(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Roush Fenway Racing fulfills need for speed for first time since 2014

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Even before Kyle Busch‘s pole-winning time was disallowed for failing post-qualifying inspection Friday night, Roush Fenway Racing had a reason to look forward to Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

All three Roush cars moved up one spot in the starting field, with Trevor Bayne now starting third, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. fifth and Greg Biffle rolling off 14th.

For the first time since the second Michigan race of 2014, all three RFR entries will start a Sprint Cup race in the top 15.

It’s not a visit to victory lane, which RFR hasn’t experienced in the Sprint Cup Series since Carl Edwards won at Sonoma Raceway in 2014. But it does represent a minor accomplishment for the team that struggled in 2015 and failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time.

Bayne, driver of the No. 6 Ford, called his fourth top-five start in 96 races and his first at a non-restrictor plate track a “pleasant surprise.” In 2015, his first full-time season in the Cup Series, Bayne’s average start was 27.9.

“We saw that we had speed last year at Kentucky and Darlington with this low-downforce package,” Bayne said. “I would say (third) is a surprise for sure. I was hoping for a top-15 day. That’s what we’re working towards and that’s our goal every week – to run to top-15 until we can run top-10 every week and be consistent and don’t make mistakes.”

Two spots behind him is Stenhouse. In his third season driving the No. 17, Stenhouse earned his sixth top-five start in 114 races. Atlanta is the site of Stenhouse’s only Sprint Cup pole, coming in 2013.

“Stenhouse is (starting fifth), so it’s not just a one fluke deal,” Bayne said. “I think we’ve got some speed in our cars, so it comes from a lot of effort and getting through the hard times. We’ll have hard times to come. Everybody does, but I think we can fight through it as a group.”

Stenhouse’s average start in 2015 was 23.6. The team’s best average starter last season was Biffle at 19.9, but the driver who has been with Roush since 1998 will begin Sunday in 14th.

Improvements made by his team helped Biffle gain 14 spots in qualifying from what he ran earlier in Friday’s lone practice session, when he was 28th fastest (187.386 mph).

But leading the way for RFR on Sunday will be Bayne, whose previous best start at the 1.54-mile track was 29th. The 25-year-old driver will be looking for his first top-five finish since winning the 2011 Daytona 500 in only his second-career Sprint Cup start.

Roush will seek to put all three cars in the top 15 at the end of a race for the first time since the Bristol night race in 2014. That was the weekend after all three started in the top 15 for the last time at Michigan.

“People aren’t on the ground going through it with you from the media side of things or fans,” Bayne said. “They just see your results and they want to beat you down and say, ‘What’s going on?’ They think you just kick back on the couch and hang out and go to the race track and run 29th, and that’s not what we do.”

The last time RFR was victorious in a Sprint Cup race at Atlanta was in 2008 with Edwards, who left the team at the end of 2014 for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“One of the things that’s been preached to us from Kevin Kidd, Robbie Reiser and Jack Roush is execution. They say our cars are gonna get better, we’re gonna work through it, we’re gonna get our cars faster and when those times come, we have to be able to execute and I feel like we did that today.”

In Saturday morning’s final practice session, Stenhouse and Biffle were 13th and 14th fastest. Bayne was 25th fastest after just one lap.

NASCAR releases Cup rules packages for 2021

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NASCAR announced Thursday its rules package slate for the 2021 Cup Series season, a day after next year’s schedule was unveiled.

For returning tracks to the 36-race schedule, the rules are largely unchanged save for Darlington Raceway.

Cup teams will use the 750 horsepower, low downforce race package at the 1.366-mile track. It’s the package that’s been used this season on road courses and short tracks. Nashville Superspeedway, the 1.333-mile track being added in 2021, will use the same package.

The packages for the other new race tracks – Road America, Circuit of the Americas and the Indy road course – have not been decided on.

“We constantly review the race packages to try to put on the best possible racing for our fans,” John Probst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice Presiden of Innovation and Racing Development said in a media release. “When he brought in the short track / road course package this season, Darlington was not part of it due to its unique size. We’ve been evaluating data from both race packages, as well as feedback from drivers, teams and OEMs and feel that the 750 hp / low downforce package best fits the track.”

Other rule changes include:

  • Teams are restricted to 150 restricted computational fluid dynamics runs per calendar month.
  • Teams must compete in a minimum of 16 points events with a short block sealed engine (up from 13).

Click here for the rule packages for each Cup race in 2021.

Team Penske looks to extend Talladega dominance amid 2020 woes

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If there’s one thing Talladega Superspeedway is known for, it’s chaos.

But for as much chaos as the 2.66-mile track can provide, Talladega has another quality it produces: consistency in Victory Lane.

In the 2010s and up through the June Cup race, the consistency has been produced by Team Penske.

Since May 2012, Penske drivers have won nine of 17 races. Brad Keselowski has four of his five Talladega wins, Joey Logano has three and Ryan Blaney has won each of the last two races by .007 seconds.

The other eight races were won by Roush Fenway Racing (two wins), Hendrick Motorsports (two), Front Row Motorsports (one), Chip Ganassi Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (one) and Joe Gibbs Racing (one).

When it comes to races like this weekend’s playoff event (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), one would expect even more chaos and less consistency among winners.

You’d be wrong on the latter.

Penske’s three drivers have combined to win five of the last six Talladega playoff races. The winner of the sixth race was Aric Almirola in the 2018 playoff race.

Last week Keselowski observed how races at superspeedways have “ebbs and flows” with them currently resembling “a MAVTV demo derby just a little faster.”

On Thursday, the 2012 Cup champion credited Team Penske having a “great” driver lineup with its ability to win in a form of racing that’s constantly evolving.

“I think we have the strongest driver lineup in Cup right now,” Keselowski said. “I know that’s probably arguable and it’s completely subjective. That’s played to our favorite tracks like the plate tracks and we’re going to continue to try and leverage it.”

While Blaney has enjoyed recent success at Talladega with his two victories, Keselowski looks to re-establish his winning ways at the track he has five victories, the most among active drivers.

After winning the 2017 playoff race, he has five consecutive finishes of 13th or worse, including two DNFs for wrecks.

“It’s been up and down for me,” Keselowski said. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were going to win the race with two or three (laps) to go. We were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. It’s a love-hate affair with that track for sure and hopefully we’ll love it. I feel like we’re due for a good finish there.”

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race after miserable outings in the last two playoff races. He finished 34th at Bristol (power steering problems) and 13th at Las Vegas.

Talladega could be the relief Keselowski’s teammates are looking for as well.

Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, hasn’t had a top-five finish in the last nine races. Logano, while he has two top fives in the playoffs (third at Darlington and Richmond), hasn’t won since the March race at Phoenix. That was the last race before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Keselowski said “it is a bit strange” that Team Penske can view Talladega as a track where it can turn its season around.

“We haven’t been where we want to be on the mile-and-a-halfs, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “The mile-and-a-halfs and road courses have been a weak spot for us. The superspeedways and short tracks have been a strong spot for us. Thankfully we have the superspeedway this weekend and couple of short tracks coming up in the next round (Martinsville).

“We need to kind of maximize out strengths and minimize our weaknesses. This weekend is certainly looking like a strength for us. We have high expectations.”

Kaz Grala subs for Natalie Decker in Talladega Truck race

Kaz Grala
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Natalie Decker has not been medically cleared to compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at Talladega (1 p.m. ET on FS1) and will be replaced by Kaz Grala in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet the team announced Thursday.

Decker withdrew from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas after she was not medically cleared shortly before the race. She was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker tweeted Saturday that she was flying home where “more tests (would be) run so they can further evaluate and diagnose.”

No further details about Decker’s condition have been announced.

“We are thankful that Kaz is able to fill in for Natalie this weekend and appreciate him working with our team,” team general manager Cody Efaw said in a press release. “We wish Natalie the best as she works to be as healthy as possible to return to racing.”

Grala will make his first Truck Series start since 2017. He has 32 career starts in the series, including one win in the 2017 season-opening race at Daytona.

He drove in Austin Dillon’s place earlier this year in the Cup race on the Daytona road course after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19.

“My thoughts will be with Natalie this weekend as I wish her a quick recovery,” Grala said in a press release. “I know she loves the restrictor-plate races, so I feel bad that she’ll have to miss this one, but I hope I can give her something to cheer for on Saturday. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Truck, but the superspeedway races have been very good to me in the past, so I’m really hoping to be able to go grab a win for Niece Motorsports at Talladega.”

FanVision closes due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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FanVision Entertainment, the company that produces video devices used by race fans at NASCAR events, has ceased operations due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was announced in a statement from Racing Electronics, the company which sold and supported FanVision devices at NASCAR tracks through a license with FanVision Entertainment.

Racing Electronics, which is owned by NASCAR, can no longer sell or support the devices.

“We recognize this news will be met with disappointment by motorsports fans across the country who utilized FanVision’s products as part of their at-track experience,” Racing Electronics president Chad Willis said in a statement.

“To help fans and industry members transition to Racing Electronics products, we are working with existing FanVision device owners to solve their race day needs. When Racing Electronics returns to the track, fans and industry members will have access to all the sounds that make racing so special.”