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.

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.