5 things to watch in today’s Brickyard 400 from how cars handle to heat, Hoosiers and more

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INDIANAPOLIS – Will anything be different? Will the racing be better or much of the same?

NASCAR’s high-drag aero package debuts with today’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While drivers eagerly anticipated the low-downforce package earlier this month at Kentucky Speedway, there is not the same enthusiasm for this package, which is intended to increase passing by helping a trailing car draft up to a car ahead.

So far, drivers have said passing hasn’t been any easier and say that the cars are handling much different when running behind another car. Instead of a push, drivers say their cars are loose.

“If you try to get too aggressive, you’ll wreck,’’ Jeff Gordon said. “When you get to the corner behind those cars, you’re going to be walking on eggshells.’’

Said Danica Patrick: “It’s little bit odd that we’re so loose. The one hard thing about stock cars is that one thing leads to the next. The nose comes up because it’s not getting pushed down. And all of a sudden the underbody doesn’t work the same, and all of a sudden the car doesn’t have the right downforce and it shifts the balance. It’s definitely very loose in traffic.’’

Kyle Busch ran behind Tony Stewart for a couple of laps in practice Friday but couldn’t pass.

“You could really get a tow,’’ Busch said of the draft. “I want to say I was seven, eight lengths back going down the from the beginning of the straightaway to the end and then I could almost pull out and pass him. It just wasn’t quite a big enough run to get there, but once I got to the next corner, I was really loose and I wasn’t able to stay within that close enough range in order to come off of Turn 2 and have that drag effect be able to help me down the backstretch to get alongside of him. You’re going to have to be able to time your stuff a little bit and work around the aero affects you get in the corners in order to have a bigger effect on that help you get during the straightaway to be able to utilize that.”

That’s just among the storylines for today’s race.

Watch the restarts. Every driver has said with the new aero package, the difficulty still with passing and what’s at stake is the recipe for some wild action.

“I think the bump draft is going to be big on the starts,’’ Justin Allgaier said. “Because of the way these cars stall each other out, when you’re side-by-side, you’re going to have to find a way to break that barrier. I think you’re going to be able to shove a guy past. I think you’re going to see a lot of guys shoving each other.’’

Said Joey Logano: “As a driver, it’s all about restarts. You’ve got to be on your game, and you’ve got to make sure your car is good for that and this year we all obviously have track bar adjusters, so what we can do to adjust our cars to make ourselves better for restarts compared to where we are on long runs. That’s going to come into play a lot and when we’re in dirty air and clean air and all that, so that adjustment will be pretty big to make sure you’re up on that.”

Kyle Busch will look to sweep this weekend’s races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and add a coveted trophy to his collection.

Busch has won 146 races in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series – including Saturday’s Xfinity race. While 32 of those victories have come in Cup, he doesn’t have a championship, doesn’t have a Daytona 500 win, doesn’t have a Coca-Cola 600 victory and doesn’t have a Brickyard 400 win.

“It’s a little disappointing that I’ve been around this long and haven’t won those races, but the things haven’t all quite worked out and haven’t put ourselves in the exact perfect position in order to win those races,’’ Busch said. “To get those top-three – the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the Coke 600 – those certainly would be nice accolades to add to my resume.”

Will he add to his resume today?

Heat was a factor in Saturday’s Xfinity race and could be an issue today.

Drivers emerged from the 250-mile Xfinity race exhausted. While it was warm and muggy, competitors noted that new aero package has resulted in trapping more hot air around the car and that they’re on the throttle more, creating additional engine heat.

Cup drivers face the same challenges and will race 150 miles more than Xfinity drivers today. It is expected to be muggy again today with temperatures are expected to be in the mid 80s.

Hoosier favorites Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman all face varying degrees of challenges.

Stewart, mired in an awful season, starts a season-best fourth. Could he score a third win in this event?

Gordon, the defending race winner, starts 19th – his worst starting spot in this race since 2009. Today marks the final start at this historic track for the five-time winner who was honored with his own parade in his adopted hometown of Pittsboro, Ind., earlier this week.

Newman starts last after a safety violation in qualifying. For a driver so far winless this season and trying to make the Chase, this will not be an easy day.

 

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

TikTok
JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.

Las Vegas weekend schedule

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NASCAR’s postseason continues with the Las Vegas weekend schedule, as the Cup Series begins the Round of 12.

In addition to Cup, Las Vegas Motor Speedway will host the Xfinity Series’ playoff opener and the second race of the Truck Series’ opening round.

More: Kevin Harvick on pole for Cup race

Here is the Las Vegas weekend schedule:

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 25

Noon – 2 p.m. ET – Truck Series haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

2 p.m. – Truck Series garage opens

2 – 8 p.m. – Truck Series garage access screening in progress

2:30 – 3 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m.  – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

8:50 p.m. – Truck Series drivers report to vehicles

9 p.m.- Truck Series race; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Truck Series haulers exit

 

Saturday, Sept 26.

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

1 p.m. – Xfinity garage opens

1 – 6:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access screening in progress

5 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Cup driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7:20 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity race; 200 laps/300 miles (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

9:30 p.m. – Xfinity haulers exit

10:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. – Cup haulers enter

 

Sunday, Sept. 27

Noon – Cup garage opens

Noon – 6 p.m.  – Cup garage access screening in progress

6:50 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

7 p.m. – Cup race; 267 laps/400.5 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

NTSB
Photo: Dustin Long
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Pilot error played a key role in the August 2019 crash of a plane carrying Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family, a final report by the National Transportation Safety Board stated Wednesday.

Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla were on board the plane, which crashed after a hard landing at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport on Aug. 15, 2019. The report stated all three suffered minor injuries. 

The NTSB listed the probable causes of the accident as: “The pilot’s continuation of an unstabilized approach despite recognizing associated cues and the flight crew’s decision not to initiate a go-around before touchdown, which resulted in a bounced landing, a loss of airplane control, a landing gear collapse, and a runway excursion. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to deploy the speedbrakes during the initial touchdown, which may have prevented the runway excursion, and the pilot’s attempt to go around after deployment of the thrust reversers.”

A “go-around” occurs when a pilot pulls out of a landing and gains altitude to make another landing attempt.

The report stated that “the flight crew made several comments about the airplane flying too fast and allowed the airspeed to increase well above the reference speed for the approach.”

The report stated that “the pilot did not extend the speedbrakes upon touchdown, which landing checklist required, but instead attempted to deploy the thrust reversers immediately after touchdown, which was a later item on the landing checklist.”

Earnhardt’s Cessna 680A Citation Latitude bounced twice upon landing as it traversed the 5,001-foot runaway.

After the fourth touchdown, the right main landing gear collapsed. The plane went off the road and through a 400-foot long area of grass. It went down an embankment, through a creek and a chain-link fence. It continued up an embankment. The plane came to rest about 600 feet beyond the runway at the edge of a four-lane highway.

The passengers and two pilots escaped as the plane burned.

The full report can be read here.

Champion or not, Chase Briscoe won’t let Xfinity title define season

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Like the 11 drivers he’ll compete against in the Xfinity Series playoffs, a championship is the endgame for Chase Briscoe.

However, with the Stewart-Haas Racing driver one win from matching his preseason goal of at least eight victories, Briscoe wouldn’t be too disappointed if he failed to claim the title at the end of the seven-race playoff.

“I feel like to this point if we don’t get to eight (wins) … I feel like I accomplished or proved what I was trying to say at the beginning of the year,” Briscoe told NBC Sports on Tuesday. “There’s still no reason why we can’t get to 10 wins. I feel 100% confident in my team that we’re going to have the cars capable of doing it, I just need to do my job. If we do that, hopefully we can get to Phoenix and then (whoever’s) the best team once we get there wins.”

As he prepares to open the playoffs Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Briscoe is wary of not letting “the championship define you and define your season. … Winning races is a big deal. That’s what you get paid to do is go win races and obviously win championships as well, but today’s format anything can happen in that final race.”

Briscoe can attest to importance of winning races. He enters the playoff with a series-leading seven wins, which has helped him start the postseason with 2,050 points and ties him with Austin Cindric.

Briscoe’s impressive numbers come a year after he had just one win in a season where Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer combined to win 21 of 33 races.

Briscoe believes the perception of his abilities as a driver are “way different” from last year as he struggled to chase those three drivers now competing in Cup.

“Personally, I felt like I could win races, and I think a lot of it was learning,” Briscoe said. “Last year, there were still a lot of tracks I had never been to before and didn’t even have 100 pavement starts in my entire career, and now I have that experience. I have the confidence to go with it and all of those things are totally different, and when I said what I said at the beginning of the year (about winning eight races) I felt like I was capable of doing that.

“If I could back it up, it would look even better. … I think I’ve proven my worth in this sport. I feel like if I do get the opportunity to move up, I feel like I’m ready, but I also feel like I could get a lot of benefit out of coming back to the Xfinity Series and running again.”

Briscoe, a Ford development driver, says he still doesn’t know what’s in store for him in 2021.

He said the uncertainty of his future is a “little bit easier” to handle compared to last year because of the wins he’s racked up.

Regardless of not knowing his NASCAR fate, if Briscoe can “somehow get to 10 wins this year and win the championship, then that would just make it, I feel like, a lot easier for the decision-makers.”