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Ryan: What Brian France was trying to say before Daytona 500 … and other stray thoughts

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Imagine this beginning to the drivers meeting at Atlanta Motor Speedway this coming Sunday.

NASCAR chairman Brian France, sporting a cowboy hat, snakeskin boots and a faded pair of Wranglers, strides with purpose to a mic at the front of the room and says something akin to the following:

“OK, boys, I don’t usually talk competition, but this is the last race on this old pavement. You’ve got to be careful and conserve those tires! And don’t come looking to NASCAR if you wear them tires out too much! That’s on you, boys — not Goodyear. Let’s go racin’!”

Wouldn’t that seem slightly odd from France, whose greatest strength as NASCAR czar has been his boardroom comfort with cutting multimillion-dollar (sometimes multibillion-dollar) deals that have provided long-term financial security?

Well, it wasn’t that far from what happened before Sunday’s 59th running of the Daytona 500.

In an address and approach that even France twice admitted was unusual for him, he commandeered the start of the prerace meeting and spent about 90 seconds sternly admonishing Cup drivers for something they hadn’t done yet.

NASCAR chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell tried to explain what France meant after the race.

“His point today was just the way we have seen the racing play out,” O’Donnell told a small group of reporters. “Drivers are really learning and getting used to the pack, and so his point was we know drivers are going to be aggressive. Don’t come to NASCAR if something were to happen if you attempted to block.”

But had any drivers recently complained to NASCAR about blocking? “No.”

Had he planned to make that statement? “Not sure. You’d have to ask Brian.”

OK, so how to unpack this?

First, it is peculiar to take a stand on scolding drivers who feel aggrieved after blocking, because it virtually never happens.

It’s the drivers who are blocked who get angry and vow retribution. They don’t look for help from NASCAR, though. The justice gets meted out at their own hands, i.e. with a flick of the wheel into someone’s rear fender.

And for the drivers who block and then get dealt vicious payback? They usually provide a sheepish shrug and “I was just trying to do everything I could to win.”

How would it make sense to lobby NASCAR to punish a driver for action that another driver forced them into taking? Well, it doesn’t.

So what were the point of France’s words, which sometimes can be opaque enough to require translation?

It’s hard to ignore the fact that last week was rough as far as the leadership of NASCAR being questioned, and this certainly seemed a visible move by France to dispel the notion he isn’t engaged (as others have intimated in the past).

In the context of Speedweeks’ conclusion, his point also seems to become clearer. Factoring in two red flags, the Xfinity race went well past three hours Saturday because of a vast array of moronic driving, which also was evident during Friday’s truck race.

NASCAR couldn’t afford to have its signature event marred by rampant amateurism, and that almost seemed as if it were the underlying thrust of France’s comments, which might have been taken thusly by some: “This is the biggest race of the year. Don’t screw this up like the young punks the past two days with dumb blocking moves and then whine about it.”

–The debut of stages made pacing a theme for scrutiny, but they had no connection to the biggest problem with elapsed time at Daytona International Speedway: the speed of the track cleanup.

The Xfinity race was marred by two red flags that took more than 45 minutes, and the Daytona 500 was stopped for 17 minutes to tidy the messes left by a relatively benign six-car crash that usually doesn’t cause such a long break.

During his weekly spot on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, O’Donnell said improving the efficiency of track cleanup was the single-most important issue to fix from Speedweeks.

A broken splitter stuck underneath a SAFER barrier was a culprit Saturday and another splitter got stuck Sunday. O’Donnell said it took too long to remove the splitter the second time and also to get the oil off the track. “Anything we can do to speed that process up, we’ll do it.”

From a vantage point in the press box, some of the cleanup problems could be attributed to poor execution with trucks failing to put SpeedyDry down in the right places to absorb the oil (some of which was against the wall, which makes the process difficult on a high-banked track). That required multiple passes to address the mess.

This might necessitate NASCAR rethinking its approach to track cleanup as it did with track drying a few years ago.

The problem with the splitter likely will be reviewed at the NASCAR R&D Center this week. Again, it’s more challenging to remove debris from a barrier at a high-banked track, but it’s worth analyzing if there’s a reason why those pieces detached from cars during wrecks on consecutive days.

There’s been some debate over the merits of Kurt Busch’s win in the Daytona 500 squelching a triumph featuring some of the youthful storylines that seemed promising in the closing laps. NASCAR certainly has been pushing the narratives of Chase Elliott (who was leading until running out of fuel until two laps remaining), Kyle Larson (leading on the last lap when his tank ran dry) and runner-up Ryan Blaney.

That said, the career arc of crew chief Tony Gibson, a local hero born and raised in Daytona Beach, undoubtedly makes Busch’s win a heartwarming one. Affectionately known as “Old Man,” Gibson is one of the truly good-hearted dudes in the NASCAR garage, and his loyalty to his team deservedly was rewarded Sunday.

NASCAR heavily has promoted the next wave of young stars, so it’s hard to see how it would have been displeased with Elliott, Larson or Blaney winning. But officials privately took umbrage at the suggestion that Busch’s win somehow didn’t “save” Sunday’s race … because they believe the race (and its late drama around fuel mileage) stood on its own merits regardless of who won or how many caution flags occurred in the process.

–Was this the weirdest Daytona 500 since the 2011 victory by Trevor Bayne in the rise of tandem racing?

It certainly seemed so. Hard to recall any Cup race in recent memory when so many favorites were eliminated before crunch time.

–Speaking of Bayne, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he heard from some angry competitors in the wake of Daytona. Ditto for 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, who seemed to race as if his job were on the line in the season opener.

–Now that Kurt Busch finally has a restrictor-plate win in his 64th attempt, who are the most talented active drivers without a Daytona 500 win?

The list starts with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. But there’s a significant dropoff to the next group. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson both proved in the past two seasons they are worthy of winning here, but neither has endured the kind of agony and near-misses that made Dale Earnhardt’s quest for a Daytona 500

Keselowski and Kyle Busch seemingly are starting to be tortured by the same demons that plagued Earnhardt for so long … and seemed to follow Tony Stewart for most of his Daytona 500 career.

At least Smoke finally had something to celebrate Sunday after 17 winless shots.

–There were some facets of Monster’s debut as title sponsor (such as a lack of signage and activation at Daytona) that seemed curious. But bringing Rob Gronkowski to the Daytona 500 was a huge coup for the energy drink brand.

Even if you aren’t a fan of the New England Patriots or bro party culture, it still is easy to be amused by the zeal and zest for life incessantly embodied by the man playfully known as “Gronk.”

Gronk attend. NASCAR win.

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson ‘glad that nothing stupid’ caused playoff exit

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For the second year in a row Kyle Larson was eliminated from playoff contention at the end of the Round of 12.

Unlike past playoff efforts, Larson was “glad that nothing stupid” was responsible for the No. 42 team’s exit.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who is winless this season, got the boot after he finished third Sunday at Kansas Speedway. That followed a 12th-place finish at Dover and an “embarrassing” run at Talladega, where he placed 11th.

“We had that battery come out at Dover a couple years ago. Blew up an engine here last year,” Larson said after Sunday’s race. “Obviously I would have liked to have made it into the next round.  But I’m glad it wasn’t anything other than just us not performing where we needed to be that kept us out of the next round.

“Just trying to figure out how to make our cars better.  Try to figure out this new package we’re running next year, try to be prepared, good all season long.”

On NASCAR America, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte discussed Larson’s exit and who deserves the blame.

“Everybody thinks that Kyle Larson’s a great race car driver and I agree,” Burton said. “I think the team has to take a tremendous amount of responsibility about how slow they were at Talladega. That put Kyle Larson in a terrible spot as a driver. ”

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Kansas recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and goes over the big storylines from the Kansas race weekend.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton from NBC Charlotte.

On today’s show:

  • We’ll look back at Sunday’s elimination race in the Round of 12 at Kansas Speedway. Chase Elliott took the checkered flag for his second win of the playoffs. Can Elliott carry his momentum into the Round of 8 and grab a spot in the Championship 4? Dave Burns spoke to Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson to get his take on the No. 9 team’s performance.
  • We’ve got reaction from drivers who advanced to the Round of 8 and those who had their title hopes dashed for the season.
  • Dave Burns was busy today. He was also at Stewart-Haas Racing. Can SHR get all four of its cars to the Championship round at Miami? Our panel will look at their chances.
  • Plus, we’ll see how are our broadcasters fared in NASCAR Fantasy Live action and re-visit Sunday Night Football reporter Michele Tafoya’s hot lap in the Toyota On-Track Camry with Jeff Burton.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Chase Elliott’s Kansas win good for sponsor, manufacturer and record book

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Here are some of the achievements Chase Elliott notched and streaks he extended and ended with his win Sunday in the playoff elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

– At 22 years, 10 months and 23 days old, Elliott is the youngest Cup driver to win at Kansas Speedway.

– Elliott provided a big day for Mountain Dew. His trip to Victory Lane was the first for a car with the soft drink as its sole primary sponsor since October 1982 when Darrell Waltrip won at Rockingham. Mountain Dew did not sponsor any cars from 1985 – 2000.

– Elliott extended Hendrick Motorsports’ record streak of seasons with at least one win on a 1.5-mile track to 25. He did it with three tracks left on the schedule (Kansas, Texas and Homestead). The streak began in 1994 with Jeff Gordon‘s first career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

– With his three wins this season, Elliott is the first driver since Carl Edwards in 2005 to earn his first three wins in the same season. Edwards went on to claim four wins that season. The big difference is when the wins occurred. Edwards’ came in his first full-time season. It took until Elliott’s third full-time year for him to get his wins.

– Elliott earned his first top five on a 1.5-mile track this season and just his second top 10.

– The win was also the first for Chevrolet on a 1.5-mile track since Austin Dillon won the 2017 Coca-Cola 600, 55 races ago.

Kyle Benjamin, Jeb Burton, Timothy Peters to compete in Martinsville Truck race

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Kyle Benjamin, Timothy Peters and Jeb Burton will take part in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Burton, the son of former Cup driver Ward Burton, will make his first start of the season in On Point Motorsports’ No. 30 Toyota.

His last Truck start was in last October’s race at Martinsville.

The race will be the fourth for On Point Motorsports. It’s best result is eighth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Austin Theriault.

“It is always exciting for me to race at my home track of Martinsville Speedway,” Burton said in a press release. “I have always run good there and have had good success in the Truck Series at the track. I like running with a smaller new team like On Point Motorsports and focus on going out there and showing everyone what we can do. On Point Motorsports has been impressive in their first couple races and we look forward to being even more impressive at Martinsville.

Benjamin will drive DGR-Crosley’s No. 17 Toyota in his second start of the year for the team. He competed in the spring race at Martinsville in his series debut and finished second after he led 74 laps.

“I’m really thankful for the opportunity to go back to Martinsville with DGR-Crosley,” Benjamin said in a press release. “We were so close to getting the win in the spring race and I definitely think we will be a contender again. I’m really happy to get another shot at it. I know the guys will bring me a fast Toyota Tundra this weekend. We just have to keep it clean throughout the race and be there at the end.”

Peters, who won the last Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway for GMS Racing, will return to the team this weekend.

Peters, who claimed his first career win at Martinsville in 2009, will drive the No. 23 Chevrolet. It will be his fifth start of the year.