Tony Stewart’s injury hits home for Kyle Busch’s crew chief

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The jarring news of Tony Stewart’s back injury registered with double the resonance for Adam Stevens.

The crew chief for 2015 champion Kyle Busch also knows Stewart well, having worked with him from 2005-2008. Stevens became the race engineer for Stewart in the season that Stewart won his second championship and was a part of 14 wins by Stewart in the driver’s last four years at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“When I read on the Internet like everybody else (about Stewart being hurt in an all-terrain vehicle accident), I said a prayer for Tony,” Stevens told NBC Sports in a Wednesday morning interview. “Tony’s a friend of mine. We’ve won quite a few races together when he had time here at Gibbs.

“The first thing you think of is, ‘My goodness, I hope he’s not seriously injured.’ It’s one thing to miss a race or two, it’s another to have an injury that’ll be with you for the rest of your life. In the absence of information, certainly your mind is going to explore the depths of how bad it can really be.”

But Stevens’ thoughts then quickly turned to Mike Bugarewicz, the new crew chief of Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet.

Though he doesn’t know Bugarewicz as well, Stevens can relate to being a first-year crew chief in Sprint Cup and having a driver injury unexpectedly cloud a team’s future.

Stevens was in virtually the same position a year ago when Busch suffered a fractured left foot and broken right leg in an Xfinity Series crash on the eve of the Daytona 500.

Stevens at least could fall back on the experience of four seasons as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series. He empathizes with Bugarewicz, a race engineer for a decade (including the past two seasons with Kevin Harvick) who is entering his first season in the crucible as a NASCAR crew chief.

“There are a lot of things you can learn crew chiefing an (Xfinity) car for four years that you’re not going to learn as an engineer, so this is his first time up to bat, and he’s getting a curveball,” Stevens said. “It wasn’t my first time up to bat, per se. So, it’s not fun.

“He’s trying to get Tony a little better and make sure his team is the way he wants it and understand all the stuff that a crew chief has to do that a race engineer doesn’t have to do. And now he’s worried about, ‘Well, who the hell is going to drive this car? Do we have a seat for him? Can they reach the pedals?’ All the safety stuff that goes with that, too. He’s going to have to spend a lot of time on that. That’s on top of all the stuff he was already not going to get done. So that’s what really makes it rough.”

An update on the extent of Stewart’s injury isn’t expected until late Thursday afternoon. If he misses races, the smallest of silver linings might be that Stewart-Haas Racing has done it before. Stewart missed three races in 2014 and 15 races in 2013. Last season, teammate Kurt Busch was pulled from the No. 41 Chevrolet for three races after being suspended just days before the season opener at Daytona.

“They probably have seen everything you can see and jumped through every hoop they can jump through,” Stevens said. “Hopefully whatever Smoke has got going on isn’t too serious, and hopefully they can have him there or get him back real quick.”

It worked out for Stevens, who worked with Matt Crafton, David Ragan and Erik Jones over the course of 11 races before Busch returned. He won four of the first nine races in his return on the way to his first title.

Stevens said weathering the uncertainty actually is easier for the team members than the crew chief and spotter, who have to adjust to different drivers and setups.

“Regardless of who is driving the car, all the guys that work on the car are going to be doing the same job, so it’s easier for them than for you because there’s a lot of things that you do as a crew chief that are uniquely specific to your relationship with the driver,” Stevens said. “Whereas the mechanic, that’s probably not true. The bolts need to be tight regardless of who is driving it. The setup needs to be delivered correctly. What that setup needs to be and how to prepare for the weekend and what you need to watch out for from driver to driver is going to be a lot different. There’s much more burden on the crew chief and probably the spotter than the mechanics in general.”

 

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

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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.”