Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Drivers council ‘getting better at understanding what our role is’


FORT WORTH — The Sprint Cup Series’ drivers council has met four times since Speedweeks in Daytona according to Kyle Busch. Members say this year’s edition has better footing than it did in its first season of existence.

“We’re getting better at understanding what our role is as a group,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday night of the council that first met last May at Dover International Speedway.

Earnhardt is one of the nine drivers on the council – down from 10 last season to correspond with the reduction of the field from 43 to 40 cars.

“We’re trying to represent the rest of the field and all the other drivers as best we can, trying to make sure that the things that we’re asking for or working with NASCAR on are things that everybody feels we need,” Earnhardt said.

The council meets with NASCAR officials – but not chairman Brian France – to discuss various issues concerning NASCAR, including safety and competition. Its impact has been seen this year with the introduction of the new overtime rules for the end of races.

“I think we’ve made a lot of great changes in the last 12 months, 24 months,” Earnhardt said. “I’m not saying the council has a lot of credit for it or a lot to do with it, but we definitely have an influence, and it’s a great feeling.”

Earnhardt admitted the council did not get off to a good start.

“We started out so clunky, and it was not working and not doing very well last year,” he said. “By the end of the season, we were a runaway train. It was awesome. We were getting so much accomplished, and we got some new guys, but they’re good guys, guys that know a lot and are very smart.”

On the council with Earnhardt are Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano. New members this year are Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and defending champion Busch. The council includes the defending champion and top finishing driver with each manufacturer. The remaining members are voted on by the drivers.

Keselowski, a surprise addition to the council thanks to the driver vote, has become “one of the leaders” of the group according to Logano.

Following the first meeting of the year, during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, North Carolina, Busch said he had heard meetings last season “weren’t quite as pleasant” as his first one.

Friday at TMS, Busch echoed Earnhardt’s feelings on the 2016 edition of the council.

“The experience on the council has been good,” Busch said. “We’ve certainly conversed about a lot of different topics. Some big, some small. Some that are nonsense probably to others, but mean something to us drivers. It’s just a part of the sport and trying to help develop and make it more exciting and make it better for everyone involved. Not necessarily just the media, but of course to the fans, the drivers, the owners, the crew chiefs and the road guys too.”

The drivers council is also learning to work with the Race Team Alliance, which includes nearly every Sprint Cup team. Furniture Row Racing and Wood Brother Racing are not members.

“We are starting to strengthen our relationship with the RTA competition committee and understanding how we need to work with them to go forward over the next several years with the things that we want in the sport and changes that we think could be better,” Earnhardt said.

“It’s awesome to have them all in there and pushing real hard, and everybody is wanting the same things. It gets you fired up about what direction the sport is going in.”

Texas Truck race results: Carson Hocevar scores first series win

Texas Truck race results
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Carson Hocevar was in front after the leaders crashed in overtime and scored his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Texas Truck race results

Rookie Nick Sanchez, who led 168 of the 172-lap race, dueled reigning series champion Zane Smith on the last lap when Sanchez’s truck hit Smith’s. As Sanchez tried to regain control of his vehicle, he was hit from behind by Hocevar. That contact sent Sanchez into Smith. Christian Eckes also was collected.

Hocevar’s first win came in his 59th series start.

Chase Purdy placed second. Stewart Friesen finished third. Ty Majeski was fourth. Jake Garcia completed the top five.


Richmond Xfinity results, driver points


RICHMOND, Va. — Chandler Smith won a stage, led a race-high 83 laps and rallied late to score his first career Xfinity win Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

MORE: Richmond Xfinity results

MORE: Xfinity points after Richmond race

John Hunter Nemechek placed second. The rest of the top five featured Josh Berry, Kaz Grala and Cole Custer. Austin Hill, who had won three of the first six races of the season, placed ninth.

Hill continues to lead the points. He has a 12-point advantage on Riley Herbst and an 18-point lead on Nemechek heading into the next series race in two weeks at Martinsville.

Chandler Smith scores first career Xfinity win with Richmond victory


RICHMOND, Va. — Chandler Smith held off John Hunter Nemechek to win his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

The 20-year-old Smith took the lead with 12 laps to go and withstood a restart with six laps to go to earn the victory for Kaulig Racing.

MORE: Richmond race results, driver points

His victory came about a month after being passed for the lead with two laps to go at Las Vegas and finishing third day.

“It obviously wasn’t in God’s works for me that and I was fine with that, I was good with that,” said Smith, who will make his Cup debut Sunday. “I knew there was something bigger and better that He was playing it out for me and I just had to be faithful and keep on trucking. Here’s proof of it.”

Nemechek was second. Josh Berry placed third and was followed by Kaz Grala and Cole Custer.

Justin Allgaier finished 13th to win the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

“Today was weird because of how we finished,” Allgaier said. “Given the same circumstances a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, 13th wasn’t going to win the Dash 4 Cash but today it did.”

Stage 1 winner: Chandler Smith

Stage 2 winner: Josh Berry

Who had a good race: A caution caught Justin Allgaier a lap down, ending his chances for a top-five finish but he was able to bounce back and win the Dash 4 Cash for a fifth time. … Derek Kraus finished 10th in his Xfinity debut. … Chris Hacker placed 14th in his Xfinity debut.

Who had a bad race: Riley Herbst had his career-long streak of top-10 finishes snapped after nine races. He placed 23rd after he was hit and spun late in the race.

Notable: This is the second time in the last four races that there has been a first-time series winner. Sammy Smith scored his first series win last month at Phoenix.

Next: The series is off until April 15 at Martinsville Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Daniel Suarez, Ross Chastain move on from COTA incident


RICHMOND, Va. — Daniel Suarez says he’s been trying to “work on myself” after conflicts with teammate Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman last weekend at COTA but noted that if NASCAR doesn’t make adjustments with restarts on road courses, he’ll change his driving style.

NASCAR fined Suarez $50,000 on Wednesday for hitting another vehicle on pit road after the race. Suarez hit Chastain’s car at pit entrance and hit the back of Bowman’s car while they were both on pit road.

MORE: Cup starting lineup at Richmond 

“I’ve been trying to work on myself mostly during the week, trying to clear my mind and reset,” Suarez said Saturday at Richmond Raceway. “My team, we’re good. I think the issue wasn’t really with one driver. I feel like it’s more as an industry, how we are allowing to have those kind of bump-and-run restarts at the end of the races at road courses.

“I don’t think that’s right.”

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to go by. Suarez finished 27th.

Chastain said he and Suarez have moved on from last week’s incident after talking this week.

“Every household on this earth has their moments of arguments and we had ours,” Chastain said Saturday.

“We’re family. We’re in the same house, right. It’s in our name. It’s Trackhouse. No matter what, we all think we have to put that behind and know that moving forward we’re brothers. … We’re brothers at Trackhouse and we’re going to be stronger together.”

Suarez is among the number of drivers who have raised concerns about the rough driving in the series. The Next Gen car is more durable and can take more hits — as evident in the Clash at the Coliseum to start the year when drivers barreled into the back of cars in the corners to slow down.

Add the emphasis of winning, less respect for one another and the result is the type of racing on display at the end of the race at Circuit of the Americas, as drivers charged down a long straightaway before braking hard for a tight turn and making contact with one another.

So, what can be done?

“I don’t have the answers to that,” Suarez said. “All I know is that NASCAR is working toward trying to make a better solution for some of these restarts. It doesn’t look right. This sport looks embarrassing.

“That’s not real. Just go into the corner and bump three cars to push people out of that way, that’s not real. We know that. That’s how some people got top fives and top 10s last week and some of the guys that were fast, like myself, finished 27th.

“If NASCAR does something about it, that’s amazing. If they don’t I’ll just join the party.”