Ryan: Richard Buck’s regime being tested by Sprint Cup garage controversies of 2015

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When Sprint Cup practice ends Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, inspection bays will open (10 minutes early, no less), and NASCAR’s most important ongoing referendum will be renewed.

This isn’t about the laser-guided machines that will be under extra scrutiny after a qualifying debacle at Atlanta Motor Speedway that resulted in 13 drivers – including past champions Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson – failing to complete a lap.

It’s about the man who ostensibly oversees the controversial contraptions that have made some teams livid via the rigid pass-fail standards with zero tolerance used to enforce NASCAR’s 2015 rulebook.

While the inspection process has garnered most of the attention, what actually is being tested is Richard Buck’s reputation and whether he successfully can make the transition into the ultimate authority overseeing the technical specifications that govern performance in NASCAR.

The Sprint Cup director is in his second season as the de-facto garage boss, but this is his first in the public eye. After supplanting John Darby, ending a four-year search to replace a man who’d ruled NASCAR’s technical inspections for 12 seasons, Buck spent much of 2014 hidden behind the curtain.

He has become a much more prominent figure since Speedweeks this season, leading drivers meetings for the first time at Daytona and then Atlanta.

And though it isn’t listed in the job description for his position, Buck crossed another important milestone last weekend at Atlanta.

Crisis management is an essential part of being a Sprint Cup director, and last Friday night, Buck was front and center for the first time in the Atlanta media center trying to explain how qualifying had transpired without the participation of four superstars.

It was a solid debut for Buck, who deftly tried to straddle the line between defending his regime’s practices without overtly calling out competitors.

“Our job is to treat everybody fairly and give them an opportunity to come through that inspection room,” Buck said. “But their responsibility is to come through there right to the limit. So I think that’s what you saw today was everybody pushing the limits.”

But in subtly deflecting blame and shifting it to some of the teams at Atlanta, it also roiled the seas of the sport’s movers and shakers. Many weren’t pleased by some of his answers, and it isn’t the first time there’s been some dissent in the garage this season.

At Daytona, the execution of group qualifying was a mess, generating mass headlines with unhappy stars. But some of the friction was more subtle.

During the first practice of the season, Tony Stewart was yanked off the track (and subsequently angered) because he hadn’t weighed in yet. It seemed almost as if Buck and company quietly were flaunting their power in a passive-aggressive style that will be necessary until they can wield the influence that Darby built over more than a decade.

If Hollywood were doing the screenplay, imagine Gary Cole in a NASCAR inspector uniform while channeling his Bill Lumbergh character in the cult classic, “Office Space.”

“Hey crew chiefs, what’s happening? We need to talk about your TPS reports.”

This isn’t an entirely a laughing matter, though. At the heart of it is one of the most important issues in NASCAR: Improving the racing on the 1.5-mile tracks (such as Las Vegas) that comprise the bulk of the schedule.

It’s been hailed as a collaborative effort between there sanctioning body and teams to enhance competition, but a weekly field of 43 cars fosters a boiling cauldron of countless opinions.

NASCAR has a 67-year track record showing an iron-fisted approach generally can work as sound governance.

It’s Buck who currently is gripping that hammer. Will he have the clout to enforce his will?

That’s what will bear watching every time the garage opens for business.

Hailie Deegan: Road courses are ‘one of my stronger suits’

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Many drivers will be navigating the Daytona road course for the first time this weekend.

Hailie Deegan is not one of them.

Deegan, who competes in the ARCA Menards Series, will be in the field when the series takes to the 14-turn, 3.61-mile circuit for practice and a race Friday evening (5 p.m. ET on Trackpass).

“I’m pretty excited because this was not one of the races we had planned on our schedule,” Deegan told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast earlier this week. “At the beginning of the year I saw all the races, obviously to see which ones you’re looking forward to, like your favorites and stuff and obviously this on wasn’t on there.  … I like road courses. I raced at Sonoma about twice (in ARCA Menards West). I was decent there, I qualified on the pole one of the times (2019) there against a lot of good drivers. It was a confirmation that, ‘Ok, we’re decent at road courses.'”

Deegan, who enters the race fourth in the point standings behind Michael Self, first got a shot at the road course at the beginning of the year. As a Ford development driver, she took part in multiple days of testing before competing in a Michelin Pilot Challenge race in a GT4 Mustang.

“I would not say I’m perfect at road courses,” Deegan said. “But I feel that’s one of my stronger suits. I’m trying to learn this whole stock car world. Circle track, everything like that, that’s all been a foreign concept. So everything I’m learning I’m learning for the first time. But when we go back to road courses, I grew up in go karting, I grew up racing off-road trucks on courses where you turn right and left. So that’s not a foreign concept to me. So I feel more comfortable on road courses, especially with us only getting an hour of practice and all the time I have on that track.

“I have so many days of practice from the beginning of the year on that track. Obviously, it’s a different car, a GT4 Mustang.  … It’s easy to drive, but hard to be fast in an IMSA car. (While) the stock cars are harder to drive, but you have that experience, I feel like you can have a little bit of an advantage over people.”

With eight races left in the season, Deegan will try to take that advantage to victory lane for his first career ARCA win. The last time she visited Daytona in February, she finished second in the season opener to Self.

NASCAR’s weekend schedule for Daytona road course

Daytona road course
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For the first time this weekend, NASCAR will compete on the Daytona road course.

All three of NASCAR’s national series and the ARCA Menards Series will take to the 14-turn, 3.61-mile circuit, culminating in Sunday’s Cup Series race.

This weekend takes the place of the race at Watkins Glen International for Cup and Xfinity.

Kevin Harvick will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race. Austin Cindric will lead the Xfinity field to green on Saturday.

Here is the weekend schedule for the Daytona road course.

(All times Eastern)

Thursday, Aug. 13

10:30 a.m. – ARCA driver-spotter-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

11 – 11:30 a.m. – ARCA rookie meeting (teleconference)

11:30 a.m. – Noon – ARCA crew chief meeting (teleconference)

3 – 4 p.m. – ARCA haulers enter (screening in progress)

5:30 – 7:30 p.m. – Driver motorhome parking (screening in progress)

 

Friday, Aug. 14

9 a.m. – ARCA garage opens

9 a.m. – 4 p.m. – ARCA garage access screening in progress

2 – 3 p.m. – ARCA practice

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

4 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

4:50 p.m. – ARCA drivers report to their cars

5 p.m. – ARCA race; 28 laps/101.08 miles miles (MAVTV, Motor Racing Network)

6 p.m. – Truck Series driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7:30 p.m. – ARCA haulers exit

 

Saturday, Aug. 15

6 – 8:30 a.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening and equipment upload)

8:30 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. – Garage screening in progress

2 – 4 p.m. – Truck Series haulers enter (screening in progress and equipment unload)

2:50 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

3 p.m. – Xfinity race; 52 laps/187.72 miles (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

4 – 7 p.m. – Truck Series garage access screening in progress

4 – 8 p.m. – Truck Series garage open

4:30 – 5 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (teleconference)

4:30 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Cup driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Xfinity haulers exit

 

Sunday, Aug. 16

6 – 8 a.m. – Cup haulers enter (screening in progress and equipment unload)

8 a.m. – Cup garage opens

8 a.m. – 2 p.m.  – Cup garage access screening in progress

9 a.m. – Truck Series garage opens

9 – 11 a.m. – Truck Series garage access screening in progress

11:40 a.m. – Truck Series drivers report to vehicles

Noon – Truck Series race; 44 laps/158.85 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

2:30 p.m. – Truck Series haulers exit

2:50 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

3 p.m. – Cup race; 65 laps/234.65 miles (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

6:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

NASCAR updates its COVID-19 guidelines

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NASCAR issued an update to teams to the sanctioning body’s COVID-19 guidelines this week.

If after 10 days, a NASCAR member is unable to produce two negative PCR tests, their return status may be medically reviewed by a NASCAR Consulting physician. Previously, a NASCAR member needed to have two negative tests more than 24 hours apart and a note from their physician to be cleared to compete.

MORE: Spencer Davis cleared to race after COVID-19 recovery

Truck Series driver Spencer Davis is the third driver to be cleared to resume racing after a positive test. He missed last week’s race at Michigan. Jimmie Johnson missed the Indianapolis race in July after a positive test. Brendan Gaughan is racing this weekend for the first time since he tested positive for COVID-19 in July.

NASCAR cites new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with updating the sport’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“As we’ve said since our return, NASCAR’s health and safety plans will continue to evolve, with the goal remaining the same – a safe event for both our competitors and the communities in which we race,” said John Bobo, NASCAR vice president, racing operations, in a statement. “NASCAR will continue to implement and execute a comprehensive plan to ensure the health and safety of our competitors and the surrounding communities.”

Here are NASCAR’s updated COVID-19 guidelines:

Confirmed Positive Cases – Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Cases. Confirmed positive cases may return to racing activities after they have received two negative test results taken at least 24 hours apart.

A. If after 10 days, a NASCAR Member is unable to produce two negative PCR tests, their return status may be medically reviewed by a NASCAR Consulting physician.

  • New CDC guidance of July 22, 2020, recommends discontinuing PCR testing after the conclusion of the 10-day isolation period for the onset symptoms for the initial COVID-19 infection, if a person is fever-free for a minimum of 24 hours without the use of medication.
  • Please note: Based on advice from consulting physicians, NASCAR counts the 10 days from the date of the first positive PCR test for COVID-19.
  • In its guidance, CDC research indicates that in no instances yet discovered has there been a case where the virus is able to self-replicate beyond the 10th day following a positive test among individuals who are not immunosuppressed and did not have severe disease (e.g. requiring ICU stay or ventilation), so an individual in this situation poses no harm to others.  In the event that the individual continues to be tested, it is very likely that the individual will continue to return positive results.
  • Based on this new CDC guidance, NASCAR consulting physicians would review the individual’s situation and determine if they appropriately fit the CDC requirements before being allowed to return to racing without two negative PCR tests.

B. They must also have written clearance from their personal physician to resume all racing activity.

Confirmed exposure to a positive COVID-19 person. Those exposed individuals are required to stand-down from competition and self-isolate. They may return to racing activities after they have received one negative test. NASCAR in its discretion may request a second test for clearance based on the nature of the exposure. Please note: a confirmed exposure is based on a totality of the circumstances as determined by NASCAR in consultation with their consulting physicians. Analysis will include: identifying people exposed over the last 10 days, accumulated time greater than 10 minutes, direct skin contact (shaking hands, etc.), lack of social distancing and the level of PPE use among the individuals involved in the contact.

 

Spencer Davis cleared to race after COVID-19 recovery

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After testing positive for COVID-19 last week, Truck Series driver Spencer Davis has been cleared to return to racing after missing just once race, Davis confirmed on social media Wednesday.

Davis had to have two negative COVID-19 tests more than 24 hours apart in order to be cleared to race.

Davis, 21, was the third NASCAR driver to test positive for the virus, joining Jimmie Johnson (who missed one race) and part-time driver Brendan Gaughan. 

Davis, who owns his Truck Series team, missed last weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway and will return to the track for Sunday’s race on the Daytona International Speedway road course (Noon ET on FS1). He will start 31st.