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.”

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.