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).’’

 

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.”