Long: Stewart-Haas’ departure leaves many questions for Chevrolet, its teams

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Stewart-Haas Racing’s announcement Wednesday that it will move to Ford after this season gives Chevrolet and its teams a year to prepare for the change, although that might not be enough time to handle all of the questions facing each.

The move weakens Chevrolet — Stewart-Haas Racing has won two of the last five Sprint Cup titles — and leaves a vacuum in the power structure, while creating questions about the engine programs two Chevy teams have.

Stewart-Haas’ announcement comes days after Toyota showed the value in its teams working together in the Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin gave Toyota its first Daytona 500 win and Joe Gibbs Racing its first since 1993. Toyota went on to take the top three spots and four of the top five.

Toyota also has won the most recent Sprint Cup championship, along with the most recent Daytona 500, Southern 500, Brickyard 400 and Coca-Cola 600 — the sport’s most prestigious races.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s decision marks the second time in the last decade one of Chevrolet’s strongest teams left. Joe Gibbs Racing joined Toyota in 2008.

When Gibbs left, Stewart-Haas Racing eventually became one of Chevrolet’s top teams. The question is, “Which Chevrolet team does so this time behind Hendrick Motorsports?”

There’s Richard Childress Racing, a three-car Cup team that last captured a Sprint Cup championship in 1994 and last won a Cup race in 2013. RCR, though, does have young drivers Austin and Ty Dillon. There’s Chip Ganassi Racing, a two-car Cup team that never has won a series title and last won a race in 2013. It has Kyle Larson, who is looked upon as one of the sport’s future stars.

The only other multicar Cup team aligned with Chevrolet this season is HScott Motorsports, and it is expected to return to a one-car team operation next year with Clint Bowyer leaving to take Tony Stewart’s ride.

Other teams aligned with Chevrolet this season are single-car operations – JTG Daugherty, Tommy Baldwin Racing, Germain Racing and Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing. Those teams have combined for one Cup win and do not have a full-time driver under the age of 31. All four are aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

Another key question is if there is a way to combine the engine work by Hendrick Motorsports and ECR Engines. Hendrick will lose Stewart-Haas Racing’s four teams as a client after this season, and there doesn’t appear to be another team Hendrick can add among the Chevy contingent.

SHR’s departure leaves Hendrick supplying Cup engines for Chip Ganassi Racing and HScott Motorsports. Hendrick also supplies engines for JR Motorsports’ Xfinity and Truck teams, Athenian Motorsports’ Xfinity and Truck teams for John Wes Townley and Ganassi’s Xfinity team.

ECR Engines supplies all three of Richard Childress’ Cup teams, along with JTG Daugherty, Tommy Baldwin Racing, Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing and Germain Racing. ECR Engines supply engines for all of RCR’s Xfinity teams, along with RSS Racing, Kaulig Racing and GMS Racing. ECR Engines also supply GMS Racing’s Camping World Truck teams and NEMCO Motorsport’s Truck team, along with some IMSA teams.

It might be time for Chevrolet to broker a way to merge ECR Engines with Hendrick’s engine shop. Toyota has only one engine supplier (Toyota Racing Development) for its top Cup teams, and Ford has only one engine supplier (Roush Yates Engines) for its top Cup teams.

Of course, merging the two Chevy engine programs would be more complicated than simply calling for it.

If nothing else, Chevrolet likely needs to step in and play a greater role in organizing its teams and structure to be more competitive with Ford and Toyota teams beginning next season.

Stewart said the move to Ford was best for the organization in the long run. It’s similar to the view of Joe Gibbs Racing when making its move from Chevrolet to Toyota. When Gibbs moved, it went from being under the shadow of Hendrick – Chevrolet’s No. 1 team – to No. 1 with Toyota.

Stewart-Haas Racing has the potential to make such a move with Ford, although Team Penske holds that spot for now. Even if those teams are co-No. 1 teams, the move still holds much promise.

“The sport evolves so fast that there are aspects of it that you realize as time goes on if you’re going to truly put yourself in a position to be at the top of the field each week, there are things you have to do on your own,’’ Stewart said Wednesday.

“Everyone in upper management all agreed that this was the right thing for our company, and we were committed to being able to do this and do it in the right way. We put over six months of thought into it and after that we realized that we feel very comfortable with this decision to branch out and do what we’re doing now.”

Now, it’s up to Chevrolet and its teams to fill the gap of losing Stewart-Haas Racing and remain competitive.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.

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LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024

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LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.

Sunday Clash at the Coliseum: Start time, TV info, race format

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LOS ANGELES – NASCAR is back and back at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Nearly three months after Joey Logano won the Cup title at Phoenix, Cup drivers return to action this weekend to run the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race on Sunday night.

This marks the second consecutive year the series has raced inside the Coliseum, which has hosted the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics.

Details for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 

(All times Eastern)

HEAT RACES: There will be four 25-lap heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top five from each race advance to the Busch Light Clash. The first heat race is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIERS: There will be two 50-lap qualifiers for drivers who did not advance to the Clash through their heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top three finishers in each of the qualifiers advance to the Clash. The 27-car Clash lineup will be finalized by adding one provisional spot for the driver highest in points last season not yet in the Clash field. The first of these two last chance qualifying races is scheduled to begin at 6:10 p.m.

CLASH STARTING LINEUP: To be set by heat races and the Last Chance Qualifiers. Winner of heat 1 will start on the pole for the Clash. Winner of heat 2 will start second. Winner of heat 3 will start third. Winner of heat 4 will start 4th. Runner-up in heat 1 will start fifth and so on.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver intros are at 7:50 p.m. … Invocation by Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome, at 8:07 p.m. … The USC Trojan Marching Band will perform the national anthem at 8:08 p.m. … Actor Rob Lowe will give the command to fire engines at 8:15 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to be waved by USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams at 8:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The Clash is 150 laps (37.5 miles) on the 1/4-mile short track.

STAGES: There will be a stage break at Lap 75 (halfway in the Clash). Wiz Khalifa will perform during the break.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the event, beginning at 4 p.m. . … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 63 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the start of the heat races. Partly cloudy with a high of 61 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the Clash..

LAST TIME: Joey Logano held off Kyle Busch to win the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum. Austin Dillon placed third. .

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