Upon Further Review: Bristol Night Race

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — On one pit stop, a socket came off and slowed Kevin Harvick’s crew. Then came the stop where he fell from first to third because of slow work with a tire.

Just under 200 laps remained in Sunday night’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway and Harvick’s team was finding ways to beat itself again. For the past three years, this team has been one of the sport’s fastest but has lost several chances at wins because of mechanical maladies, pit stop problems or miscues on track.

Sunday night, crew chief Rodney Childers stepped down from the pit box after the latest issue. On the way to a restroom, he collected his thoughts. When he returned to the pit box, he gathered his team.

“Being mad and taking it out on your guys isn’t the right way,’’ Childers told NBC Sports. “I see people do it all the time.’’

Instead, he delivered a different message.

“They were kind of beating themselves up as the night went and it was kind of getting worse and worse every stop,’’ Childers said. “We had a good talk and you could tell in their eyes, they were relieved after I talked to them and told them you’ve got to believe in yourself and if you believe in yourself, we can win this thing.’’

They responded and helped Harvick win his second race of the season.

It’s that type of mentality Harvick said his team needs to have as it moves closer to the playoffs. While many view the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing as the key obstacles to the championship, Harvick isn’t focused on them. He’s focused on his team.

“I feel like if we do everything right, we can be the rabbit,’’ Harvick  told NBC Sports. “We’ve just made some mistakes. We’ve had some things go wrong. We’ve had some miscues. I feel like we’ve fixed pit road. I feel like we’ve overcome a lot of the mistakes. We’ve had a lot of bad luck. There’s just a lot of things that haven’t gone in our particular direction this year, but I feel like the speed of the race cars has been good.’’

“As a whole, I want our team to focus on ourselves. I don’t want them to worry about how fast this guy is running. I don’t want them to worry about how fast that guy is running. I want them to worry about how fast we’re running and how thorough can we be from top to bottom and front to back on that race car and in the preparation from what we do as race drivers to engineers to crew chiefs, and let’s get the most out of our weekend because I believe that will be competitive and have a chance to and be where we need to be when we get to Homestead.’’

WELL NOT DRY FOR TOYOTA

Toyota Racing Development’s president admits that he’s “disappointed” to lose William Byron to Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports next season, but the manufacturer’s well of talent remains deep.

Byron, who leads the points and has won five of the 13 Camping World Truck Series races this season, will drive in the Xfinity Series next year for JR Motorsports.

“William has all to do with our future down the road,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said.

Even with Byron’s departure, Toyota still has 20-year-old Erik Jones, who moves to the Sprint Cup Series next year and 24-year-old Daniel Suarez in the Xfinity Series.

Toyota’s Camping World Truck Series roster includes 21-year-old Christopher Bell, 19-year-old Ben Rhodes and 24-year-old Rico Abreu, among others. Toyota’s development roster includes 16-year-old Todd Gilliland, who has won five of nine K&N Pro Series West races this year, and 20-year-old Tanner Thorson, the 2015 National Midget Driver of the Year, who made his ARCA debut Sunday.

“The reality is more aren’t going got make it than are going to make it,’’ said David Wilson, TRD’s president. “It gets a lot more difficult the further you go up the ladder.’’

With TRD focused on the four rides at Joe Gibbs Racing and two starting next year at Furniture Row Racing, it won’t be easy for young drivers to move up to those seats.

“We’re comfortable now with Furniture Row and Joe Gibbs Racing,’’ Wilson said. “We have to be careful that we don’t push that growth too fast too soon. Getting to the sixth (Sprint Cup) team … was very, very difficult and again you want to make sure you don’t overload your partners and put yourself in a position they’re not performing like we’re performing right now.’’

With Byron moving out of the Toyota camp next year, there could be a place for Gilliland, son of Sprint Cup driver David Gilliland, to possibly run some Truck races for Kyle Busch Motorsports next year. Todd Gilliland will be limited to running at tracks 1.25 miles and under because he is under 18 years old. He won’t turn 18 until May 2018.

“We’re really impressed with what we see with Todd and think he’s truly one of the handful of special guys,’’ Wilson said. “We’re working with him and his father and certainly would love to see him in a Tundra (in the Truck Series) within the next year or two.’’

Thorson is another driver who is intriguing with his success on dirt tracks.

“One of the critical junctures is going from open wheel to a full-bodied car,’’ Wilson said. “How he performs in these couple of ARCA rides and Late Model rides will dictate when he’s ready to attack a K&N season or a full ARCA season. I like Tanner. He’s a good kid. I think he’s got a future.’’

Thorson finished 12th despite overheating issues in his series debut on the dirt track at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

And there’s Bell, who has watched Byron win so often in the Truck Series. Bell is fifth in the series points with one win (Gateway), five top-five finishes and nine top 10s in 13 starts this year.

So how does Toyota judge Bell’s progress, considering what Byron has done this year?

“You do start by judging him by his peers and by his teammates because of the equipment, but you have to really work with each one of these drivers as individuals because every one of them responds differently,’’ Wilson said. “Christopher came up the open-wheel level.

“With Christopher, what we’ve seen is from day one he’s had speed. One of the toughest things for him and this is indicative of USAC and POWRi racing is they do a couple of 10-lap heat races and then a 25-lap main. Christopher, when he sees that green flag, he drives it like a 25-lap main. It’s great he has speed. Now he’s learning his race craft, he’s learning to take care of his car, take care of his tires, manage his equipment. We’re very pleased with what we’ve seen.’’

SURGING FORWARD

Before last month, Chris Buescher had not finished in the top 15 in a Sprint Cup race. Since placing 14th at Indianapolis, he was won at Pocono, finished 30th at Watkins Glen and placed fifth at Bristol.

The Bristol effort moved him to 30th in the points, making him eligible for the Chase three races before the playoffs. He holds a 13-point lead on David Ragan, who is 31st in the season standings.

Buescher said he saw a turnaround at Kentucky last month before they were collected in a wreck, which we called a “pretty big letdown.’’

The team repaired that Kentucky car — a Roush Fenway Racing car — and Front Row Motorsports used it at Bristol. He had his best overall weekend, making the final round of qualifying for the first time this season and scoring the top-five finish.

“This is very satisfying,’’ crew chief Bob Osborne said of the weekend’s effort. “One thing in our favor for this particular weekend is that Chris has a knack for Bristol. We’ve got momentum on our side.’’

PIT STOPS

Kurt Busch’s streak of opening the season by running every lap ended Sunday in a crash at Bristol. He had run 6,273 consecutive laps to open the season before his crash. That equates to 8,691.914 miles.

Michael McDowell finished 19th at Bristol, marking back-to-back top-20 finishes. He placed 17th at Watkins Glen. This marks the first time in McDowell’s career he’s scored back-to-back top-20 finishes in Cup.

— Kevin Harvick’s victory at Bristol was the first at the track for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Denny Hamlin had his season-high eighth speeding penalty on Sunday at Bristol.

— Kyle Busch’s average finish in two races at Bristol this year: 38.5. Average finish in all the other races: 10.7.

— Bristol marked the first time in the last 10 races that Hendrick Motorsports placed all four cars in the top 15: Jimmie Johnson was seventh, Jeff Gordon was 11th, Kasey Kahne was 13th and Chase Elliott was 15th.

Preliminary entry lists for Richmond Raceway

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The NASCAR playoffs continue this weekend at Richmond Raceway for two of the national series.

The Cup Series holds the second race of its opening round while the Xfinity Series kicks off its postseason.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for each race.

Cup – Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 38 entries for the race.

Quin Houff is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 Chevrolet.

Austin Theriault is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet.

Garrett Smithley is entered in RWR’s No. 52 Ford and Spencer Boyd is in the team’s No. 53 Chevrolet.

Martin Truex Jr. won the spring race at Richmond over Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer. Kyle Busch won this race last year over Kevin Harvick and Truex.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Go Bowing 250 (7:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN)

There are 38 entries for the race.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota for the fourth time this season.

Zane Smith is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Hermie Sadler is entered in Ryan Sieg Racing’s No. 38 Chevrolet. It will be his first Xfinity start since this race in 2016.

Joe Graf Jr. is entered in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

There is no driver attached to Rick Ware Racing’s No. 17 Chevrolet.

Cole Custer won at Richmond in the spring over Austin Cindric and Justin Allgaier. Christopher Bell won this race last year over Ross Chastain and Daniel Hemric.

Click here for the entry list.

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Speedway Motorsports, Inc. becomes privately owned

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Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and the Sonic Financial Corp. announced Tuesday that Sonic Financial has completed its acquisition of all outstanding shares of SMI, meaning SMI will become a privately owned company with no presence on the New York Stock Exchange.

By going private, the company is no longer beholden to investors and no longer has to publicly report its finances, including how much money it brings in from admissions and the TV contract and the seating capacity of each of its tracks.

Bruton Smith and his family own and control Sonic Financial Corp. Smith is the founder and majority stakeholder in Speedway Motorsports Inc. SMI operates eight tracks that host Cup races, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

The deal closed with each outstanding share being valued at $19.75 per share in cash. There were 11,434,595 outstanding shares, putting the deal at more than $225 million.

The deal comes as International Speedway Corp. in the process of reaching an agreement to have its outstanding shares sold to NASCAR. The France family owns both ISC and NASCAR. The NASCAR-ISC deal is expected to close this year.

Bump and Run: Will Joe Gibbs Racing’s dominance continue?

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Who you got this weekend at Richmond? Joe Gibbs Racing or the field?

Nate Ryan: Joe Gibbs Racing. Any of its four drivers can win. Kyle Larson is a decent dark horse, though.

Dustin Long: I’ll take the field. Give me Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and others vs. JGR this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll take JGR, given their six wins there in the last eight races. Driver specific: Martin Truex Jr. He’s led in five of the last six visits to Richmond and each time he’s led at least 121 laps. Hard to believe his win in the spring was his first there.

Jerry Bonkowski: This could be one very difficult race for the field. Erik Jones has something to prove after the mechanical issues he suffered in Las Vegas, Kyle Busch has something to prove after his disappointing 19th-place finish, and Denny Hamlin has something to prove to show he truly is one of the best championship contenders. Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr. can basically coast through having secured his spot in Round 2 of the playoffs with his Las Vegas win. Good luck to the field because they’re going to need it. Joe Gibbs Racing is going to dominate Richmond.

 

In 2007, Hendrick Motorsports won 18 of 36 Cup races. Joe Gibbs Racing has won 14 of 27 Cup races this season. Will JGR top what Hendrick did in 2007?

Nate Ryan: Yes, you could argue JGR already has topped it because of the balance among its four drivers. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson accounted for 16 of Hendrick’s 18 victories.

Dustin Long: JGR won’t tie or top Hendrick mark.

Daniel McFadin: I think there’s a good chance JGR will tie that number but not exceed it. The only tracks I would make them locks for wins are Richmond and Phoenix. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I think JGR could potentially tie HMS’s record, but asking for five or more wins in the last nine playoff races is a bit of a stretch. You know that Stewart-Haas, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Roush Fenway Racing are going to do all they can to stop the JGR Express and continue to ratchet up the pressure and performance with each passing race. I can see JGR winning maybe three or even four more playoff races, but not more than that.

 

The Xfinity playoffs begin this weekend at Richmond. Who are you picking to win the championship?

Nate Ryan: Leaning toward Tyler Reddick back-to-back after his impressive fuel-mileage win at Las Vegas. He is learning to beat the field in many ways.

Dustin Long: Christopher Bell triumphs in Miami.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Tyler Reddick to repeat. He’s shown a knack for being able to find multiple ways to win when he doesn’t have the outright best car on a given race day. Also, it’s hard to bet against the guy who has 20 top fives through 26 races.

Jerry Bonkowski: As much as Tyler Reddick would make a great repeat champion, the title this year goes to Christopher Bell. But don’t be surprised if this deal isn’t finished until the final turn on the last lap. This has the potential to be the most exciting championship finish in Xfinity history.

Garrett Smithley rebukes Kyle Busch to ‘tell my story and defend myself’

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Garrett Smithley took to Twitter again on Monday to rebuke Kyle Busch about their contact in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff-opening race in Las Vegas. While Smithley said he understands Busch’s frustration, he insisted he did nothing wrong and chided Busch for not understanding the road Smithley has had to travel to get to where he is today as a race car driver.

I figured given the events of the race Sunday I would quickly tell my story and defend myself (and the sport for that matter),” Smithley tweeted Monday.

MORE: Kyle Busch calls out ‘guys who have never won late model races in Cup’

Here’s Smithley’s tweet Monday, which we have transcribed in its entirety:

Hey everyone, I figured given the events of the race Sunday I would quickly tell my story and defend myself (and the sport for that matter). Starting tomorrow, we’re focused on Richmond!

I didn’t grow up in a racing family, and we certainly didn’t have the funds to race. The only race car my parents ever bought was a used Bandolaro race car when I was 15. I didn’t think I had a chance starting that late. We won enough that a local golf cart shop owner sponsored me and bought me a Legends car. I raced Legends cars in the southeast and won more races & championships.

When I decided to move to Charlotte to pursue a career as a professional driver there is no doubt I had to basically give up the chance to win races in order to ‘fund’ getting the opportunity to race.

You see, I am one of only a handful of drivers that actually has never spent any of my own money to race. So spending money to go win in a late model was never an option, because the only way I can afford to race is if someone else pays for it. Companies & sponsors have a hard time justifying money to run a competitive late model or even truck, when for the same or often much less they can sponsor a NXS or Cup car. The truth is for many of these companies, they know unless they spend the money it takes to sponsor someone like Kyle, they more than likely will not get the marketing value to justify that spend. However, they can justify a spend to be involved in the ‘big show’ to entertain guest(s), etc., for much, much less. The sponsors you see on my cars, Victory Lane Quick Oil Change, Trophy Tractor, FAME … they are real companies supporting NASCAR, and seeing the value of its 65+ million fans. I sell my own sponsorship to afford me the opportunity to do this.

So about last night …

1. I am not mad at Kyle and I get his frustration. I wish that situation would’ve turned out differently but what happened happened.

2. Nobody that is considered ‘in the way’ wants to be. We are simply doing the best we can.

3. Even though sometimes we ALL feel like this ‘sucks’ so bad or why won’t NASCAR ‘fix’ it, we have to remember, it’s not that easy. NASCAR is making positive changes but this is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It all takes time.

4. I do think I can be competitive in the right equipment and I will even go a step further and say, with time and equal funding my teams with Rick Ware Racing, Johnny Davis Motorsports can be competitive too.

5. As my friend Ross would say, ‘The Sun will come up in the morning!

Thanks for all the support – Garrett.”

As of 7:35 p.m. ET, Busch had not replied to Smithley’s latest missive.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan discussed Busch’s reaction to the Smithley incident.

Here are a couple of the initial exchanges between Smithley and Busch after Sunday’s race:

Follow @JerryBonkowski