NBC’s Steve Letarte offers his take on Austin Dillon’s crash, restrictor-plate racing

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NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte offered his thoughts on Austin Dillon’s crash after last weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway, restrictor-plate racing, safety and more with NASCAR Talk.

Here’s what Letarte said:

NT: What can be done in regards to what happened to Austin Dillon and with restrictor-plate racing?

Steve Letarte: Well, I think the first thing we have to really look at is the inherent danger of racing in general is something that has been around since the conception of “I’m going to try to beat you in a race.” We saw that essay that Ken Squier voiced over (on NBC) during the rain delay and the dangers of Daytona have existed since they were running land-speed records in the ‘30s up and down the beach. I’m not trying to diminish the scary accident at the end of Sunday night’s race. I think the important thing is to look at the work that NASCAR and the tracks have done to diminish the injuries.

As crew chiefs, we try to break the laws of physics every week. We try to go through the corner faster than that car wants to go through the corner. Well, unfortunately, when things go wrong, physics take over again. A 3,500-pound racecar traveling at 200 mph has a certain amount of energy in it. That energy is really underappreciated sometimes until we see them leave the ground and make contact with either the wall or the catch fence. That is the simple way to explain that I know in my heart that there is no guarantee for safety in racing. There are 43 guys that strap in every Sunday and they’re aware of that, whether they talk about it or not.

As a sport, we have an obligation to give them the safest playing field to put on the display of their talents as possible. We have to ask ourselves at what measures we’re willing to go do that. I think removing Talladega and Daytona from the schedule would be just unacceptable for a sport that has been grown around those types of racetracks, and we have legends that have been built at those tracks. I think we have to look at the positives of this issue first and see what we’ve done as a sport that made this crash safer. The reason we do that is to see what other steps we have to take.

NT: What could be changed before the next restrictor-plate race, which will be at Talladega Superspeedway in October?

Letarte: We need to not knee-jerk, not making major changes without understanding them. For every cause there is an effect. For every change, there are repercussions. NASCAR has done a very good job of weathering these storms over the distance of time on how to get these things handled. I think their somewhat methodical approach, while it can be frustrating and people would like to see more bells and whistles and alarms going off, they have made strides. Thank goodness we’re talking to Austin Dillon on the TODAY show today, and we see him doing interviews. That’s because of those methodical approaches. I think we need to continue down that road and not create an issue that we don’t currently have. Yes, we have issues, but we don’t want to create new ones trying to fix the ones we have.

NT: Dustin Long wrote that NASCAR should do away with green-white-checkered finishes for restrictor-plate races to reduce the possibility of a major crash and car going airborne at the end of a race. Knee-jerk reaction?

Letarte: I think from a competitor’s standpoint I wouldn’t have an issue eliminating the green-white-checkered as long as we know it going in. I was a part of that Jeff Gordon team that won (under caution ) at Talladega (April 2007). I was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief when we lost to Jamie McMurray when the caution came out on the white flag lap at Talladega (Oct. 2013). Even the green-white-checkers don’t guarantee that we’re going to finish a race under green. It seems the fans that have paid good, hard-earned money to come out and watch the race feel like they want every opportunity to finish these races under green. That would be the question I pose.

The bigger item, and I think Austin Dillon touched on it, and I don’t know if this could be done for Talladega, but I do question that is it necessary to run 195 mph and have the same exciting race as we did at 175 mph? But I’ll follow that up with I’m not engineer or physicist. I don’t know if 20 mph keeps Austin Dillon’s car on the ground. We have seen Joey Logano flip at Dover. I’ve been to Saturday night Late Model races my entire life, and I have seen cars go upside down. I’ve seen drivers hurt at 100 mph racetracks. That’s why I’m a big proponent of looking at the safety aspects.

Here’s the problem you have, races are spectacular because everyone wants to win. That’s the same at my son’s go-kart race all the way up to what Austin Dillon did. Whatever rule package, whatever change you try to make, competition and egos take over and that’s what makes NASCAR and every form of racing special. It’s our responsibility as a series to make sure we make it as safe as possible.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

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Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.