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Brad Keselowski unplugged on sport’s direction

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RICHMOND, Va. — It started off as a question about lug nuts and what Brad Keselowski’s take was on the hot topic in the sport, but, as happens from time to time, Keselowski took a look at the bigger issue in NASCAR that the lug nut debate is only a part of.

He noted “that as a sport we have some major decisions to make as to how we want to be identified.”

He discussed what the lug nut debate meant and how pit road impacts races. He also mentioned as the sport looked at what direction it needs to take who truly needs to be making those decisions and how fan input should be taken.

Here’s what he said to reporters at Richmond International Raceway:

WHERE ARE YOU ON THE LUGNUT ISSUE? SHOULD NASCAR GO BACK TO REQUIRING FIVE?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: “It hasn’t been an issue that I have put a lot of thought into. I think the only real example we’ve had since the new rule was implemented being a difference maker or potential safety hazard was at Texas with Carl (Edwards).

“My line on it is that as a sport we have some major decisions to make as to how we want to be identified. How do we want to compete? What are those aspects? Whether that is NASCAR themselves, the drivers, RTA (Race Team Alliance), the fans, we have to make a decision of what tools do we want to determine who is a winner and who is great. Who is not? The history of the sport has been a balanced approach. That is why we don’t have spec cars. The cars are all different. Even though they might not look it, they are all different. You can put an elite driver in a 40th-place race car and he might run 35th. That is where the sport is right now.

“That has changed in the six or seven years I have been in Sprint Cup where the car and driver have always been significant. but we have seen this emergence of the pit crew to be more and more important over the years. We are seeing that become part of the race format, the race on pit road, more so than ever before. It kind of harkens back to the older days of our sport where if you had a bad pit stop, more times than not if you had a fast car you could overcome it. Now the increased level of parity with the cars has put us to a spot to where it is much harder as a team or driver to have a car or a driver that has enough talent to overcome something that might happen on pit road.

“So this specific change has been a direction that has again increased the significance of pit road. As it is, my stance in the sport is that we have to be very careful to make a decision collectively of how we want to race, how we want to compete and how we want to determine who is great. Do we want to determine who is great off of pit road? Then we should just have a pit road competition every weekend if we come to that conclusion and every race would be a pit stop competition. I don’t think we want that.

“I don’t think we want pit road to mean nothing either. I have seen that side too. I have seen the Truck Series when they had pit road as lock-down and retain your position and halftime breaks. I think that took a little something away from the sport. As a whole, the percentages that dictate the outcome of greatness, of a winner, have shifted and continue to shift more and more toward the pit crew and in some ways I like that because I have a great pit crew.

“In other ways, I am not sure I like it. I would like to see the team and the cars and the drivers not lose the ability to affect their days. In a nutshell, when I read between the lines of any driver on their comments of that I think that is really what they are trying to get at. Certainly there are some safety implications, which I brought up with Carl and that thing, but in the grand scheme of things those are not minor or major, maybe somewhere in-between in my opinion. I think more or less we all wear the glasses as drivers, teams, owners, sanctioning body, of trying to determine the other pieces of the puzzle which is so critical to determining who we are as a sport.”

HOW DO YOU GET TO THE PLACE OF DECIDING WHAT THE SPORT WANTS TO BE?

KESELOWSKI: “I think collaboration. I think if we can herd all the cats into the same room and get into an active dialogue, which I think we have made major steps on over the last year or so, certainly not all the steps we want to make but still major steps, and understand that there is going to be a lot of self-interest. Of course I have a great pit crew, so I have self-interest and I am not afraid to admit that.

“I am sure there are a handful of other guys who say they have a great pit crew or new widget that makes their team great on pit road and you don’t want to lose that advantage. Sometimes you wear those glasses where our own interests supersede the interests of the sport. That is tough to get through but in time will work themselves out if everybody collaborates.”

IS THAT ULTIMATELY THE FAN’S DECISION? DON’T THEY ULTIMATELY DECIDE WHAT THE DIRECTION OF THE SPORT IS?

KESELOWSKI: “I would answer that with first off Ryan McGee pretty much answered that this week and gave the answer I want to give. I like quotes. I like to read about things. I always remember when I am asked that question, the Henry Ford answer when he was asked about painting his cars a different color than black.

“He basically said there were a lot of customers out there that thought there should be different color options on the Model T and he answered back that, ‘If I would have asked the people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.’ Our fans are our consumer and our customers and are very, very important to us and they always should be and will be.

“In a global sense we know what is best for the sport when we are honest and open with each other, more so than anyone else. Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. said this once to me being a Redskins fan and I am a Detroit Lions fan, ‘I can general manage a football team from 1,000 miles away and make all kinds of decisions that I think are great, but I don’t live it every day and at the end would probably just make it worse.’ That doesn’t mean I am not important as a fan to my football team, but I don’t live it every day and know all the nuances and key players and stakeholders, etc.

“We can get there, we just need to focus on our own. Our fans are important but listening to every fan sentiment or answer is not the ticket.”

Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

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Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

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JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.