Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Upon Further Review: Indianapolis

1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS — Moments after watching Toyotas dominate Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson expressed hope that something can be done to compete with those cars.

“I think if you go back and look at the amount of revisions the Toyotas and Fords have had versus the Chevy, we’re still with the original car,’’ Johnson said after a late rally gave him a third-place finish. “I’m very hopeful and have heard some talk behind closed doors that maybe we’ll get a little love and finally get an update to the SS.

“We’ve been beating our heads against the wall and (are) highly frustrated because we can’t get within a certain amount of lap time from those guys. I really think that it’s more than what we’re doing as a team. There’s some free speed and overall body shape that hopefully we’ll get some love on.’’

Since NASCAR doesn’t like to make changes close to the Chase, any such help should not be expected this season.

Instead, the solution is simple for Chevrolet and Ford teams.

“It just means we’ve got to work,’’ Tony Stewart said after his 11th-place finish about catching the Toyotas. “They’ve done their homework, and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, so it’s our job to go do our homework and get caught up. The one thing about all the Chevy teams and everybody at SHR, we don’t stop working. We’ll keep thrashing until the end.’’

With the playoffs less than two months away, Ford’s Joey Logano admits it’s “past crunch time’’ for teams in trying to contend with Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing.

“We need to pick it up a little bit,’’ he said. “We’re not far off; we’ve been close. We need to just find a little bit more to beat them.’’

Pit strategy helped put Logano and fellow Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski out front briefly Sunday but they couldn’t stay with the Toyota cars.

“Maybe they were a little stronger than what they’ve been,’’ Logano said. “I was looking in my mirror and I said I’m the Lone Ranger up here by myself … in front a bunch of Gibbs cars.’’

Sunday’s race was scary for Chevrolet and Ford teams. Kyle Busch won the pole and led 149 of 170 laps for Toyota. Teammate Matt Kenseth was second. Teammate Denny Hamlin finished fourth despite his seventh penalty for speeding on pit road this year. Martin Truex Jr. faltered late but finished eighth, and Carl Edwards was running at the front until he was collected in a late crash.

At times, Toyota had the top four cars on the track.

It wasn’t just Sunday that Toyotas were strong. It was all weekend. About 10 minutes after the opening practice session began, one team’s radio crackled with the comment: “Toyotas are in their own … league again.’’

It was easy to miss the foreshadowing. Stewart’s final Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis and Jeff Gordon’s return — filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. — obscured the strength of Toyotas to many outside the Cup garage.

After the race, Toyota’s dominance was clear to all. Hamlin’s comment afterward could prove unsettling to some teams.

“We’ll just keep digging and get ready for the Chase,’’ Hamlin said.

Indianapolis marked the second consecutive race Toyotas have dominated. Toyota drivers led 299 of 301 laps the previous week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Kenseth winning.

Until New Hampshire, Toyotas had been strong but not as dominant. However, look back at the last four races at tracks that will host Chase events — New Hampshire, Charlotte, Dover and Kansas — and the numbers are troubling to Chevy and Ford teams.

Toyota drivers each won at those tracks with Kenseth (New Hampshire and Dover), Truex (Charlotte) and Busch (Kansas). Toyota drivers combined to lead 78.5 percent of the 1,368 laps run at those tracks.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to run away with the Chase because anything can happen. Remember, had Busch won three races in the regular season instead of four last year, he would not have had enough bonus points to advance to the second round.

Sunday’s showing, though, was hard for Chevy and Ford teams to not worry about.

“When you get your butt whupped, you don’t want to ignore the fact that they’re running well, no matter what race track that is,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. (and interim driver Jeff Gordon) crew chief Greg Ives said. “It’s one of those things that improvement is evident.

“But like I told my guys after the race, we’ve got to make improvements with our head up. You can’t get down on yourself, you can’t get down on the team.’’

It’s a message many teams are espousing as the season moves closer to the playoffs and Toyotas continue to show they’re the dominant manufacturer.

PIT STOPS

Austin Dillon’s ninth-place finish was his best finish in four starts at Indianapolis.

— Kyle Busch’s victory marked the sixth time he’s won at least four Sprint Cup races in a season. The only full-time active driver with more such seasons is Jimmie Johnson with 11 (Jeff Gordon, who is substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr., had 10 such seasons).

— Kyle Busch’s weekend sweep of the Xfinity and Sprint Cup races at Indianapolis marked the 10th time in his career he’s scored a weekend sweep among NASCAR’s top three national series.

Chris Buescher finished a career-high 14th in what was his first career start at Indianapolis.

AJ Allmendinger finished 38th because of overheating issues, the third time in the last six races he’s failed to finish a race. That’s dropped him from 17th to 21st in the points.

— Kyle Busch’s totals from the weekend in both Xfinity and Sprint Cup: He led all 20 laps in his heat and 62 of the 63 laps in Saturday’s Xfinity race. He led 149 of 170 laps in Sunday’s Cup race. He led a total of 231 of 253 laps (91.3 percent) of laps in both races. That’s after winning the pole for both series.

Kurt Busch completed all 170 laps Sunday and continues to have run every lap (5,673) this season. Next is Brad Keselowski, who has completed all but eight laps this year.

NASCAR releases Cup rules packages for 2021

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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.”