NASCAR official explains why Michigan race was called early

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Saying it was the “safest decision” for fans at Michigan International Speedway, NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell justified the move to call Sunday’s Sprint Cup race 62 laps from the scheduled end.

O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, made the comments Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. He also discussed the notion of track-specific rule changes this season.

NASCAR’s decision to end Sunday’s event gave Kurt Busch the victory in a race delayed four times by rain.

O’Donnell noted that the stands were evacuated because of lightning nearby during the last red flag and that “there were still some pop-up showers in the area. Working with the track, we made what we thought was the safest decision for fans that were in attendance.’’

After the Aug. 2012 Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway had been called, a lighting strike killed one fan and injured nine others. They were struck in a parking lot outside the track.

The National Weather Service has what it calls a “voluntary recognition program” to help outdoor venues, including race tracks protect staff and fans from the dangers of lightning. It advises that when lightning is detected 8 miles from the venue that the event be suspended and spectators evacuated.

The National Weather Service office in Detroit confirmed to NASCAR Talk that there were about 50 total lightning strikes within a 10-mile radius of the track near the end of the race. It reported that four of those strikes were cloud-to-ground strikes within that 10-mile radius. Those occurred at 5:33 p.m. ET, 6 p.m., 6:11 p.m. and 6:18 p.m. The race was stopped for the final time at about 5:45 p.m. and called shortly before 6:15 p.m.

“We’ve got some indicators around lighting, when it gets within a certain mileage we have to work with the track and the track is going to evacuate the grandstands,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Even when the sun was shining, it was still raining at 6:30 but post that when the sun came out, there was still lightning in the area, it would have been really challenging to have put fans in that circumstance.’’

O’Donnell explained what series officials do and consider when weather becomes an issue during an event. He said series officials will talk to the “weather experts in the area.’’ He says that “ultimately, it’s up to the track, in this case (track president) Roger Curtis and NASCAR to work together.

“We judge it on how much time do we have left – daylight – you don’t have lights in Michigan, and more importantly, what does the weather look like. It takes longer to dry a track as you get later in the afternoon. Once we had to evacuate the grandstands … that put us in a really challenging situation. The fans had stuck it out for a long time and then when you looked at the radar and the possibility of continued lightning and rain, we thought it was the most prudent decision to make at that time to call it a day.’’

Rain also delayed Saturday night’s Camping World Truck Series race at Gateway Motorsports Park. The Air Titans, used to dry a track, were not at Gateway. O’Donnell explained why.

“Ultimately, we make them available but it’s a track call whether or not they want to have them in place,’’ O’Donnell said.

According to NASCAR’s sanctioning agreement with Dover Motorsports Inc. to host last month’s races at Dover International Speedway, a track “may, at its sole cost and expense, utilize the Air Titan track drying system to dry the track in the event of inclement weather.’’

All tracks must sign a similar sanctioning agreement to host a NASCAR race.

O’Donnell stressed change could be coming on the availability of Air Titans to tracks.

“I think we learned some lessons at Gateway,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think you’ll see them both at Iowa and Chicago this weekend regardless. Going forward, I think you’ll see that change. We’ll have them available, regardless, for the tracks.’’

The Camping World Truck Series races Friday night at Iowa Speedway with the Xfinity Series racing Saturday night at Chicagoland Speedway.

O’Donnell also talked about possible rule changes this season. Reports have stated that NASCAR is looking for new rules that would create lower downforce for next month’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

“Nothing is off the table,’’ O’Donnell said. “We’re continuing to talk to the race teams, the drivers, the owners and the tracks, not just about ’16, but what if anything could be done for ’15. A lot of those discussions are still ongoing. If we’re going to do something, obviously, we’ve got to do it sooner than later, because we never want to implement anything in the Chase. It all goes back to how do we put the best racing on each and every weekend.’’

On the notion of specific rules for specific tracks, O’Donnell said:

“When we put something in a box of just 2016 rules package, it’s kind of a misnomer when you look at it because at each track you’re going to have a different tire, potentially a different gear, a lot of different things that go into it.

“As we look ahead, I think, we want to look more towards what specific track packages could we have, not necessarily having 36 different ones, but are there some configurations that do change up for particular tracks? That’s been a really interesting angle as we’ve talked to the teams and gotten some great feedback, especially from (manufacturers).’’

 

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report