Ryan: Three thoughts on Sunday’s race at Sonoma

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1 – Chad Knaus can call strategy: Put aside the finish of Sunday’s race for a moment: If not for the caution from a bizarre axle failure involving Casey Mears, Jimmie Johnson had a hammerlock on his second win at Sonoma courtesy of a daring call by Chad Knaus.

A point arrived a few years ago where Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief threw his hands up during a race and said (sprinkling in a few expletives) that he had lost his tactical muse. But Knaus absolutely has regained his pit-box mojo this season. With many predicting tire wear could turn Sonoma into at least a three-stop race, Knaus calmly played his cards perfectly and kept Johnson on two stops. It helped the No. 48 Chevrolet had blazing speed throughout the weekend, but it still took moxie to choose a divergent strategy from the rest of the contenders.

It was reminiscent of Knaus’ gutsy moves that resulted in wins at Kansas and Dover (in both cases, keeping Johnson in the lead on old tires during a late caution instead of pitting). Perhaps it’s rooted in the aggressive freedom afforded a guaranteed Chase for the Sprint Cup berth, but it must be a boon to Knaus’ confidence to know his decision-making is making a difference by keeping Johnson in position to win on a weekly basis instead of negating strong cars.

2 – Tire barriers can be effective: They mostly have been downplayed as stopgap safety measures as tracks scrambled to erect SAFER barriers in the wake of the injuries suffered by Kyle Busch in a crash into an unprotected wall at Daytona International Speedway. But Sunday’s race at Sonoma (which Busch happened to win in the fifth race of his return) showed tire walls can be effective in helping protect drivers.

David Gilliland emerged unscathed after a heavy impact with a barrier because of a flat tire exiting the esses, and Carl Edwards and David Ragan also had their ricochets off a concrete wall cushioned by a mountain of radials. Though crashing into the tires can create a mess (necessitating a red flag for cleanup in the Edwards-Ragan incident), it’s worth the tradeoff if it prevents injuries.

3 – Tire management is entertaining: Aside from the obvious right turns and elevation changes, the most striking difference about Sunday’s race occurred at the front. Unlike this season’s aerodynamically dominated events on speedways, where the leader often has been impervious to being challenged, track position wasn’t the overwhelming storyline at Sonoma.

With tire degradation playing a critical role in handling, drivers with faster cars and fresher rubber could overtake at the front – even in the limited passing areas of the 1.99-mile track. The constant battles for position were a refreshing change of pace and offered a glimpse of what the action on 1.5-mile ovals could be, provided NASCAR lands on a more optimum rules package.

William Byron out of Daytona 500 after wreck

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William Byron is the first driver out of the Daytona 500 following a wreck late in Stage 1.

Byron, who won his qualifying race last week, wrecked with seven laps left in the stage after he received a push from pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Byron slid through the backstretch grass before hitting the inside wall nose-first.

Byron was running in the top five with all three of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates when the incident occurred.

“He was kind moving when he hit me first,” Byron told Fox. “So he pushed me left with him. Then he hit me off center in the left rear and just turned me around. … It’s unfortunate. I feel like there’s really no reason, it’s Lap 45 or whatever it was, to be that aggressive moving across my bumper.”

Byron doesn’t leave Daytona empty-handed as he has 10 points from his qualifying race win.

Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France defends leadership style in interview

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Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France defended his leadership style when running the stock-car series and said in an interview with Sports Business Journal that he was working on leaving the sport before he was ousted after his DWI arrest in August 2018.

The interview with Sports Business Journal marked France’s first public comments since his arrest.

France became NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in September 2003, assuming the position from his father, Bill France Jr.

Brian France held that position until Aug. 6, 2018, when he took a leave of absence after his arrest for driving while intoxicated in Sag Harbor, New York. He was replaced by Jim France and did not return to NASCAR.

Brian France pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in June 2019. As part of the agreement, he was required to complete 100 hours of community service and undergo alcohol counseling. If he completes those and does not run afoul of the law, his misdemeanor charge will be reduced to a non-criminal infraction in June 2020.

France told Sports Business Journal that he was actively talking to and identifying potential replacements before his arrest but did not go into detail.

France, who oversaw the TV deal with NBC and Fox that goes through 2024 and created the Chase/playoff format, defended his absence from the track during his reign. France did not attend every race and that became an issue in the garage, raising questions about how involved he was with the sport.

“I understand that kind of criticism, but there is no other sports league that gets any criticism like that,” France told Sports Business Journal of the time he spent at the track. “I’ve always found that a bit interesting that no one else asks another commissioner how many football games or practices he made.”

Jim France is at the track nearly every weekend. Brian France told Sports Business Journal that while his uncle attends more races to match his objective, “(it) didn’t match up with mine, so I had to take the criticism on my way to managing the commercial side.”

France, who endorsed Donald Trump for president at a Feb. 29, 2016 rally at Valdosta State University in Georgia, accompanied President Trump on Air Force One to Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, according to the pool media report.

Monday’s Daytona 500: Restart time, weather and more

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Let’s try this again.

After rain postponed Sunday’s race, Cup drivers will get back on track Monday at Daytona International Speedway to complete the Daytona 500. And the forecast looks very good for Monday’s race.

The race was halted after 20 of 180 laps with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leading.

Here are today’s details:

(All times are Eastern)

RESTART: Command to fire engines at 4:02 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:12 p.m. 

DISTANCE: 180 of the scheduled 200 laps remain to be run on the 2.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 65. Stage 2 ends on Lap 130.

TV/RADIO: Fox’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 73 degrees and a 3% chance of rain when the race resumes.

RUNNING ORDER:

  1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Aric Almirola
  4. Ryan Newman
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. William Byron
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Ty Dillon
  10. Timmy Hill
  11. David Ragan
  12. Chris Buescher
  13. Matt DiBenedetto
  14. Chase Elliott
  15. Ross Chastain
  16. Alex Bowman
  17. Kyle Larson
  18. Kurt Busch
  19. Austin Dillon
  20. Cole Custer
  21. Michael McDowell
  22. Tyler Reddick
  23. Ryan Blaney
  24. Bubba Wallace
  25. Reed Sorenson
  26. BJ McLeod
  27. Corey LaJoie
  28. Brendan Gaughan
  29. Ryan Preece
  30. Justin Haley
  31. Martin Truex Jr.
  32. Kyle Busch
  33. Erik Jones
  34. Christopher Bell
  35. Denny Hamlin
  36. Clint Bowyer
  37. John Hunter Nemechek
  38. Quin Houff
  39. Joey Gase
  40. Brennan Poole

Daytona 500 postponed to Monday

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The Daytona 500 has been postponed until Monday, NASCAR announced Sunday evening.

The race is scheduled to take the green flag at 4:05 p.m. ET Monday. The garage will open at 1:30 p.m. The race will air on Fox.

The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 72 degrees and an 11% chance of rain when the race is scheduled to resume.

The race was scheduled to take the green flag Sunday at 3:18 p.m. ET but that was pushed back because of President Donald Trump’s participation in ceremonies before the race. He gave the command to start engines and his motorcade led the field on a pace lap. An extra pace lap was done to honor Jimmie Johnson, who is making his final Daytona 500 start.

As the field was set to take the green flag at 3:29 p.m. ET, rain in Turns 1 and 2 prevented the start. Rain fell throughout the track and led to a 51-minute delay.

When the race resumed, the field completed 20 laps before rain led to a caution at 4:36 p.m. ET. The field again was brought to pit road and the race was stopped. NASCAR told teams they could uncover cars on pit road at 6:18 p.m. ET but almost immediately there were reports of rain drops around the track. Drivers were called to their cars but never got in them. It began to pour around 6:44 p.m. ET. The race was called at 6:50 p.m. ET

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led the opening 20 laps. He is followed by Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick.

Sixth through 10th is Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Timmy Hill.

This is the second time the Daytona 500 has been postponed by rain. It happened in 2012.