NASCAR executive on calling late-race cautions: ‘If we can race back … we’re going to do that’

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NASCAR executive Steve O’Donnell explained Monday the decision not to call a caution at the end of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, telling SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that officials try to end a race under green instead of caution.

“I want to be clear,’’ said O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, on the show Monday morning. “If we can race back and we don’t believe we’re putting the competitor in harm’s way, we’re going to do that, but we’ll always err on the side of safety.’’

O’Donnell said Sunday’s finish at Auto Club Speedway was different from the end of last month’s Daytona 500 – when NASCAR called a caution on the last lap. Sunday, Greg Biffle drove away after his frontstretch incident. At Daytona, officials called a caution for a wreck behind the leaders because Kyle Larson did not drive away.

“We have to look at the incident and the safety of the drivers first and foremost,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “When we looked at that incident and Kyle Larson hitting the wall at a high rate of speed, we felt we needed to dispatch the safety equipment immediately. That was despite where we were in the race. We needed to do that.

“If that were the case in Daytona where Kyle may have just glanced the wall and drove off, we would have raced back. What you saw (Sunday) was one of those instances where a driver was able to get set and race off in time where we knew we had some time to make the decision. The decision was made to let them come back to the checkered flag.’’

O’Donnell reiterated what Richard Buck, Sprint Cup director, said after Sunday’s race – that officials in the flag stand did not see debris from Biffle’s incident on the track, thus the decision was made to allow the cars to race back to the finish.

O’Donnell also explained what led NASCAR to call the debris caution, which extended the race beyond its 200 laps.

“The process of calling any caution involves multiple people,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ll obviously scan the drivers and spotters, and if we hear anything, we’ve got corner workers, we’ve got folks on the flag stand. We’ll survey all of those folks once we hear that there may be something on the track.

“If it’s not moving, we’ll confirm that that piece is not moving and we’ll assume, candidly, that it’s metal. If it’s in the groove, obviously, that becomes a safety issue, we’re going to throw the caution each and every time when that happens.

“If someone would have run over that and it affected a tire and that driver had an incident, we’d be hearing it on the other end as well. That’s something we’ve got to deal with it. That’s our job to make the call. We will always err on the side of safety if we see something out there and can’t confirm that it’s moving or not. When it’s not moving, in most cases, it is a piece of metal or something heavy that is going to affect the race car.’’

NASCAR America: Dramatic elimination races

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Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman enter the Hollywood Casino 400 below the cutoff line by significant amounts.

Keselowski is in the best shape with an 18-point disadvantage to Martin Truex Jr. who sits on the bubble. Considering that Truex has finished first or second in the last three Kansas races, it still is not an enviable position.

Each team outside of the Top 8 feels that it is in a must-win situation unless something catastrophic happens to the competition.

As NASCAR America detailed in Wednesday’s edition, it is not the first time a driver has had to pull out a last-minute victory to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Keselowski was in this situation in 2014 at Talladega.

“I don’t want to talk about this one,” Steve Letarte said. “Because it was a must-win for me and Dale Jr. as well and he was in victory lane, which meant we were on the hauler eliminated.”

In the next round, Kevin Harvick was in a similar situation after suffering a couple of bad races early in Round 3. He dominated the field and won at Phoenix – and then went on to win the championship the next week in Homestead.

Harvick’s record at Phoenix made that win unsurprising, but the next year he found himself in trouble again entering Dover. Once more, he won and advance.

For more dramatic clutch wins in elimination races, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Kansas preview, Kevin Meendering interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview this weekend’s races at Kansas Speedway.

Marty Snider hosts with Steve Letarte and Landon Cassill from Charlotte.

On today’s show:

  • We’ll react to the penalty handed down to Kyle Larson that makes advancing to the Round of 8 even more challenging.
  • As cut-down day approaches in the Round of 12 for the Cup Series, we’ll look back at drivers who kept their title hopes alive with victories in elimination races.
  • Dillon Welch talks to crew chief Kevin Meendering, who is set to become Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief in 2019.
  • Joey Logano may be racing for a championship, but one of his other main goals is a far more important one: helping the lives of others, especially children. We’ll look at the story behind the Joey Logano Foundation.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Bubba Wallace named to Ebony Power 100

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Bubba Wallace has been named to Ebony Magazine’s Ebony Power 100 for his accomplishments as a NASCAR Cup series driver.

Listed as an “MVP,” Wallace joins other athletes such as Antonio Brown, Stephen Curry and Venus Williams as well as former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama. 

The list was created to recognize leaders of color who have positively impacted their community.

“This is quite an honor to be recognized with others in the African-American community,” Wallace said in a press release. “It’s humbling to join a list of the other star athletes, artists and community and national leaders. I’m just trying to be the best driver that I can be and focus on winning races for Richard Petty Motorsports and our partners. To be recognized for some of our accomplishments this season is an honor and I’d like to thank Ebony for the recognition.”

Wallace gained the honor based on his on track performance early in the year, including a second-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a top-10 finish at Texas Motor Speedway.

His off-track accomplishments also played a role in the selection. Wallace has been a notable influencer on social media. Earlier this year, Facebook posted a “Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace” docu-series that earned more than five million views.

“We are proud of what Bubba is doing both on and off the track for our race team and our partners,” said Brian Moffitt, CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports, in a press release. “We know that we have something very special with him and he continues to break barriers outside our sport to be a first-class athlete, spokesperson and inspiration to many.”

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K&N East champion to make Truck Series debut at Martinsville

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Tyler Ankrum, who won the NASCAR K&N East Pro Series title on Oct. 6, will make his Camping World Truck Series debut next weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

Ankrum, 17, will drive for DGR-Crosley’s No. 54 truck. Ankrum drove for the team co-owned by David Gilliland in the K&N East series.

Driving the No. 17, Ankrum earned four wins and nine top fives and led the standings for the final 12 races of the season.

The native of San Bernadino, California, had an average finish of 4.8.

Next Saturday’s race will be Ankrum’s second at Martinsville. He competed in a Late Model Stock Car race there in 2014.

“Making my Truck Series debut at Martinsville is huge. So many big names in the sport have made their national series debut at Martinsville,” Ankrum said in a press release. “I’ve been dreaming of this day for so long now, I can’t believe it’s actually happening. It’s going to be really cool having (crew chief) Seth (Smith) and my K&N guys there with me.”