first 11 events last year and in 2015.

In the five races run on 1.5-mile tracks this season — Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas and the All-Star Race — lead changes are down compared to the same events last year. There have been 63 lead changes in those five events this year compared to 94 in those same events a year ago and 99 two years ago.

The three lead changes in the All-Star race were the fewest since 2007, although Saturday’s race had the fewest laps (70) since that 2007 race, which was 80 laps.

Still, the hope was that there could be plenty of cars moving forward and backward with the use of a second tire compound, a softer compound. The goal was for the tire to be a few tenths quicker at the onset but wear more quickly than the regular tire.

“Goodyear delivered on exactly what we had asked,’’ O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We wanted three to four-tenths on a tire and by the practice times and the early part of the race we saw that. Kudos to Goodyear. I think what you saw Saturday night was really the difference probably in the car versus the tire and maybe a need to go even further if you were going to pursue that avenue in terms of difference in speed. That’s something we could look at for the future. Obviously you guys saw what I saw, it didn’t make a huge impact.’’

Asked if the option tire is something still on the table for future events, O’Donnell said: “I think so. I think you look at what may be the impact versus the car. I think the bigger thing is, when you look at tires in general, continuing to focus on rain tire, what should be our priority. There’s talk, I don’t want to tip the hand, but way down the future could you ever run Martinsville if the track was damp because Goodyear is able to, in terms of the speed, put something together.

“It’s a balance for us of where do we put their focus. Obviously they’re capable of doing all things. I think something we’d look at All-Star for sure, not sure in terms of a points race.’’

Another question was about the splitter after Erik Jones’ bid for the lead in the final laps of the Monster Energy Open was foiled when he ran below the apron and through grass on the frontstretch. He damaged his splitter in the incident.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was critical of the splitter on Twitter.

O’Donnell defended the splitter’s purpose on the car.

“Why we have it, I think everybody, including the drivers and the industry wanted to look at going toward the lower downforce package,’’ O’Donnell said. “That’s part of the package. It’s part of what we worked on with the (manufacturers). We’re actually very happy with the product we’ve had.

“If you look back to Kansas, one of the better mile-and-a-half races we’ve had. It’s always interesting with one incident and everybody jumps on, ‘Hey, why do we have this on the car?’ Certainly something down the road you can always look at, but it’s part of the overall aerodynamics of the car. It all fits in.

“For now, we continue to like the direction of lower downforce and going to continue down that and see if there are certain tweaks we can make. We absolutely would do that but that’s where we’re at today.’’

O’Donnell also said that the 2018 schedule is expected to be released this week.

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