Steve O’Donnell

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

NASCAR adds a stage to Coca-Cola 600

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NASCAR announced Monday morning that the May 28 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway will have an additional stage.

Stage 1 will end on Lap 100.

Stage 2 will end on Lap 200

Stage 3 will end on Lap 300.

The race is scheduled to end on Lap 400.

The race will be considered official at the end of the second stage.

With the additional stage points available, the maximum number of points a driver could score — by sweeping all three stages and winning the race — is 70 points. Winning any of the stages is worth 10 points (and one playoff point) and winning the race is worth 40 points (and five playoff points).

“The stage racing format is delivering more dramatic moments over an entire race, fueling tremendous racing action this season,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, in a statement. “With a fourth stage added to the Coca-Cola 600, the historic event will have another layer of strategy for teams, and even more excitement within the race for fans.”

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he didn’t foresee any changes to the number of stages for any other race the rest of the year.

Martin Truex Jr. won last year’s 600, leading 392 of the race’s 400 laps.

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Softer tires will be used in All-Star Race; What about 2018?

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR’s use of an optional, softer tire for next month’s All-Star Race has competitors excited and wondering when Goodyear might bring those tires to other tracks.

Not since NASCAR had two tire manufacturers more than 20 years ago have competitors had such choices. That will change with the All-Star Race with two different sets of Goodyear tires. Competitors will be allowed to use one set of optional, softer tires in the four-segment, 70-lap race. They’ll have the regular tires as their other option.

If things go well, that could lead to the softer tires also being brought to other tracks in the future.

“This is something we’ll look at for 2018, when you look at what are levers we can pull from a competitive standpoint, this is one of those,’’ said Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief development officer. “We’re positive about what can happen here. Something to look at for sure.’’

Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, told NBC Sports on Tuesday that the company has not had talks with NASCAR about any other race with softer tires beyond the All-Star event.

Stucker did say that Goodyear has come to an agreement “in principle” with NASCAR to remain the series’ sole tire supplier. Goodyear’s contract expires after this season. Stucker told NBC Sports that “we’re just putting all the final touches on (the new contract). I think we’re in good shape.’’

Drivers are encouraged by having a softer tire at the All-Star Race and what it could mean.

“This is the perfect time to try a softer tire,’’ Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch said of the non-points race. “This could be a direction for the future of the sport. I like it. Let’s see how it goes.’’

Kyle Larson also is excited to have a softer tire option.

“If this whole thing goes good, maybe we can see it in other races down the road or all races,’’ he said. “You go to most of your local short tracks … dirt tracks you have two or three different compounds you can chose from, different staggers to make your car work better. Adding that little bit of tire game and strategy is exciting for the race teams.’’

Stucker said much has to be determined about how the softer tire works at Charlotte Motor Speedway before using it elsewhere.

Stucker said that the softer tire used is a combination of construction and compound not used together before.

“We went back at our data, our compound lineup and looked at some of the testing we’ve done … and tried to figure out if we’re looking to be three- to five-tenths (of a second quicker initially) and that was the bogey, what would be the right combination,’’ Stucker said. “That’s how it came about. It’s not necessarily a combination we race anywhere else, but it’s combinations that we evaluated and we have history on and we merged compound and construction to come up with that combination.’’

The key question with the softer tire is when teams will use it in the All-Star Race, which features three segments of 20 laps and a final 10-lap segment for $1 million.

Will teams use the tires early to ensure they’re among the 10 cars advancing to the final shootout or will they save it for the final 10 laps.

As for how long the softer tire will remain faster than the other tire option, teams will have for the All-Star Race, Stucker said: “We came up with a combination with the full knowledge that someone may put it on for one of those 20-lap segments and knowing that if they make that choice they want it on for 20 laps.

“They can’t afford to put it on at the beginning of a 20-lap segment and then have to change. It’s going to be really hard to say how much falloff there will be. That’s going to depend on the conditions, how warm is it going to be, what is the ambient (temperature), how much sun is the track seeing over the course of the afternoon … car set up, all those different things. Our intent was for it to be able to survive a 20-lap run.’’

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Could caution laps between stage breaks not count in 2018?

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A NASCAR executive said Monday that series officials will look at not counting caution laps between stage breaks for 2018.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, made the comments on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Asked about how to make the stage breaks quicker, O’Donnell said: “Those caution laps, running just laps off, do they have to count? The break is put into place to allow for commercial breaks and to allow some of those green-flag breaks that we’ve seen in the past not to occur. So we want to look at how do we make this still a strategy and possibly not count those caution laps in the future. That would be for 2018 and see how it plays out throughout the year.’’

O’Donnell noted that officials considered not counting those laps this year with the introduction of stage racing.

“We debated that for a long time,’’ he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The one reason we didn’t go that route was that we didn’t want to extend the races for a really long time and have the unknown fuel mileage if you continued not to count those (laps).

“It was kind of TV and everybody, the tracks, sitting together and saying, look for year one let’s go with the known and that’s how many laps we’ve got for this race and then if we need to adjust we can. That’s definitely something you put on the notes and say hey, let’s look at possible solutions for next year if we can.’’

A total of 97 laps have been run under caution between stage breaks this season. That’s out of 2,142 laps run, meaning 4.5 percent of all laps run this year have been run under caution for such breaks.

Here is the breakdown by track:

  • Daytona 500 had 11 of 200 laps (5.5 percent) run under caution between stages.
  • Atlanta had 13 of 325 laps (4.0 percent) run under caution between stages.
  • Las Vegas had 12 of 267 laps (4.5 percent) run under caution between stages.
  • Phoenix had 15 of 314 laps (4.8 percent) run under caution between stages.
  • Auto Club had 12 of 202 laps (5.9 percent) run under caution between stages.
  • Martinsville had 22 of 500 laps (4.4 percent) run under caution between stages.
  • Texas had 12 of 334 laps (3.6 percent) run under caution between stages.

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NASCAR explains question about pit road procedure in Truck race

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NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said he understands Johnny Sauter’s frustration with the pit road procedure late in Stage 2 of Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race and said that it will be “something we’ll try to avoid going forward.’’

A three-truck incident brought out the caution on Lap 137 at Martinsville Speedway. The stage ended on Lap 140.

Sauter led but raised questions about when pit road was opened.

“I was disappointed that pit road wasn’t open when I drove by there and then was open for the rest of the field shortly thereafter,’’ Sauter said after finishing second in the race. “I’m not really sure what that glitch was about.’’

O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, explained Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” what happened.

“That’s a situation … where if you had to do it over again, you would probably do it differently,’’ O’Donnell said. “What happened in that situation was we had all intention of going back green for the stage. We opened pit road. We were about to cycle through and then there was debris found on the race track so we had to go though our normal procedure and then close pit road per the advertised rule of the stages.

“That was an unfortunate circumstance for Johnny. Something we’ll try to avoid going forward. I think he was right in his comments. It was a challenge. just something we didn’t foresee.’’

When the debris was found, the caution was extended. NASCAR closes pit road for the two laps before the end of the stage.

After the stage was complete, pit road was opened again. Sauter and others pitted and he restarted 13th.

Asked if there was a way NASCAR could have addressed the matter immediately, O’Donnell said: “ “No. In this case it’s one of those things that happened and we have just go to learn from it and kind of move to the next race and glad Johnny finished where he did. He’s always unbelievable at that race track, but I understand his frustration.’’

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