NASCAR had input in makeup of drivers’ council; was pleased by the first meeting in Dover

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NASCAR had input into the formation of the new Sprint Cup driver’s council which met with high-ranking officials last weekend at Dover International Speedway.

During his weekly appearance on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s The Morning Drive, executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said NASCAR had worked with drivers in setting up Saturday’s initial session.

“It’s something we’ve always done in terms of meeting with the drivers,” O’Donnell said. “We certainly meet with them individually, and we have met during the preseason more formally. I think you’ve seen us form the (manufacturer) council, and we meet with the tracks, and it’s gone really well in terms of opening the dialogue with everyone in the industry. It’s something the drivers had talked about, and we had looked at, as well as a potential formation of a driver’s council.

“It was a little more formal in terms of the drivers bringing in the drivers they did. We put some criteria around it. But really (it was) the first formal if, you want to call it, drivers’ council meeting. We’ll continue to do those.”

Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick confirmed Sunday that they were part of the council, which comprised about eight or nine drivers. Past champions Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth said they weren’t in the discussions. NASCAR.com’s Holly Cain reported that Tony Stewart also said he attended.

Sources have told NASCAR Talk that the drivers were asked to select a panel that represented all the manufacturers and a wide swath of teams ranked throughout the points standings, as well as a mix of youth and experience.

Echoing what Earnhardt and Hamlin told reporters before Sunday’s FedEx 400, O’Donnell said the meeting was productive.

“The dialogue was great,” he said. “We’ve got a unique sport in that we’ve got athletes who care about the future of the sport, so we certainly talked about where we’re at today, but more importantly, these are drivers who want to see the sport grow and continue well beyond their career, so it was refreshing to sit down and hear some of their ideas and talk about where we should go together in the future.

“It’s a unique sport in that aspect and something the fans should really appreciate that they’ve got drivers who care not only about today but the future.”

O’Donnell compared the driver council with NASCAR’s quarterly meetings with manufacturers Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota to plot the future direction.

“Everyone has a voice,” he said. “The drivers are the first line when talking about the sport. They need to feel good about where we’re going as a sport (and) what they’re driving. We’re not always going to agree. That’s not the purpose of this meeting.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to make a call that we believe is right for the sport. Sometimes, not everyone agrees, but as long as there is respect for how decisions were made, that’s the ultimate goal. That’s what we’re working toward. But I thought it was a great start for the meeting, really great dialogue and the ideas coming out of it.”

NASCAR is soliciting feedback from the industry while building its rules package for next season. Though it initially planned to make another cut in downforce after reducing horsepower and downforce this season, there also is the possibility of keeping the 2015 rules intact.

O’Donnell said the trick is managing the triangle of aerodynamics, horsepower and tire construction, adding there were “a lot of good ideas on the table for ’16 (and) a lot of work being done in the next 30 days that I think folks will see. It’s not a lack of looking at ideas but finding the right combination to go forward.”

Other topics addressed Monday morning:

–NASCAR is looking at monitoring the cooling of fuel after Kurt Busch’s team was asked to remove heat shields from its fuel during Sunday’s race. “That’s something we continue to look at, and with the heat in Dover, it was unbelievably hot, but that’s something we have to continue to monitor anytime we’re dealing with fuel,” O’Donnell said. “You know we’ve had some incidents on pit road where we’ve taken some reactive measures from a safety standpoint. We’ll sit down (Tuesday) and walk through that and look at the upcoming schedule and see what may or may not be happening on pit road as we go forward.”

–After being chastised for leaving their vehicles while under caution in the Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup races at Dover, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Trevor Bayne could face further penalties Tuesday. NASCAR instituted a rule last August prohibiting drivers from leaving their cars until a safety team arrived after a crash. The move came in the wake of Kevin Ward Jr. being struck and killed by a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart when Ward angrily approached Stewart’s car under caution during a race in upstate New York.

“It’s something we haven’t seen in a while and hope to never see,” O’Donnell said of Bayne and Cobb leaving their vehicles. “But it goes back to a rule we put out last year in terms of being as safe as possible when there’s an incident on the racetrack, reminding the drivers at no time should they get out of the car or truck unless it’s on fire, which you saw potentially in Trevor Bayne’s situation. But from there we ask everyone in an incident where a vehicle may or may not be on fire, if they do get out (to) stay by your vehicle for the safety crew and under no circumstances are you to walk across the track or apron. Unfortunately, we saw that in both instances this weekend. We had a conversation with both drivers. They understand the potential harm that could come from that, and we’ll continue to have that dialogue, and you’ll see us probably react (Tuesday) as well.”

–After concrete came loose in Stewart’s pit stall during Sunday’s race, O’Donnell said “we obviously are looking at that. It’s a concrete surface, (and) it’s been there several years. We think it had to do with the heat this weekend. It expanded and caused the initial break, and you saw that crack through the pit box. We’ll look back at that area and up and down pit road to make sure we can avoid that in the future.”

Alex Bowman fastest in final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Alex Bowman completed a sweep of Friday’s Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway by posting the top speed in final practice. He was also fastest in first practice.

Bowman’s top speed was 176.626 mph. He recorded 32 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (176.186 mph), Bubba Wallace (176.177), Kurt Busch (175.816) and Christopher Bell (175.695).

Bowman also had the best 10-lap average at 175.317 mph.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps with 47.

The only incident in the session was defending race winner Kyle Busch brushing the wall in Turn 3 after his car got away from him on the bumps in the corner. Repairs were made to the car and Busch returned to the track with 17 minutes left in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

 

Alex Bowman tops field in opening Cup practice at Auto Club

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Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap in opening Cup practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Bowman ran a top lap of 179.439 mph.

Bowman was followed by Kyle Larson (177.703 mph), Tyler Reddick (177.607), Kurt Busch (177.375) and Matt DiBenedetto (176.609).

Click here for full practice report

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET today. Qualifying will be Saturday.

Xfinity practice report at Auto Club Speedway

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Harrison Burton was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recorded 22 laps and posted a top speed of 174.474 mph in the 25-minute session.

The top five was completed by Noah Gragson (173.779 mph), Austin Cindric (173.775), Chase Briscoe (173.578) and Brandon Jones (173.578).

Burton also had the best 10-lap average at 170.422 mph.

Gragson recorded the most laps in the session with 25.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Noah Gragson led the way for the Xfinity Series in the opening practice session that saw more than half the 50-minute period under caution at Auto Club Speedway

Gragson ran a top lap of 177.139 mph. He was followed by Austin Cindric (176.022), Daniel Hemric (175.400), Brandon Jones (175.366) and Harrison Burton (175.187).

Click here for full practice report

Alex Labbe brought out the caution when an oil line came loose and he put oil down on the track. The cleanup took about 20 minutes.

Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution late in the session with smoke coming from the car and then a small fire in the right front of the car.

 

 

Kyle Busch on Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson chasing bounty: ‘Bring it on’

Kyle Busch
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Twenty-four hours made quite a difference for Kyle Busch‘s tune regarding the $100,000 bounty placed against him in the Truck Series.

Thursday had the Joe Gibbs Racing driver outright dismissing the idea any full-time Cup driver would pursue the bounty, citing the $140,000 cost to rent a truck.

Then Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson dropped the hammer Thursday night, courtesy of a deal with GMS Racing. Elliott will have two shots at it, on March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and May 30 at Kansas Speedway. Larson steps to the plate March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Busch’s response?

“Bring it on.”

Busch addressed Elliott and Larson entering the bounty ring Friday during his media session at Auto Club Speedway.

“It’s all good,” Busch said. “I think it’s going to be interesting, exciting, whatever you want to term it.  I guess Cup drivers in the truck series do sell tickets. You know, take that for what it’s worth. I think it’s a unique opportunity for more attention on the series, which is good. Maybe if more drivers had more teams than had rides, there would be something else there besides just myself.”

The bounty is a joint effort by Kevin Harvick and Gander RV & Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis in the wake of Busch winning the last seven truck series races he’s entered, dating back to 2018.

If no Cup driver beats Busch in his remaining four Truck Series starts, the $100,000 will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

Atlanta Motor Speedway

“It’s brought a whole new chatter to (the truck series,” Busch said. “Whether that’s excitement or just chatter, I’m not sure which. I think we’ll see when we get to Atlanta what the grandstands look like and how the race goes.”

Even before the announcement by the drivers Thursday night, Busch had already given thought to the Cup competitors he could potentially square off against for the bounty and who his biggest threat was.

“I don’t remember who I told, but once Harvick kind of put the idea out there, I was like, ‘The guy who is really, really, really, gonna have a shot is Larson at Homestead,” Busch said.

The 1.5-mile track in Florida is widely viewed as Larson’s best track. He’s made three starts there in the truck series. He has two top fives, including placing fourth there in 2016 with GMS Racing.

But the first stop in the bounty challenge is Chase Elliott and his home track of Atlanta.

Harrison Burton, who raced for Busch last year in the truck series, shared his experience competing against Busch at Atlanta last year, a race Busch won.

“It’s going to be hard to beat Kyle, I know that much,” Burton said Friday. “I ran trucks last year and ran second to him for a lot of laps at Atlanta especially. I remember thinking, ‘Well, I’m about a tenth better than the field and he’s about three-tenths better than me so this is pretty impressive.’ Ran second most of that day. Didn’t finish second, but Chase is going to have his work cut out for him there and (Kyle) Larson is going to have his work cut out for him at Miami. Kyle hasn’t raced Miami in a truck in a long time because of the playoff schedule so that might be — Chase has a steeper hill to climb than Larson.”

Atlanta and its owner, Speedway Motorsports, also are getting involved in the show.

SMI and the track announced Friday a way for fans to contribute $5 to the charities of Elliott, Busch or Harvick through ticket purchases.

Fans who purchase a ticket to the March 14 NASCAR doubleheader – which includes the truck series race (1:30 p.m. on FS1) and a Xfinity Series race (4:00 p.m. on FS1) – can choose the driver and driver foundations that will benefit.

If additional challengers emerge, the drivers and their respective charities will also become eligible.

Fans can ensure their ticket purchase helps the driver charity of their choice by purchasing through the AMS ticket office (877-9-AMS-TIX) and stating the driver and foundation of choice or by going to https://www.atlantamotorspeedway.com/bounty/ and choosing their preferred driver. Tickets for the Saturday NASCAR Doubleheader – which includes the Georgia 200 bounty challenge race – are free for children 12 and under.

“The anticipation for this race and the buzz around this bounty is growing every day,” said SMI CEO Marcus Smith in a press release. “Where the drivers saw a chance to inject more fun and excitement into this race, we see a chance to step it up even more and help some people in need through some very worthy driver charities.”