Does NASCAR need more dirt races in the wake of Eldora Speedway success with trucks?

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ROSSBURG, Ohio – Through four editions of the Aspen Dental Dirt Derby, Eldora Speedway has answered one question – can a NASCAR national series deliver an entertaining show on dirt?

Wednesday night’s compelling drive by winner Kyle Larson (who rallied from a lap down) and the redoubtable effort by relative unknown Bobby Pierce (who nearly won a year after finishing second) were the latest examples of how and why Tony Stewart’s historic half-mile oval annually has churned out heroic storylines since its 2013 debut minted Norm Benning as a social-media folk hero.

But the success of the compelling Camping World Truck Series race has prompted a new question: Should there be more dirt races on that circuit’s schedule – or of another NASCAR series?

The top three finishers at the half-mile oval Wednesday night concurred that the idea has merit but with certain modifications and qualifiers.

Larson, who outdueled Pierce and staved off 2015 winner Christopher Bell for the stirring victory, doesn’t want to see dirt races in the Xfinity and Sprint Cup series but believes there are other venues that would work for the truck circuit.

“I think it’s pretty special it’s a truck-only thing,” he said. “There are a lot of other great dirt facilities out there that would be really cool for the truck series.  Knoxville (Raceway in Iowa), for sure, would be an awesome place. They have the (National Sprint Car) Hall of Fame there with suites, so all the rich pavement fans can go there and stay clean. But then the racetrack is cool, too.”

But Bell warned discretion would be necessary in selecting other tracks, noting that the windshields necessary for stock cars are a limiting factor. Because water is necessary to help prep a dirt track, windshields limit the ability to keep a surface wet because of concerns over getting mud on the windshield. In the open-cockpit vehicles that are hosted nearly exclusively by dirt tracks, a few dozen laminated tearoffs help drivers keep their visors clear, and races sometimes are stopped to permit helmet changes.

“Having one (truck) race on dirt definitely helps keep the prestige of the dirt racing going,” Bell said. “If they have more than one race, they’d have to be really careful where they took the trucks because there’s not a lot of places they could go that would race well on dirt. Eldora’s just a really unique place that fits well within the guidelines.”

Third-place finisher Rico Abreu, who calls Eldora “by far, my favorite track in the entire world,” believes NASCAR has latitude in adding dirt races.

“I feel like they can do whatever they want,” he said. “They just have to pick and choose wisely on races that put on good racing. I feel like the trucks are very sensitive to moisture on the surfaces, and you need a track wide enough to make big arcs where you can get the trucks to turn. Eldora is the smallest track the trucks go to besides Martinsville. I feel there’s a few tracks out there they can bounce around off of, but I don’t think the racing is going to get any better than it is here.”

The trucks also have shown that faster isn’t necessarily better on dirt, either. Abreu turned a 12.7-second lap last year in qualifying for an open-wheel race at Eldora. He was in the 21-second bracket Wednesday night in his Toyota.

“Trucks are slower, less power and a lot heavier,” he said. “I think anytime I get to race, I’m happy. I’m in my comfort zone. To run a truck around here is its own feeling. There’s nothing else I ever felt as far as the slowness, the wheelspin and sliding all four tires.”

Larson’s average speed over 150 laps was 41.9 mph, which he joked was his slowest victory since running a box stock go kart as a 7-year-old.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver believes the NASCAR experience could be duplicated on dirt elsewhere but favors cautious growth.

“There are a lot of other dirt tracks that have nice facilities, just like Eldora does,” he said. “But I think if you get too many of them on the schedule, it takes away from how special they are. Or at least this event. If it happened to just stay Eldora (as) for the only dirt race on the schedule, I think it would be cool also.”

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch ends the season No. 1

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The 2019 season is over and Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup champion. And not surprisingly, the younger Busch brother also ends the season as No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

Busch received 39 of 40 possible points to take the No. 1 spot, followed by the other three Championship 4 contenders: Martin Truex Jr. (35 points), and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (tied for third place with 28 points each).

The biggest surprises in this week’s standings were Xfinity Series champ Tyler Reddick in fifth and Gander Outdoors Truck Series champ Matt Crafton in sixth.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Finally gets that second title. Last week: Second.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (35 points): Inexcusable pit mistake left him as the championship runner-up for the second year in a row. Last week: Fourth.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin (28 points): Came so close to his first championship, only to be fall short yet again. Could this be the closest he’ll get? Last week: First.

(tie) 3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Needed a bit more help than he got going against the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut. Still, a very strong season regardless. Last week: Third.

5. Tyler Reddick (18 points): It’s hard enough to win one championship, but back-to-back championships with two different teams? Last week: Unranked.

6. Matt Crafton (14 points): Wins the championship without even winning a race (in fact, his last win was more than two years ago). Thrived on his underdog status. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Finished 11th or better, including a win at Talladega, in five of the last six playoff races. Last week: Fifth.

(tie) 8. Joey Logano (11 points): Ends year with four consecutive top 10s, but he fell short in making it to the championship round and defending last year’s title. Last week: Eighth.

(tie) 8. Erik Jones (11 points): Ends season with four top 10s in last five races. That bodes well for next season. Last week: Seventh.

10. Christopher Bell (6 points): Missed his chance to add an Xfinity title to his Truck championship. Still, with eight wins, had an outstanding season. Up next: a promotion to the Cup Series. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Kyle Larson (5 points), Clint Bowyer (5 points), Cole Custer (4 points), Austin Hill (2 points), Brad Keselowski (1 point), Brett Moffitt (1 point).

Zane Smith joins GMS Racing for full-time Truck Series ride

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Zane Smith will compete full-time for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 20, joins the team after competing part-time with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year, where his best result in 10 races was fifth twice.

He will be GMS Racing’s fourth full-time entry next year, joining Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum. Sam Mayer will compete part-time.

Smith will have veteran Kevin “Bono” Manion as his crew chief.

“When I got the offer from Mike Beam asking me to run a truck full-time for GMS Racing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Smith said in a press release. “GMS is a championship-caliber team and to be a part of an organization like theirs is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Manion again. He has a lot of experience and I know we will be a great team.”

Manion, who has 24 wins across all three national NASCAR series since 2003, joins GMS Racing after serving as a crew chief for DGR-Crosley in 2019, including working with Rookie of the Year Tyler Ankrum. Manion was crew chief for Smith in 2018 when he made his Truck Series debut at Gateway and finished fifth.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing and Zane (Smith) for the 2020 season,” Manion said in a press release. “With GMS Racing’s championship caliber equipment and Chevrolet support, we have all the resources to win some races and be in the hunt for the 2020 Championship. I got the opportunity to crew chief Zane (Smith) in his first Gander Trucks start in 2018 at Gateway and we worked really well together. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

Sponsorship and an assigned truck number for Smith will be announced at a later date.

Penalty report from Homestead-Miami Speedway

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NASCAR issued four fines and one suspension for lug nut violations during its championship weekend in Miami.

Cup Series

Mike Wheeler, crew crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

Xfinity Series

Mike Shiplett, crew chief on Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

Truck Series

Steve Lane, the owner of On Point Motorsports and crew chief on Danny Bohn‘s No. 30 Toyota, was fined $5,000 and suspended one points race for two unsecured lug nuts. The No. 30 truck competed part-time this season and made 16 starts. The team told NBC Sports it will not appeal the penalty.

Trip Bruce III, crew chief on Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, was fined $2,500 for one unsecured lug nut.

Other

NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension to Jeffrey Schmidt for violating its substance abuse policy.

Truck Series gets minor name change for 2020

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Four days after the end of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, NASCAR announced the series will receive a minor name change for the 2020 season.

The series will be called the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series when the season starts in February at Daytona International Speedway.

This is the second name change for the series in two years.

This season saw the name change from the Camping World Truck Series, which had been the title from 2009-2018.

Gander Outdoors and Camping World are owned by the same company.

Next year will also see a different name for the Cup Series. With the series going to a new sponsorship model, it will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series.