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.”

NASCAR announces merger agreement with International Speedway Corp.

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International Speedway Corp. announced Wednesday morning that it has entered into an agreement and plan of merger with NASCAR. The deal is valued at approximately $2 billion.

Shareholders will receive $45 for each share.

This deal is expected to close this calendar year.

International Speedway Corp. owns 12 tracks that host NASCAR races, including Daytona International Speedway, Darlington Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR issued a statement Wednesday: “We are pleased with the progress that the negotiation and execution of the merger agreement between NASCAR and ISC represents.  While important regulatory and shareholder approval processes remain, we look forward to the successful final resolution of this matter and continuing our work to grow this sport and deliver great racing experiences for our fans everywhere. With a strong vision for the future, the France family’s commitment to NASCAR and the larger motorsports industry has never been greater.”

NASCAR Chairman Jim France told competitors in the drivers meeting before the Daytona 500 that “this sport was built by families and we’re just a part of it. It’s so important that we remember that this is still a family business. Our family is committed to it.”

The agreement announced Wednesday allows NASCAR to control those tracks, along with Iowa Speedway, which it already owns. That could make it easier for NASCAR to move dates to take a date from one track to another. NASCAR President Steve Phelps has stated that the schedule is among the areas the sanctioning body is looking at making changes. NASCAR’s five-year sanctioning agreement with tracks ends after next season.

With NASCAR private, it won’t have to publicly report attendance revenue and other financials as ISC had to do as a publicly traded company.

ISC also announced that a class-action lawsuit that had been filed against it after NASCAR and ISC announced last November plans to merge will be dropped.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns eight tracks that host NASCAR races, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, announced April 24 that it had received a non-binding proposal from Sonic Financial Corp. to acquire all outstanding shares of common stock other than those already held by Sonic. Bruton Smith and his family own and control Sonic Financial Corp. Smith is the founder and majority stakeholder in Speedway Motorsports Inc.

The only tracks not owned by ISC or SMI that host Cup races are Pocono Raceway, Dover International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NBC Sports Power Rankings heading into Coca-Cola 600

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After finishing third in the All-Star Race, Kyle Busch is back atop this week’s NBC Sports Power Rankings – although it was not a unanimous decision.

The real story this week is Kyle Larson. Although it was a non-points event, Larson’s win in the All-Star Race propelled him from not even in last week’s rankings to No. 3 this week. Larson is one of three drivers who went from unranked last week to into this week’s top 10. Also making a big jump from last week was Kevin Harvick (from 7th to 2nd).

Several drivers took big drops from last week, including Chase Elliott (1st to 5th), Alex Bowman (2nd to 6th), Clint Bowyer (4th to tied for 10th) and Brad Keselowski (5th to out of the top 10).

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look heading into the Coca-Cola 600:

1. Kyle Busch (38 points): Finished third in All-Star Race but climbs the rankings for his rant on the radio late in the race. If you can’t win .… But he did win the Truck race and finished the year winning all five of his starts. Last week: 3rd.

2. Kevin Harvick (32 points): Once again, falls short of victory lane. Pit crew mistakes again. Will they finally get things fixed in time for the race that typically has the most pit stops of the season in it? Last week: 7th.

3. Kyle Larson (30 points): Will the $1 million man build upon his riches to earn some wins that will actually count towards the playoffs? Last week: unranked.

4. Joey Logano (24 points): Strong run at the end to secure top-five finish in All-Star Race. Could be a big factor in the 600. Last week: 8th.

5. Chase Elliott (22 points): Things didn’t go his way. Hey, he has 600 miles this weekend to make things happen. Last week: 1st.

6. Alex Bowman (17 points): With three straight runner-ups and eighth in the All-Star Race, a win could be right around the corner – perhaps as early as Sunday. Last week: 2nd.

7. Bubba Wallace (14 points): Storybook night – stage win in Open and fifth-place finish in All-Star Race – gave him an emotional boost that may lead to better things to come. Last week: unranked.

8. William Byron (10 points): Strong move to win the first stage in Monster Open and then finishes the night with a ninth-place finish in the All-Star Race. Last week: unranked.

9. Martin Truex Jr. (9 points): Fast car but then later had issues and finished 10th. Last week: 9th.

(tie) 10. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Punched his ticket to a 12th-place finish, then went out and punched Ryan Newman on pit road. Will their feud flare up again on Sunday? Last week: 4th.

(tie) 10. Kurt Busch (7 points): Late crash left him with a disappointing 17th-place finish (out of 19 drivers). Look for a big comeback in the 600. Given his consistency this season, he’s overdue for a win. Last week: 6th.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski (4 points), Aric Almirola (3 points), Austin Dillon (2 points), Ross Chastain (1 point).

NASCAR America: Dale Jr. Download with Mike Helton, 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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On today’s Dale Jr. Download, which runs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomes NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton.

Earnhardt has known Helton his whole life, and while the two consider each other good friends, Junior told one story where that friendship was tested a bit. 

Here’s a brief segment of what Junior had to say about Helton:

You can be an incredible friend, but the funny thing is when you need to chew somebody’s ass, you can get that done, too. There was one time you had to get after me pretty hard at Bristol Motor Speedway. … We had a car explode a brake rotor on the race track and threw brake parts all over the place.

There was about 15 laps to go and we were running under caution. Typically, NASCAR red flags the race and I was wanting them to do that, but they didn’t. I don’t see the brake stuff, everything’s great, I’m raising hell. This was in the Bud days. Tony (Eury) Sr. was on the radio and I think he was encouraging me a little bit. Our spotter came over and said they want you and Tony Sr. to come to the truck after the race. I stopped talking immediately.

That’s when I learned that Mike Helton and the guys in the booth listen to the drivers and I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, they heard me.’ … We go up in the hauler and me and Tony Sr. still feel like we’re in the right and that we’re going to tell ‘em this and tell ‘em that, and that we’re going in there thinking we’re going to tell Helton and he’s going to say ‘you’re right, we should have red-flagged the race.’

As soon as Helton’s head comes into the door jamb, Tony Sr. and I both started pleading our case. And Mike Helton said, ‘Both of y’all hush. Y’all aren’t going to talk, I’m going to talk.’ You were so mad, so angry, and when I realized how mad you were, I was so disappointed in myself for disappointing and angering him. … I realized now what I had done.’”

Tune in to hear the rest of the story on the Dale Jr. Download (the above portion starts around 51:00).

And then stick around for the following show, IndyCar Live, from Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 6-6:30 pm ET with Kevin Lee.

If you can’t catch either of today’s shows on TV, watch 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.

Missouri’s Lucas Oil Speedway heavily damaged by possible tornado

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Severe storms barreled through south central Missouri on Monday night, causing a number of injuries and heavy damage to the area, including significant damage to Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, about two hours southeast of Kansas City.

According to a media release from track officials, “The storm moved into the area shortly before midnight and damaged several buildings, destroyed the grandstands at the off-road track and also damaged some of the grandstands at the dirt track. There also was damage in the campground and debris was scattered throughout the facility. Several vehicles on-site were toppled, including some campers that had arrived for the weekend.”

There were several injuries reported at the RV park located nearby. Investigators were trying to determine if the storm actually spawned a tornado that caused the damage.

The storms left the track without power and forced officials to cancel this weekend’s Lucas Oil Show-Me 100, one of the its biggest races of the year.

Lucas Oil Speedway general manager Danny Lorton said in the media release that this weekend’s racing – which is considered part of the “Crown Jewel of dirt Late Models” – would be rescheduled at a future date. Lorton said the earliest some announcement may be made is Tuesday.

Also in the media release, track racing operations director Dan Robinson noted, “Our first thoughts are for the people of the Wheatland community and the area and we are thankful that there were no fatalities. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who were affected.”

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