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Kligerman: NASCAR teams blowing money on an idea whose time has gone with the wind

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If I asked “What is the sport’s single biggest issue?” to 10 people in racing, nine would have a single-word reply.

Money.

The other would rant about something to the effect of “Better back in ’86! Cuz Earnnnnhardt! Real tracks! Real men! Marlboro Reds!” Anyone my age or 20 years my senior would agree out of fear but counter with a tepid smile and say, “The racing is better now.”

And it is, but for some reason I can’t explain, we continually self-inflict pain in the form of unnecessary expenditures.

Back in 2011, I was driving for Brad Keselowski Racing, which was then a small, upstart truck series team (it since has evolved into a major contender with significant Ford support). It was my first chance at a full-time ride in NASCAR.

The deal came together incredibly late for this young, naive, hopeful driver. The ride was supposed to go to someone who had more funding. I had fended them off using the incredible dark witchcraft of … a cell phone.

Months into the endeavor, our corporate helpers had arranged quite an exciting opportunity. Our small team would get “wind tunnel time,” which is how it works for most. The manufacturer buys a massive quantity of hours and then resells or allocates time to teams.

In modern-day racing, this is the equivalent of an Old West miner using a machine to sort through mountain sides. No guarantee of success, but he should be able to find gold a lot quicker.

But wind tunnel time is more expensive than gold. An hour in the more advanced of the two wind tunnels in Charlotte, N.C., can cost upward of $8,000.

The current price of an ounce of gold? $1,213

For my small team, it potentially meant discovering all the secret aerodynamic bits that the rest of the teams already knew. Our gold would come in the form of increased speed.

With very limited engineering staff, our team went to the wind tunnel. And as young drivers do to show we are willing to “learn,” I went along.

After what seemed an eternity of setup and calibration, the wind tunnel fired to life. About 3 minutes later, it all started to quiet down.

I had seen nothing. You couldn’t see the air. It was simply a loud noise. Then everything stopped.

We hovered around a small laptop to see the downforce numbers. To our dismay, the gains were nil. No worries, we had eight more hours to figure it out.

Over the next eight hours. I believe we found about a half-count of downforce. On the last run, I had grown angry as a 20-year-old driver who put everything on the line and raised an insane amount of money to simply race in circles.

It all seemed insane.

Instead of air flowing over the truck, I imagined dollar bills gracefully flowing over the front nose, the windshield and the roof. The wasted cash slammed forcefully into the spoiler and then disappeared into the exhaust tunnel, eventually funneling directly into the pockets of the owner of this building and its giant fan.

Here we were wasting time trying to learn something everyone in the sport already knew. It was incredibly frustrating to spend so many precious dollars with zero quantifiable gain for the sport.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: A brief history on wind tunnels. They initially were constructed more than 100 years ago for the study of air over solid objects and were used in early airplane development, military applications and the space program — one of the most famous tunnels is adjacent to a NASA research base in Langley, Va. The automobile and racing industries discovered practical uses for cars in wind tunnels around the same time.  As seen in the photo with this column, tunnels still remain used for development of Detroit production lines structured around optimizing fuel efficiency )

In the early years of auto racing, aerodynamics were as mysterious as the outer reaches of space. But in the last 15 years, I would argue that nothing of actual real world value has been gained from rolling a stock car into a wind tunnel.

The basics and the complexities are all known quantities. We are simply spending money within a very small box, all trying to reach the exact same conclusion.

The worst part is the byproduct: Consistently allowing the racing to become more aero dependent. No matter how often we lower the spoiler, or cut the splitter or change the rules. The teams will go to the wind tunnel and gain it back. It’s one of the world’s most expensive games of cat and mouse.

And I guarantee that no fan has ever said to another, “Man I just love that Matt Kenseth is leading this race because he has 20 more counts of downforce that his engineers found in the wind tunnel over Jimmie Johnson in second place.”

If those words ever have been uttered, I will eat one of the Nike shoes I wore on my ride up to Colossus at Bristol.

The thing is, we simply need to aim at providing our fans with great racing. Because the teams and manufacturers all know how generally to approach aerodynamics, there are no secrets anymore. There’s just unnecessary engineering for the sake of existence.

It’s a bit like a single young man who desperately wants a girlfriend. He buys expensive clothes, gets a snazzy haircut with expensive gel and buys a car he can’t possibly afford — all to impress a young lass.

Eventually they meet, and after 10 minutes of initially seeming madly in love, she’ll tell him she really just loves him for his jokes, laugh and kind nature — and hates his very expensive “ugly car.”

He therefore decides to buy more expensive clothes and a more expensive car.

It’s this sort of waste of precious dollars that is causing the biggest issue in racing.

We don’t have a funding problem. We have a spending problem.

And the wind tunnel uses its turbine fins to whip up an exorbitant amount of that spending.

Let’s ban the wind tunnels and stop this conspicuous consumption.

My proposition is to allow the manufacturers two full days of wind tunnel time at the beginning of each season. They are allowed to bring two cars of their choice from each series in which they race. After their two days are up, no NASCAR vehicle can enter a wind tunnel until the next year.

Compared to the 300-plus hours Cup teams annually spend in wind tunnels, this would be the largest cost savings the sport has seen.

I know there is one entity that will strongly disagree: The owners of the wind tunnels. But I am sorry. My fear is if we don’t do this soon, wind tunnels will face a lack of business anyway. Not because of an indifference to knowledge.

Because there won’t be any race teams left to gain the knowledge.

Brad Keselowski wins Xfinity pole at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski will start first in today’s Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway after claiming his first pole since November 2016 at Texas.

The Team Penske driver posted a top speed of 184.382 mph. It’s his 21st career pole and the first pole for Keselowski and Penske at the track.

Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Cole Custer. It his Custer’s third front row start this season.

The top five is completed by Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Brandon Jones.

It’s Reddick’s best qualifying effort of the season.

Kaz Grala, making the first series start for Fury Race Cars, qualified 16th. Though he competed in the first 10 races of the season with JGL Racing, FRC does not have any owner points and would have missed the race if qualifying had been rained out.

In his fifth start of the year, Timmy Hill will start 24th after advancing to the second round for the first time this season.

Ryan Reed did not make a qualifying attempt after his No. 16 Ford did not get through inspection in time. He will start from the rear.

The cars of Chad Finchum, Mike Harmon and Morgan Shepherd failed to qualify.

The Alsco 300 is set to begin at 1:13 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

Click here for qualifying results.

JGL Racing owner James Whitener diagnosed with liver failure

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CONCORD, N.C. – JGL Racing owner James Whitener was diagnosed with liver failure in January and is going on a transplant list to receive a new one, he confirmed in a statement to NBC Sports.

Whitener, 54, formed JGL Racing in 2014. Based in Denver, North Carolina, the team fields the No. 28 Ford driven by Dylan Lupton.

The team had fielded the No. 24 for Kaz Grala until earlier this month when Grala was let go.

Grala said Whitener’s medical costs played a part in the decision to shutter the team. The team originally stated the decision was due to lack of sponsorship.

“I found out kind of before the Dover race that things were looking a little bit shakey, unfortunately,” Grala said. “(Whitener) has some medical issues unfortunately. He didn’t really want to spend the money to continue running, which is understandable.”

Below is Whitener’s statement.

“What Kaz said is true that I have health issues. In fact, in January I found out that my liver is failing and I’m going on the transplant list for a new liver. It was not a decision to stop the No. 24 team with everyone just finding out after Dover – that was not the case at all. It had been discussed among the team really since Las Vegas. I really wish Kaz the best and hope I was instrumental in helping him start his Xfinity career. I watched him in the trucks last year and thought he would do well in our cars. All of my guys at JGL have helped me build this team and accomplish what we have up to this point and I thank all of them for their hard work and dedication in building both the No. 24 and No. 28 teams.”

“Since I couldn’t continue building both teams this year and helping young drivers as I have done in the past, I decided to give Kaz the three Roush cars along with parts and pieces to give him the opportunity to keep running and building on his career. Myself and everyone at JGL Racing wish him the best. Fury Racing has hired most of the employees from the 24 team that ran the first 10 races, so hopefully they can continue Kaz’s success with their program.  I would like to thank Kaz Grala and Dylan Lupton for being a part of the JGL Racing program.”

Through nine starts this season, Lupton is 29th in the point standings. His best finish is 17th at Texas Motor Speedway. Since 2014, JGL Racing has six top fives and 12 top 10s. Its best result is third in the July 2017 race at Daytona.

Today’s Xfinity race at Charlotte: Start time, lineup and more

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Ten races into the Xfinity season there have been 10 different winners. Will the streak continue today at Charlotte Motor Speedway?

The record for the most different winners to start a season in the Xfinity Series is 13 in 1988.

Here are all the details for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Dhani Jones, retired NFL player, author and host of CNBC’s Adventure Capitalists, will give the command to start engines at 1:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 6:30 a.m. Qualifying is at 10:10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 12:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 12:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: The USO Show Troupe will perform the anthem at 1:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 12:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 84 degrees and 75 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Ryan Blaney won this race a year ago. Kevin Harvick was second. Austin Dillon was third. Alex Bowman won at Charlotte in October. Sam Hornish Jr. was second. Blaney was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Ryan Blaney to appear on NBC’s Taken tonight

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Ryan Blaney will guest star on the NBC show “Taken” at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

When a dangerous weapons dealer smuggles his wares into New York City, Bryan (Clive Standen) teams up with an FBI agent (Blaney) in a race to stop the weapons dealer before he reaches the safety of international waters.

“When I first read the script I didn’t know what to expect,” Blaney said. “But I was excited when I read it and then when we actually started to do the chase scene, it was really cool being behind the wheel of the car and working with Clive, who was in the passenger seat. To see his passion for all of this, and how much of a cool guy he is, he’s definitely a great actor and great to talk to as well. It’s been nice getting to know him.”

Blaney also said he appreciated what happened behind the scenes.

“Being out in the freezing weather in Toronto has been a humbling experience for sure,” he said. “I always like to see how other professions work, and honestly, the film and TV industry reminds me of the racing side, because a lot of people just see the finished product – they just see us going on the track, or they just see what’s on TV and they don’t realize how much work goes into making it. There’s a lot more work behind the scenes and it definitely opens your eyes as to how much work goes into just one scene, let alone a full episode.”