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Kevin Harvick: Current state of Truck Series schedule ‘makes me mad’

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Not long after NASCAR unveiled the 2018 schedules for its three national series, Kevin Harvick went on a rant about the current state of the Camping World Truck Series schedule, saying “it makes me mad.”

“The Truck schedule is racing at a ton of the wrong race tracks,” Harvick said Tuesday on his weekly SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hour. “They should be back at Louisville (Motor Speedway), they should be back at some of these grassroots race tracks. The Truck Series should be helping us build our grassroots program, from Late Models on up, by having a Truck race there.”

With NASCAR trying to find ways to win the hearts and minds of new fans, Harvick believes the Truck Series, which debuted in 1995, is an unused tool for strengthening the sport’s fan base.

“In order to help our sport to produce from the bottom up, we have to help figure out how to get the grassroots program where they need to be and that’s what we need to be using the Truck Series for,” said Harvick, a 14-time Truck winner and former Truck team owner. “Go to these grassroots race tracks and guess what? That’s where the Trucks need to be racing because they’re going to put 10 to 15,000 people in the grandstands every week to watch these races because they’re unique events.”

“They don’t want to show up on a Friday at Dover (International Speedway) and watch these trucks drive around the race track because they’re going to show up on Sunday to watch the Cup cars. Take the trucks somewhere where everybody wants to see them, because there’s short tracks across the country that want to see them.

“Sorry, I’m on a rant. It make me mad.”

Harvick’s thoughts about reaching fans are in addition to those made by Kyle Larson earlier this year about how NASCAR should encourage its stars to race at short tracks in smaller series.

Harvick is doing a variation of this later this season. He will competes in the K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway the weekend of the Cup Series race on the road course.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver broke into NASCAR via the Truck Series in the first year of its existence. He made his debut in 1995 at Mesa Marin Raceway in his hometown of Bakersfield, California.

Of the 18 tracks the series competed on in 1995, it still races at only three – Martinsville, Phoenix Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

“The Trucks should be opening up in January like they used to at Tuscon Raceway Park or the Copperworld Classic when it was at Phoenix,” Harvick said. “Let the Truck Series start our season in January so they can have exposure on TV by themselves. If the Cup guys want to go out there and race, that’s fine. Let them go race. Because that’s going to help put fans in the grandstands.

“Myself and Greg Biffle and Ron Hornaday and Mike Skinner, guess what? We’d never make to it to Cup racing, Truck racing or anything else that we do because we wouldn’t have been on TV if they didn’t have ‘Winter Heat’ and all these different series. In order to produce young stars and expose them to the public you have to start them from the grassroots level up.

“You can’t keep lollygagging along with the Truck Series at these race tracks and expect people to show up.”

Harvick cited the lack of SAFER barrier at short tracks as an excuse given for why the Truck Series doesn’t race at more short tracks.

“Let’s figure out a way to help these tracks get soft walls if that’s what it takes for them to get a Truck race,” Harvick said.

Next year, the Truck Series will have 23 races beginning on Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway and ending on Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The biggest change to the schedule is the Truck Series loses it standalone race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September. Instead, the Truck Series will visit the track with the Cup and Xfinity Series twice on March 2 and Sept. 19.

The March 2 race in Las Vegas gives the Truck series three straight races to begin the season. For the last three seasons, the series competed at Daytona and Atlanta before going quiet until late March at Martinsville Speedway and then taking another month off until an early May race at Kansas Speedway.

From 2012-14, the series held no races between Daytona and Martinsville. Atlanta was added the week following Daytona in 2015.

The Truck Series’ Dover race moves from early June to May 4 next year, which shortens the break following the Martinsville race. The series will not be returning to New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the track loses one of its NASCAR weekends.

The Truck Series will now only have four standalone events in 2018: Texas Motor Speedway (June 8), Gateway Motorsports Park (June 23), Eldora Speedway (July 18) and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (August 26).

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Stewart-Haas Racing makes pit crew changes to all four Cup teams

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Stewart-Haas Racing has made changes to all four of its pit crews heading into Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NBC Sports has confirmed.

The changes come with two of the organization’s four teams qualified for the playoffs through wins — Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer — and Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola in position to make the playoffs via points.

The changes:

— Shayne Pipala becomes the front tire changer for Harvick’s team. He replaces Eric Maycroft, who moves to Michael McDowell’s team (Stewart-Haas Racing provides the pit crew for that Front Row Motorsports team).

— Ira Jo Hussey becomes the front tire changer for Bowyer’s team. He replaces Daniel Coffey.

— Matt Holzbaur becomes the tire carrier for Bowyer’s team. He replaces Josh Sobecki. Holzbaur had been with Michael McDowell’s team.

— Daniel Coffey moves to Almirola’s team as front tire changer. Coffey replaces Ryan Mulder.

— Ryan Mulder moves to Busch’s team as front tire changer. He replaces Shayne Pipala.

The changes come after Bowyer expressed his displeasure with his pit crew’s performance last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, saying:

“Can’t … maintain the position one … damn time on pit road. It’s about … ridiculous. I’m tired of it.

“I’ve had enough. Three spots every … damn time I come down pit road.”

At Chicagoland, Harvick led going into the final pit stop but got beat by Kyle Busch, who went on to win the race. Harvick finished third.

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Ben Rhodes fastest qualifier at Eldora

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Ben Rhodes recorded the fastest time in qualification for the Eldora Dirt Derby with a lap of 86.801 mph, but he will have to wait until after his qualification race to know if he will lead the field to green. With his fastest lap, Rhodes will be credited with winning the pole.

Qualification sets the grid for five heat races with the fastest qualifier starting on the pole in race one. The second fastest qualifier will lead the field to green for the second heat race, and so on.

The top five in each qualification race will advance to the A Main with the winner of race one leading the field to green. The winner of the second heat will start alongside him on the front row.

Rhodes beat dirt midget racer Logan Seavey (86.747 mph) by .013 seconds. Seavey is making his Camping World Truck Series debut.

Tyler Dippel (86.368), Grant Enfinger (86.146) and Stewart Friesen (85.997) round out the top five.

Wendell Chavous (81.919) and Cody Coughlin (86.264) hit the wall during their qualification runs. Chavous qualified 33rd. Coughlin qualified 24th.

Points leader Johnny Sauter posted a time of 81.908 mph and was 34th among the 39 trucks that took time.

Second in points, Noah Gragson qualified 13th.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Kyle Busch joins Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features a guest appearance by Kyle Busch.

Rutledge Wood will host with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton joining Busch from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

  • We’re live from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte for another edition of Wednesdays with Dale Jr. Today, we’ll be joined 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch.
  • The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota Camry will talk about his 2018 season. He currently leads the Cup Series in race wins (5) and playoff points (30). He’ll discuss being part of the “Big Three” along with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. and how this group of champions have separated themselves from the rest of the field.
  • What are his thoughts entering this weekend’s race at New Hampshire?
  • Busch will also give his take on several other topics, including tonight’s Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway. Kyle Busch Motorsports has three trucks in the field. Should NASCAR add a dirt race to either the Cup or XFINITY Series? We’ll get his answer tonight.
  • Plus, Kyle and Dale Jr. will answer questions provided by the fans who use the hashtag #WednesDale
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.

5-hour Energy to end NASCAR involvement at end of season

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Furniture Row Racing announced Wednesday that it is seeking sponsorship of the No. 78 car for next season with the announcement that 5-hour Energy will not return after this year.

5-hour Energy became the major co-primary sponsor this season on the No. 78 team with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats for 30 Cup races. 5-hour Energy joined Furniture Row Racing in 2017, serving as a majority primary sponsor on the No. 77 car with Erik Jones.

Wednesday’s announcement comes just days after reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. won at Kentucky Speedway for his fourth Cup win of the year.

5-hour Energy has been a primary sponsor in NASCAR for nearly a decade, including the seven in Cup.

Rise’ Meguiar, President of Sales for Living Essentials, parent company of 5-hour ENERGY, issued a statement on the business decision.

“Since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2017, the team has delivered on every promise. In addition to being a championship team, winning races and putting 5-hour ENERGY in victory lane multiple times, they have also become part of our family.  We cannot thank Barney Visser, Joe Garone, Martin and the entire Furniture Row Racing team enough for the pride they have given us.  They are a first-class group on and off the track.  Although 5-hour ENERGY has made the business decision to leave NASCAR, we will be fans and friends for life, and we look forward to finishing strong in 2018.”

Said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing, in a statement:

“I want to first send a sincere thank you to everyone at 5-hour Energy for being an excellent and loyal partner. The way 5-hour Energy has activated its programs over the years demonstrated a commitment and creativity as a NASCAR race team sponsor. We understand that companies do change business strategies, but friendships last forever and that’s how we feel about 5-hour Energy.”

“Being a perennial championship contending team with a talented driver in Martin, Furniture Row Racing continues to be committed in offering a new sponsor not only success on the racetrack but also the benefit of a strong marketing platform with our powerful team of partners – Bass Pro Shops, Auto-Owners Insurance, Toyota, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress.”

This decision by 5-hour Energy comes as Truex’s contract with Furniture Row Racing ends after this season. He was asked last weekend at Kentucky about where things stood with a new contract.

“We’ve got some stuff to figure out, for sure,” Truex said. “I don’t plan on doing anything different. Just give the team some time to figure things out. We’re all kind of trying to figure it all out together so we can make it happen.”

So what needed to be figured out?

“Just sponsorship commitments and all the stuff that goes along with that,” Truex said. “Figuring out how much money we have to spend, when do we get it, how much are we getting and where can we spend it. Just trying to figure out all the details honestly. There’s a lot of puzzle pieces to be put together that we haven’t finished yet. Honestly, we haven’t been in a big hurry to get it done. In due time.”

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