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NASCAR will look at issue of drivers slowing near pit exit to get preferred restart lane

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Saying that it is “not something that we want because we don’t need accidents at the end of pit road with people checking up,” NASCAR’s Scott Miller noted Monday that the sanctioning body will look into the issue of drivers slowing or stopping near pit exit to try to get the preferred lane on restarts.

It’s a common tactic at some tracks, including Martinsville Speedway, which hosts a playoff race. Denny Hamlin was the most obvious driver to do it in Saturday night’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Hamlin was set to exit pit road third (and start on the inside lane) one time when he slowed to try to be fourth and get the preferred outside lane to restart. Instead, two cars passed him, he exited fifth and restarted on the inside line.

Another time, Hamlin slowed at the end of pit road causing a few cars behind to run into the back of each other. All were able to continue.

“We’re certainly going to look at it,’’ said Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the pit road ploy. “What we saw go on that everybody is talking about was pretty obvious. Ironically, it didn’t quite work out. Sometimes those things don’t.

“No, that’s not something that we want because we don’t need accidents at the end of pit road with people checking up. We’ll figure out how we’ll address that one and try to move on. Really only kind of comes into play at a few places. We know when it’s possibly going to happen, so we’ll try to address that.’’

Asked on “The Morning Drive” if NASCAR might do something that is done a short tracks where drivers pick what lane they want in order they’re running on the track, Miller said:

As we do here at NASCAR, we’re constantly looking at ways to make the races and the action for the fans more interesting,’’ Miller said. “That is a topic we have discussed a little bit. I personally am really not super familiar with that and how it works but some of the others are and it’s something that we’ve talked about, but we talk about a lot of things. When the final decision comes, I’m not sure what that will be but certainly that has been a topic of discussion.’’

Miller also said that NASCAR planned to have the PJ1 traction compound again added to the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the playoffs. Both tracks had it applied earlier this season.

“We’re looking at it at some other places, too, not fully decided yet,’’ Miller said. “We’re learning about it and learning about its uses and its positives. We haven’t really found any negatives. As with anything it’s a challenge to get right because it’s the first time we’ve dabbled in this. We have experience at those tracks but anyplace new that we go is still just a project that we’re working on.’’

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Kevin Harvick: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lack of success played ‘big part’ in stunted ‘growth of NASCAR’

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Kevin Harvick believes the popularity of 14-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has played “a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR” in recent years.

Harvick’s comments came Tuesday night on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours” when the topic of fan attendance during Earnhardt’s farewell season was raised.

“I’ve been totally shocked by the vibe of Dale’s last year,” Harvick said. “I really thought it was going to be tons of fans showing up to the race track, buying crazy amounts of souvenirs and the souvenir sales aren’t up for the sales that he has in his last year so far. The crowds really haven’t changed. In my opinion, it’s been from his lack of performance. He hasn’t performed well in the race car.”

Earnhardt has failed to finish better than 12th in the last six races. Through 22 races he has only one top five (Texas). He also has nine finishes of 30th or worse.

But it’s Earnhardt’s overall record that drove Harvick’s comments about the health of the sport.

“It’s a funny situation when you talk about his last year and what you thought it would be,” Harvick said. “It’s the strangest situation that we have. In my opinion, this is where I think some of the growth in our sport has not reached the levels that it should’ve because our most popular driver hasn’t been our most successful driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the most popular driver (award) for however many years (14) in a row … But he hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver.”

Earnhardt’s reign as NASCAR’s most popular driver began in 2003, a season after Bill Elliott won the award for the 16th and final time. In Earnhardt’s Cup career, he has 26 wins and no championships. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he has nine wins but none since 2015.

Harvick believes the popularity of an athlete should be directly tied to their success, citing LeBron James and Steph Curry in the NBA and Peyton Manning in the NFL. Harvick said it is “confusing” how that doesn’t seem to matter in NASCAR.

“(Earnhardt) hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver,” Harvick said. “For me I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach. But he’s won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn’t been able to reach outside of that. I know those aren’t the most popular comments but those are real life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver said Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt’s teammate who has won seven championships, should be the most popular driver.

“It’s really confusing to me,” Harvick said. “In my opinion Jimmie Johnson should be our most popular guy because he’s won seven championships. You look at the souvenir sheet every week and he’s (ranked) three, four, five coming off a championship year of what he sells in souvenirs. That part to me is a little bit confusing.”

While Harvick said Earnhardt “deserves that fanfare” he is receiving in his final Cup season, he followed that up by saying: “Imagine how popular he would be if he had won two or three championships?

“His dad was popular because he became Dale Earnhardt because of the fact he won seven championships and he was out there grinding every week. That hasn’t happened.”

Dale Earnhardt Sr. only won Most Popular Driver once, in 2001 after he was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Elliott’s 16 Most Popular Awards came despite only one championship but 44 wins in his Cup career. Only four of those wins came in his last nine seasons as a full-time driver.

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Barney Visser on sponsorship of No. 77 car for 2018: ‘We’ve got to find something’

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Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser said the team is searching for sponsorship to continue running the No. 77 car next season but hasn’t found any.

“We’ve got no sponsorship right now for the 77,” Visser told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday. “So we’ve got to find something. We don’t want to give up that car, but if we don’t get sponsorship, we’ll have to. We’re doing everything we can to get that to come together.”

The team added the No. 77 this year for rookie Erik Jones, who signed a one-year contract. Jones will go to Joe Gibbs Racing next season, replacing Matt Kenseth. That leaves an opening with the No. 77 car.

This comes as Martin Truex Jr. has won four races, including last weekend’s event at Watkins Glen International, for Furniture Row Racing and has accumulated enough playoff points that he should go deep into the postseason.

Asked on “The Morning Drive” about the health of the business side of the sport going into 2018, Visser said: “I’d certainly like to see it better. I’m sure if you can run up front you can deliver to the sponsors what you’re promising them. I don’t even know how to answer that question. It’s a pretty tough business right now.”

Visser also noted that Truex doesn’t have as big a salary as many other drivers.

“Martin, he took a real chance and he’s not paid anywhere near as these other guys,” Visser told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Martin is pure athlete. He’s out there because he wants to be out there. That’s just who he is. I’m not saying that he’s not well compensated, but he doesn’t have the kind of base (salary) that these other guys have, the other top runners have.

“He did it because he wanted to run up front. I told him we would put him in the very best equipment we could put out there, and we haven’t backed off on that. He’s delivering for us. We’ve got something going with Martin that has just worked out very well. I can’t speak to what the other guys have got going on, but I would think that there are going to be a lot of jets sold, the money just won’t support what some of these guys have been making. The sponsorship just won’t carry it right now.”

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Cup qualifying headed to Saturday on more consistent basis in future?

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After two consecutive weekends of Cup teams qualifying shortly before they raced, are fans likely to see more of that next year?

Cup teams qualified on Saturday after the Xfinity race last month at Indianapolis. Cup teams qualified a few hours before they raced the past two weekends at Pocono and Watkins Glen.

The experiment is part of NASCAR shortening the weekend schedule. NASCAR has added a fan fest to compensate for one less day of track activity for the Cup Series. That could become more common next year.

“I think the key for us is to really create some fun activities for the fans with more driver access on Fridays if we can,’’ Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday.

“Tend to like the qualifying, if we’re going to move it, on Saturday. I think that is a really good experience for fans in terms of having that support race and being able to see the Monster Energy Series drivers qualify. So we’ll probably continue to look that way. The biggest thing for us is to creating those unique, fun fan experiences around the drivers and open up the access as much as we can.’’

Cup teams will qualify and race on the same day once more this year — at Martinsville in the playoffs. This weekend, Cup teams will qualify on Friday at Michigan and race on Sunday, the typical weekend schedule.

O’Donnell told “The Morning Drive” that there have been some questions raised by competitors about qualifying and racing on the same day.

“I think some of the feedback from some folks in the garage is that still is really tough to qualify, get ready for the race,’’ he said. “Folks like it, but I also think Saturday also gives you the opportunity maybe to plan a little bit more on race prep that you need for the car. It will be a balance as we look at both of those to see what is the best solution going forward for the teams.’’

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday that he’s glad to go back to a schedule where qualifying and the race won’t be on the same day this weekend.

Gordon noted the “anxiety” in how much preparation has to be done to the backup car in case a driver crashes in qualifying.

“If you were to wreck in qualifying, you had two hours to get a car back together ready to race,’’ he said.

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Kevin Harvick on Cup drivers in Xfinity, Trucks: ‘Just let them race. Who cares?’

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Kevin Harvick, who once owned an Xfinity team and races in that series, voiced his displeasure Tuesday night with NASCAR’s rule to further limit Cup drivers in Xfintiy and Truck races next year.

“I know there are going to be a lot of people that disagree with me, but it’s hard when you’re trying to build a business and you’re trying to sell sponsorship, you have no tool greater than yourself when you’re in a situation like Brad (Keselowski), myself or Kyle (Busch),’’ Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours.’’

“It seems you’re just getting your balls chopped off every time you try to go out and sell sponsorship to try to keep your team funded because of the fact you can’t run enough races, so you can’t tie it to enough things. To me, it’s not the right thing to do.’’

MORE: NASCAR further limits Cup drivers in Xfinity, Trucks 

MORE: Kyle Busch calls new rule “frustrating”

NASCAR announced Tuesday that all Cup drivers are prohibited from competing in the last eight races of the season for the Xfinity and Trucks — the regular-season finale and playoffs. Cup drivers are also prohibited from the Dash 4 Cash races.

Cup drivers with more than five years experience in that series are limited to seven Xfinity races (down from 10 this year) and five Truck races (down from seven this year). Harvick said that Cup drivers were going to be limited to five Xfinity races next year before a compromise of seven was set.

“Just let them race,’’ Harvick said. “Who cares? Why not just let them race. I don’t understand it. That’s what we do. We race cars, we race trucks, we race late models. That’s what we did all our life, we raced. I don’t know why all of a sudden it’s become a problem.’’

Harvick did say that he’s fine with Cup drivers being kept out of the playoffs in both series and the Dash 4 Cash races but they should not be kept out of any other races.

Harvick admits he’s biased toward team ownership because of his history. Harvick and wife DeLana owned Kevin Harvick Inc., which ran in NASCAR from 2002-11. The organization won Camping World Truck Series titles in 2007 and ’09 with Ron Hornaday Jr. and won the owner’s title in 2011. They sold the team after the 2011 season.

Harvick has said previously that allowing Cup drivers in the Xfinity and Truck Series gives young drivers in those series added experience of running against such competitors. He’s also expressed concerns about sponsorship since some sponsors want to be aligned with Cup drivers in those series.

Harvick said Tuesday on “Happy Hours” that Ryan Preece, who won this past weekend at Iowa Speedway for Joe Gibbs Racing, would not have had a chance to drive that car had it not been for JGR using Cup drivers.

“Let me tell you this, Ryan Preece‘s car wouldn’t even been in existence if Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones didn’t have the sponsorship … for that 20 car to be on the race track,” Harvick said on his show.

“I agree with the opportunity (for young drivers) but sometimes you have to balance that opportunity with trying to run a business,’’ Harvick said Tuesday night. “When you’re cutting Kyle’s feet and Brad’s feet out from underneath them when they can’t do what they want to do, then it becomes hard for the teams to do what they need to do.

“I think what you’re going to see happen, when you run out of those options, those Xfinity sponsors are going to start plugging holes on the Cup side and they’re still going to get the Cup driver that they want … because they’re going to put their money on the Cup car.’’

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