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Roger Penske: Helping Wood Brothers get charter wasn’t an option

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Though Wood Brothers Racing has strong ties to Team Penske through its cars, driver and personnel, Roger Penske said helping its ally obtain a NASCAR charter wasn’t an option.

Because the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford hadn’t run full time since 2008, it wasn’t granted one of the 36 charters awarded last week under a new business model of ownership that guarantees attendance and revenue for teams in the Sprint Cup Series.

Rob Kauffman, the Race Team Alliance chairman who brokered the charter agreement with NASCAR, had two charters for now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, but he sold them to Stewart-Haas Racing (the No. 41 of Kurt Busch) and Joe Gibbs Racing (the No. 19 of Carl Edwards). Those cars fell short of the criteria of running full time since 2013.

“There really wasn’t any opportunity because the two that were available went to the guys that had run the full season last year, which was SHR and Gibbs,” Penske said Saturday during the final Daytona 500 practice at Daytona International Speedway. “Really, we weren’t in the discussion. That was done between Kauffman and the two teams.”

Because Blaney is under a long-term deal with Penske that eventually could see him joining Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 and Joey Logano’s No. 22 as a true teammate in Cup, another charter might be on the horizon.

But Penske said it wasn’t urgent for his team or Wood Brothers, which has a technical alliance with Penske and a crew chief (Jeremy Bullins) who came from Penske.

“I think the Wood Brothers have got to make a decision,” Penske said. “We don’t need charters now. We have the 2 and 22, and it’s really up to the Woods Brothers long term what they want to do. They’re very comfortable running as an open car. We’re supporting them with equipment and technology and with that, they seem to be competitive.

“Blaney certainly has a great career. Ultimately, we’d like to go to three cars at some point, but that’s in the distant future.”

Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood said the responsibility was with his team, which is returning to a full season in 2016, to get a charter. Wood said he had an “inner feeling that it’s going to be fine” without a charter, despite lacking a guaranteed spot and earning less as an “open” team vying for one of four weekly spots.

Blaney qualified for the Daytona 500 and likely won’t be in danger of missing a race because of bad weather as the No. 21 did multiple times last year.

“Right now if it’s a rainout, we’re still in based on last year’s points,” Penske said. “I think the way we ended up, we get a couple of races under our belt, we should be in good shape. We won’t be one of the things like it happened (last) season where we missed three races because we had the fast car but couldn’t qualify because of the weather. That won’t happen again we hope.

“We have a long-term agreement with Ryan, and I think from the charter perspective, that’s something the Woods will have to decide long term. We’ll see what’s available as we go into this next season. There’s a lot of people talking, but at the moment, I think they’re doing the right thing taking the high road. We’re certainly satisfied with the two (charters) we have.”

Penske said he believes the team’s partnership with the Wood Brothers is mutually beneficial.

“We’re very involved with everything they’re doing,” he said. “We can mirror some of the things we’re learning, and it gives us a chance to build Ryan as a world-class driver without the pressure of maybe sitting underneath our banner.

“The Woods guys are so committed personally as a family. It’s great to be part of that with them. They’ve been friends of mine, (founding owners) Glen and Leonard, for 40 years. With Ryan, he’s got a great future. We certainly have supported him over the last couple of years. Brad has, and everyone has. That’s our decision, and the commitment we have to him going forward, more than just this year.”

There’s been much speculation of the going rate for a charter, which Kauffman estimated in “the single-digit millions.”

Does Penske, a businessman beyond repute, have a guess at what it might cost to buy into the game?

“I hope they’re worth a lot of money when I want to sell mine because we’ve invested a lot for I don’t know how many years,” he said with a laugh. “To me, it shows value. I think what it does is it provides an opportunity for people to invest, but also there is some value at the end. To me that’s important. We’re not just going out there running around start and parks. That’s gone away now.

“We’re going to have proper cars competing. That’s going to make the field better. There’ll be the opportunity to bring in new sponsors. Maybe the sponsors invest in you eventually. With a charter if they get to a value that’s high enough that makes sense, and there’s a reason for a sponsor to carry a charter. We don’t know yet.”

He is certain the new charter system is good for the industry as a whole.

“The charter deal is an excellent opportunity for all the teams,” Penske said. “I think what’s taken place is we’re running this more like a business. With the charters, you can invest. You build some value. Quite honestly, with the different business groups from the competition side, the technical side, the marketing side, we now are connecting at the levels within NASCAR, which make a huge difference.

“It’s only going to make the sport better. We’ll all be on the same side. I think there’s a process if we do have a disagreement that we can work through that, which is important. Overall, we’ve been pushing for this for a long time, and I was a big supporter from the very beginning.”

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race: Start time, TV channel

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs get underway with the Saturday Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The race is the first of seven to determine the champion.

Chase Briscoe is on the pole after his win last weekend at Bristol

Here is all the info for the Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:38 p.m by Cup driver Bubba Wallace. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:47 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 1 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Mackenzie Mackey at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: Coverage begins on NBCSN with Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race broadcast begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 7 p.m.. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the link.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for clear skies with a high of 95 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe beat Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric at Bristol.

LAST RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Chase Briscoe beat Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg for the win.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

General Motors announces leadership for technical center

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General Motors has announced the leadership for its new performance and racing technical center in Concord, North Carolina.

GM has tapped Dr. Eric Warren of Richard Childress Racing to be the director of NASCAR operations at the facility, which was unveiled in January.

Warren will be responsible for competition duties for NASCAR programs, “as well as expanding the involvement of GM’s product development resources in the technical strategy for the Chevrolet race teams,” GM said in a statement.

GM’s 75,000-square-foot facility will feature Driver-in-the-Loop simulators, vehicle simulation, aero development and other practices designed to advance racing and production capabilities.

Warren had been RCR’s Chief Technology Officer since 2017 and part of the team since 2012.

GM also named Mark Stielow to its new Director of Motorsports Competition Engineering position. Stielow will be responsible for overall engineering and technical direction for the NHRA, IndyCar, IMSA and Motorsports Operations. He will have a direct link to GM’s vehicle integration organization.

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

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Charlotte Motor Speedway will host fans for its NASCAR Xfinity and Cup races and its IMSA race on the Roval Oct. 10-11, the track announced Friday.

The announcement comes after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper stated this week that outdoor sports venues with a capacity in excess of 10,000 could have up to 7% capacity.

The track stated that because of the limited capacity allowed, no additional tickets will be sold for the Oct. 11 Cup playoff race. Remaining ticket holders will have the option to receive a 120% credit toward a 2021 event or a refund for the full purchase amount.

Tickets remain for the Oct. 10 Xfinity playoff race and the IMSA WeatherTech  SportsCar GT Championship Series event. Adult tickets are $50. Tickets are available by calling 800-455-FANS (3267) or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com. Kids 13 and under get in free.

“Throughout the summer, we’ve been working with local and state officials to bring fans to the Bank of America Roval 400 weekend for what promises to be one of the season’s most anticipated events,” said Charlotte Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Greg Walter in a statement. “While we regret that we cannot accommodate every fan who would like to be part of this spectacular race weekend, we are committed to providing the best and safest experience possible for those who are able to attend.”

Among the safety protocols for the events:

  • Mandatory temperature checks at entry gates
  • Contactless ticketing
  • Socially distanced grandstand seating
  • Cashless souvenir and concession purchases.
  • Fans and staff must wear approved face coverings at all times, except while eating and drinking.
  • Limited grandstand seating will be in groups of up to six people properly socially distant from any other group.

Fans can bring food and unopened beverages in a soft-sided clear bag no larger than 14 inches on its longest side. To limit contact, cash will not be accepted.