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Leonard Wood, Morgan Shepherd not slowing down in old age

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Mondays suck.

Do you know what doesn’t suck?

Watching a NASCAR legend wheel around a parking lot in a miniature motorized car like a carefree 5-year-old.

For your viewing pleasure is a Twitter video of Wood Brothers Racing’s Leonard Wood zipping around in a mini replica of the Truck that Jon Wood drove to a win at Martinsville Speedway in 2003.

Oh, and as Jon Wood makes note in the tweet, the Hall of Famer is 84.

Another NASCAR elder statesman who refuses to slow down is Morgan Shepherd.

The 76-year-old driver will attempt to qualify for his 1,000th national NASCAR race this weekend in the Xfinity Series at Texas Motor Speedway.

Shepherd, who won four times in Cup, will be just the eighth driver to reach 1,000 starts.

“I’m not never stopping,” Shepherd told ESPN. “When I stop, my toes will be turned up.”

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Friday 5: Driver data could be the key to success in Phoenix

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NASCAR’s decision to provide teams with more driver data could make a bigger impact this weekend at ISM Raceway than any other race so far this season, Ryan Blaney says.

NASCAR decided before the season to make steering, braking, throttle and RPM information available to all teams. Such information had been on NASCAR’s RaceView and some teams had created programs to mine that information to study competitors.

The decision to share all that information upset some drivers, most notably Kyle Busch.

“I’ve spent 13 years in this sport to figure out how to drive a racecar, make it go fast, do the things I do to win races and championships,’’ Busch said last month. “Now you’re going to hand all that on a piece of paper to a young driver, they’re going to figure it out, as long as they know how to read it.

“They still have to do it, but at least they know what I’m doing.’’

ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix Raceway, challenges drivers with how much they brake. That’s where driving traces from competitors can prove helpful.

“I think it might be a little bit more of a factor this weekend where you’re off the throttle a lot and you’re braking pretty heavy,’’ Blaney said of the driver data. “You can see what other people are doing braking technique wise.’’

Blaney said such information is more valuable at a high-braking track than where the series has raced so far this year.

“Vegas and Atlanta, you’re completely off the gas and you’re light braking, you’re not really having a bunch of pressure on that,’’ he said.

Blaney said he’s mainly focused on the data from teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, along with Paul Menard of the Wood Brothers, which has an alliance with Team Penske.

“I can learn a bunch from Brad, Joey and Paul,’’ Blaney said. “There is some stuff that Ford shares, too. I looked at Harvick’s stuff a little from Vegas, but, no, I have not looked at any of the Toyota or Chevy stuff, just haven’t done that. I think there will be a little bit more to gain if you do look at that stuff, other team’s stuff.’’

Of course, seeing how someone drives doesn’t mean another competitor can duplicate it. But every little bit of information can help a driver close the gap with a foe.

2. Learning the way

As 20-year-old rookie William Byron races champions twice his age and others with much more experience, his biggest challenge might not be his competition but himself.

“The biggest difference and the biggest thing you have to learn as a rookie is to trust yourself and not do anything different than what has gotten you here,” he said. 

“You’ve got to make sure you drive the race car the same, the same intensity and not shy away from communicating just because you have a bigger race team behind you or a lot more people listening. I think you just have to approach it like you are racing anything.”

It’s not been an easy start for a driver anointed by some to be one of the sport’s standard bearers for the next two decades. He was collected in a crash at the end of the opening stage in the Daytona 500 and finished 23rd. He quickly fell a lap down and was running outside the top 30 at Atlanta before rallying to finish 18th. He struggled at Las Vegas, finishing four laps behind the leaders in 27th.

He says he’s learning as he goes.

“My team gives me more information than I’ve ever had before in terms of actual data to look at or actual timing down pit road, pit road speeds, all of that stuff that we get access to, we use that right away,’’ Byron said. “I would say I use all those tools as much as I can to make sure that I’m closing that gap quicker. 

“We had one thing at Daytona that I was really low on the bar with and didn’t really do it, didn’t know how to do that and by the second week I was like one of the most consistent ones with it within my teammates.  I’m learning those things that you never get access to previous.”

What did he struggle with at Daytona?

“It was more just like doing things under caution like keeping the motor cool and just things like that to make sure that you are maximizing your performance,’’ he said. “It was just trying to make sure that I’m doing those things and make sure I’m utilizing caution periods as much as I can and things like that. That stuff is much more important in this series.”

3. Hall of Fame wait

The 20 nominees were announced this week for the 2019 Hall of Fame class. Jeff Gordon is among the five nominees added to the 15 holdovers.

While Gordon almost assuredly will be selected, there are others who have been waiting years for their chance at induction.

Among the current nominees, Ray Fox, an engine builder, car owner and official, was nominated a seventh consecutive year. Short track specialist Larry Phillips was nominated a sixth consecutive year. Buddy Baker was nominated a fifth consecutive year.

Red Byron holds the record for most nominations before being selected at nine. Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons each were inducted after their eighth consecutive nomination.

The average number of years the 45 inductees were nominated before being selected for the Hall is 3.4.

Nine people were inducted in the first year they were nominated. That includes the inaugural class of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr.

The other four who were selected after their first nomination: Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Maurice Petty and Bill Elliott.

4. Leader of the pack

Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers combined to lead 895 laps last season. Already this season, the organization has led 464 laps in the first three races of the season, led by Kevin Harvick’s total of 395.

5. West Coast ringer

Kyle Larson’s third-place finish last weekend at Las Vegas marked his fourth consecutive top-three finish in the West Coast swing, dating back to last year. Larson finished second at Las Vegas and Phoenix on the West Coast swing before winning at Auto Club Speedway last year.

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Ryan Blaney leads historic day for Team Penske in Las Vegas

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Team Penske has been fielding entries in the Cup Series off and on since 1972 and on Sunday it still found something new to accomplish.

The Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway ended with three Team Penske cars in the top 10 for the first time.

The Fords of Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano finished fifth-sixth-seventh in the race after spending most of the day in the top 10.

This is Penske’s first year fielding three full-time cars since 2010.

The day was made better by Wood Brothers Racing’s Paul Menard finishing ninth. The Wood Brothers have a technical alliance with Team Penske.

Blaney, who started from his third Cup pole and his first with Penske, led only the first lap before eventual race winner Kevin Harvick took the lead.

Blaney’s top five is his first with Penske in five starts (he made his first two Cup starts with Penske in 2014).

“I thought it was a solid day for us,” Blaney said. “We had a pretty decent Ford all day. The first run we weren’t great and we got better. I thought our strongest run was right before the last green flag pit stops. We lost a little speed the last run there. Overall it was a good weekend for us. That is what we need to do, just have good, consistent weekends like that.”

Logano was the only other Penske driver to lead the race. He led twice for 25 laps. He took the lead the second time early in the final stage following a caution on Lap 177. When the field came to the pits, Logano was only driver to take two tires.

The No. 22 took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. on the restart. Truex had stayed out under the caution.

Logano led 12 laps before Harvick reclaimed the point position.

“We were better than seventh,” Logano said. “We were the only car that took two (tires) and the run went really long and we lost a lot of track position there as we fell back on the two tires. We never got a caution to kind of reset and get those spots back. We faded back to seventh, a little further back even, but were able to get a couple spots back. Overall we have been solid with the Pennzoil Ford all season.”

With his result, Logano is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in the first three races of the season. He trails Harvick by three points in the standings.

It’s a good start for a team that missed the playoffs last year after Logano’s only win was disqualified for failing post-race inspection.

“We have okay speed in the car,” Logano said. “We aren’t anywhere close to (Harvick), but we are competitive with the rest. We will keep working toward that. … We are running hard and running strong right now. We just have to find a bit more to be able to beat Kevin.”

Keselowski earned his second top 10 of the year after placing second last week at Atlanta.

“We had really good short-run speed, and I thought we would be really good on the long runs today, but it turned out we were really good on the short runs,” he said. “That wasn’t at all what I was expecting. The short-run speed was really strong, but I just couldn’t get anywhere to capitalize on it.”

Las Vegas has proven to be kind to Team Penske’s drivers over the last few years.

Blaney earned his third consecutive top-10 at the 1.5-mile track. Keselowski has six top 10s in a row and Logano has five in a row.

Menard, in his first season with the Wood Brothers after replacing Blaney, earned his fourth top 10 at the track, but his first since 2014. He has two top 10s in the first three races of the year. He earned three in each of his last two seasons with Richard Childress Racing.

Even in a season without major changes, there’s much new in NASCAR

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Stage racing returns after its debut last year, but there are many changes for the 2018 NASCAR season. With cars on track Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, here’s a look at some of the notable changes this year:

DRIVERS

The rookie class features new names in iconic numbers. William Byron takes over the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports, while Darrell Wallace Jr. will drive the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Among those in new rides this year include Aric Almirola taking over the ride Danica Patrick had in the No. 10 at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Ryan Blaney moves to the No. 12 at Team Penske.

Paul Menard replaces Blaney in the No. 21 for the Wood Brothers.

Kasey Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing in the No. 95, taking over for Michael McDowell, who moved to Front Row Motorsports to take over the No. 34 car.

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Erik Jones joins Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 20 car.

Chase Elliott is back at Hendrick Motorsports but this year he’ll drive the No. 9 car.

SCHEDULE

MORE: 2018 NASCAR schedules for Cup, Xfinity & Camping World Truck Series

The regular season ends at Indianapolis, taking the spot previously held by Richmond.

The playoffs will have a different look. They open Sept. 16 in Las Vegas before heading to Richmond the following weekend. It marks the first time either track has been in NASCAR’s postseason. The first round ends at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the debut of its roval, which combines the track’s infield road course and high-speed oval.

Dover remains in the playoffs but moves out of the first round and will host the opening race of the second round.

Other changes include Richmond’s spring race returning to Saturday night and Dover’s spring event moves to the first weekend in May.

TEAMS

Richard Petty Motorsports has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and moved into a shop on the Richard Childress Racing campus. RPM also has an alliance with RCR.

Richard Childress Racing has cut from three to two teams and leased a charter to StarCom Racing, which is set for its first full-time season.

Team Penske adds a third Cup car to accommodate the addition of Ryan Blaney.

Rick Ware Racing will race the full schedule after leasing a charter from Richard Petty Motorsports.

Furniture Row Racing goes back to a one-car team this year after shutting its No. 77 operation and selling its charter to JTG Daugherty for that team’s No. 37 car.

RULES

MORE: An inside look at how the Hawkeye Inspection process works

NASCAR will debut a new inspection system this season. It’s unofficial name is the Hawkeye System, but NASCAR plans on announcing a name for it at a later date. The system will allow NASCAR greater scrutinize the entire car and also streamline the process. Some Ford drivers are hoping the new system keeps the manufacturers close since Ford has the oldest body compared to Toyota and Chevrolet.

Cup, Xfinity and Truck teams will be restricted to no more than five people over the wall to service the vehicle on a pit stop, eliminating one position.

Should a team change an engine in its primary car during Daytona Speedweeks for something other than crash damage, the team will be forced to start at the rear of their qualifying race (if the change takes place before then), start at the rear for the Daytona 500 and start at the rear of the field for the next race the car is entered.

No longer will a driver have to sit in their car on pit road while serving a timed penalty during a practice session. Those penalties will be served in the garage.

The phrase “encumbered” is a thing of the past, but the penalty remains.

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New ride but not a new handle for Paul Menard

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Paul Menard will have a new number, new team and new ride but some things will stay the same for the new Wood Brothers Racing driver:

Don’t count on him to be on social media, remaining the only full-time Cup driver without a social media presence.

Asked this week what it would take for him to create a personal Twitter account, Menard said: “That is never going to happen. I would retire before that happens.”

Same with Facebook or Instagram?

“Yeah, there is so much cool stuff in this world that you can go do and see,” he said. “I don’t think you have to be on your phone to do that.”

Menard begins his 12th full-time season in Cup. He won the 2011 Brickyard 400 and made the playoffs  in 2015. He moves to Wood Brothers Racing, taking over the ride for Ryan Blaney, who has gone to the No. 12 at Team Penske.

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