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NASCAR President discusses status of Monster Energy, new manufacturers

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NASCAR has given Monster Energy an extension to determine if it wants to remain the Cup series sponsor.

NASCAR President Brent Dewar revealed that Tuesday night in an appearance on Motor Racing Network’s “NASCAR Live” show.

Among the other topics Dewar, who is entering his fifth season at NASCAR, discussed was the effort to bring new manufacturers and how soon one could arrive, any tweaks to stage racing and the new pit stop rules.

Last year marked Monster Energy’s first season as series sponsor. The two sides agreed to a deal about two months before the 2017 Daytona 500. The company reportedly has a two-year deal with a two-year option. Monster Energy has not stated if it will return after this season.

Asked about Monster Energy’s status, Dewar told the MRN radio show:

“They signed late in the season (Dec. 2016). I worked with them very closely in bringing them to the sport. They were just looking to have a full season. They had to Dec. 31 (to determine if to agree to the renewal). We’ve given them an extension to go through the evaluation.

“There’s no question it was a great season with them and any kind of metric that we run we hit the ball out the park with them. They’re different. We’re excited. … It was the right thing to do to give them a little more time to evaluate. We’re letting them do that. We’d love for them to stay for many years, but if they choose not to, we’ve got a great product, we’ll continue on in that regards. There are meetings coming up. For the fans that have had a chance to go to the Monster activities prior to the race, they are a lot of fun. I’ve taken my guests that come to the race and we’ve had a great time experiencing how they demonstrate their brand in a very thoughtful, unique way. We love having them around.’’

Among the other topics Dewar discussed:

Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota are the only manufacturers in the Cup Series. The last time NASCAR had four manufacturers in Cup was 2012 when Dodge was a part of the series.

Dewar was asked by host Mike Bagley about the interest of other manufacturers and when any might come to NASCAR:

“Nothing to announce right now on the manufacturer front,’’ Dewar said. “We have a cadence to come in. The earliest one would be able to join would be 2020. We have entry ramps that come in. We have been in conversations with a number of manufacturers. … The platform is strong and it shows a strong (return of investment) potential for manufacturers to bring their products and come race with us.’’

Asked if NASCAR had a magic number of how many manufacturers it would like in Cup, Dewar said:

“I think optimally four or five is the right number for what we’re looking at. We’ve got a great series in sports car that focuses primary on the luxury brands. That is the IMSA Series. The NASCAR series is the mass brands, the Toyotas the Chevrolets,  and the Fords and their competitors. We think there are a couple of more brands in America that would be perfectly suited to come join us and race against their competitors. We work very hard at keeping the sport in front of them. We had a number of them at the track last year, joining us, seeing the events and the direction where we’re taking the sport. It’s a work in progress and it’s one of the ones that I personally lead.’’

Dewar on any tweaks to stage racing in 2018:

“We’re really happy with stage racing. I think it was a good example of the collaboration where the industry came together with the idea of stage racing, so we’re very happy with that.’’

On if NASCAR is trying to address the number of caution laps after a stage ends and before the next stage begins, Dewar said:

“I think we’ll continue to modify it. We’ve done a lot research on this. When you have 80 million fans we’re going to have people with an opinion on everything, but I don’t think it’s as concerning as maybe some of the conversation at this point. We continue to fine tune and look at how to refine and make those adjustments. We bring the councils (driver council, owner council, etc) together  and that’s one of the things that we have on our list to continue to discuss.’’

On the objective of cutting pit crews from six to five in 2018, Dewar said:

“We’ve focused very strongly on our star power of the drivers, but it’s really evolved over the time period we’ve gone to low downforce on the cars and a lot of the strategy that has gone into it. We really want to emphasize it’s the team. It’s the crew chief and the driver, but it’s the team that brings it together. … What we love about NASCAR is the pit stops and so this effort of five over the wall and the crew and identifying the pit crew with their numbers at the track, you’ll start to see and understand the names of the people that make a championship team, a high quality team, that’s the method behind it, that’s the logic behind what we’re trying to achieve. I think what you’ll see with five over the wall and the rules we have is we’ll really to start to focus on the athleticism, these great athletes that are really unlike any other motorsports that will be coming over the wall.’’

On the how eliminating one pit crew position will change pit stops, Dewar said:

“Pit stops are still going to be very fast, but they’re going to be a little bit slower so we can accentuate really what is happening. It’s almost too fast in some respects to capture it. We’re excited about this and what the athletes are going to be able to demonstrate because it makes a difference. A driver absolutely makes a difference. A crew chief makes a difference and so does everyone that participates at the track. Then you couple that back with the folks at the shop. It’s part of the storylines we think have been missing in the sport, particularly for the casual fan. The hardcore fans understand this, but for the sport to grow we need to start demonstrating the team not just the quarterback.’’

On the Cup Series having qualifying on the same day before a race, Dewar said:

“We like the tighter schedule, and I think there was a little bit of miscommunication as we went into it last year about two-day weekends. They’re not two-day weekends. We were just trying to be more thoughtful of the schedule at the Cup level and to allow more time and space for the Xfinity and Camping World (Truck) series when we might have three (in a weekend).

“I think the challenge this year was really on same-day qualifying with the race. We were actually pretty fortunate. We thought it through. There’s really not enough turnaround time in many cases. I think you’ll see less of that (this year). Also what we learned and we hadn’t really thought about it was the track goes hot all day and one of the most exciting things for the fans is the cold pass opportunity to get down on the track and to get that experience if you’re only coming for one day on Sunday, so I think you’ll see more of the Saturday qualifying for the Sunday (race) for the Cup and we’ll try to manage that. There’s still a lot of efficiencies we can work on. We’re just trying to find the right balance to give the best fan experience.’’

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NASCAR’s weekend schedule for Auto Club Speedway

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NASCAR’s West Coast swing continues this weekend with a visit to the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Cup and Xfinity Series teams will be in action, with the weekend capped off by Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

For Friday, wunderground.com forecasts partly cloudy skies, a high of 81 degrees and no chance of rain.

For the start of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, the forecast is for sunny skies and a high of 70 degrees.

On Sunday, the forecast for the start of the Cup race is cloudy skies, a high of 54 and a 39% of rain.

Here’s the full weekend schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, Feb. 28

Noon – 10 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

1 – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (FS1)

4:05 – 4:55 – Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network)

5:02 – 5:27 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

5:35 – 6:25 p.m. – Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

Saturday, Feb. 29

10 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

1:05 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; one car/single lap (FS1)

2:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief introductions

2:35 p.m. – Cup qualifying; one car/single lap (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

4 p.m. – Production Alliance Group 300; 150 laps/300 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 1

11:30 a.m. – Cup garage opens

1:30 p.m. – Driver-crew chief meeting

2:50 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

3:30 p.m. – Auto Club 400; 200 laps/400 miles (Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Myatt Snider: It’s ‘game on’ if conflict with Noah Gragson continues

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The spat between Xfinity Series drivers Myatt Snider and Noah Gragson may not necessarily be over.

The pair tangled in Sunday night’s Xfinity Series race in Las Vegas. Gragson made contact with Snider’s car, sending it into a spin.

Snider discussed the incident Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” and where things stand between the two drivers.

“It, to me, just seemed like some impatience on Noah’s part,” Snider said of the incident. “I had gotten into a rut and was trying to figure out how to make the car faster but at that point in time, I didn’t. So he was running me down and he actually had a run on me going to the frontstretch.

“So I was, ‘Okay, he’s going to go by me.’ Then I felt a little yoink in the left rear quarter and around I was going. It’s kind of unfortunate it had to go down that way, that’s not racing to me. But I’m a big believer in karma and what goes around, comes around. We’ll be performing at our best over these next couple of weeks and I’m not worried about it.”

Snider also told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he hasn’t texted or talked to Gragson since Sunday, but Snider said he’s ready if the spat continues.

“I’m the kind of guy that believes in racing people how you’re raced,” Snider said. “I’m not going to take any kind of stuff like that. If (Gragson) wants to send that kind of message early, then game on.”

On Tuesday, here’s how Gragson explained what happened on “Sirius Speedway” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“It was just some hard racing between the two of us and we got into each other, so I think we both can look forward to the next couple of races and stay out of each other’s ways,” Gragson said. “I think we’re both at fault. It was a long race, none of us were going to give and we’re going to go on to California and run as good as possible and do as good as we can.”

Much has been made about the TV replays of Gragson and Snider meeting after the race to talk about the incident. Gragson tried to give Snider a fist bump only to have Snider walk away without fist bumping him.

“I told (Myatt) let’s play rock, paper, scissors,” Gragson quipped in part on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I went with rock and he still hasn’t gotten back to me if he wants scissors, paper or rock.”

Gragson won the season opener at Daytona and finished fourth at Las Vegas for JR Motorsports. Snider, who won the pole at Daytona, finished 33rd at Daytona and 16th at Las Vegas for Richard Childress Racing. Snider will race this weekend at Auto Club Speedway for RSS Racing.

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Ryan Newman gets standing ovation in visit to Roush Fenway Racing

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Exactly 10 months to the day when the country will celebrate Thanksgiving, the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization gave thanks and a warm welcome to driver Ryan Newman, who visited the team’s shop Wednesday.

Newman, who was involved in a horrific crash coming to the finish line of the Daytona 500 just nine days earlier, received a standing ovation from his colleagues and posed for a number of photos.

While there is still no timetable for Newman’s return behind the wheel of his No. 6 RFR Ford Mustang — Ross Chastain is scheduled to drive the car until Newman comes back — Wednesday’s appearance was yet another positive move in that direction.

“Just a good day,” RFR president Steve Newmark tweeted about Newman’s visit.

Newman said in a prior statement he suffered an undisclosed head injury in the crash but did not suffer any broken bones or internal injuries.

Tuesday he took part in one of his favorite pastimes:

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Hendrick focused on Jimmie Johnson’s success, not successor

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Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski. Ryan Blaney. Erik Jones.

No, we’re not talking about this week’s fantasy racing picks, but those four drivers have been among drivers mentioned most often when it comes time for Hendrick Motorsports to name a replacement for Jimmie Johnson, who will retire after this season.

Yet even though filling Johnson’s spot is important, it’s not as much a priority right now as it is for the entire organization to learn more about the nuances of the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, according to HMS vice president of competition Jeff Andrews.

“We don’t have a timetable for that, to be honest with you,” Andrews said of naming a replacement for Johnson on Wednesday “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Our focus has been getting better race cars under Jimmie Johnson and getting better race cars for (crew chief) Cliff Daniels and his race team to work with on the weekend.

“The focus right now immediately for the 48 is to get a win, get that car in the playoffs, get multiple wins through the season and then get Jimmie Johnson to Phoenix at the end of the year to battle for that championship.”

Andrews admits the vibe around Hendrick Motorsports’ campus is markedly different this year, knowing it’s Johnson’s final season in the No. 48.

“I think the sense is pride here within Hendrick Motorsports, to just have been associated with someone like Jimmie,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “For those of us who have been here really throughout his career, we’re just incredibly proud that he chose to drive for Hendrick Motorsports throughout his whole career.

“But we’re also proud of all his accomplishments and what he’s done for this company. I think we would have an awful hard time of ever paying him back for all that. Our goal this year is giving him everything he needs for a multiple win season and to get to Phoenix. We owe him that at the least.”

The Hendrick organization has struggled in adapting to the new Chevrolet Camaro body style this year. In the season-opening Daytona 500, Chase Elliott (finished seventh) was the only HMS driver in the top 15.

Things were a bit better this past Sunday at Las Vegas. Johnson was the highest-finishing HMS driver (fifth), while Alex Bowman was 13th. But there was considerable sense of accomplishment overall for Chevrolet as a whole, with six of its Camaros in the top 10 (as opposed to only two Chevys in the top 10 at Daytona).

That leaves Andrews, the competition department at HMS and Chevrolet officials as a whole feeling optimistic as the series heads for the third race of the season this weekend at the two-mile track in Fontana, California.

“From a barometer perspective, we’re feeling good about where we’ve been,” Andrews said. “We haven’t had that finish, that win that we’re looking for, but certainly we’ve started off the year with some good speed in our cars.

“The one thing that all of our drivers were commenting on is we had more speed in our cars and just had a better platform in our cars and a better ability to run multiple lines on the racetrack, which is something we haven’t in recent years.”

Admittedly, it’s been a tough road for Hendrick drivers over the last three seasons. Since Johnson’s seventh Cup championship in 2016, no HMS driver has reached the Championship 4 round since.

Also during that time frame, only two drivers have finished in the top-10 overall in the last three seasons (Chase Elliott, fifth in 2017, sixth in 2018 and 10th in 2019; and Johnson, 10th in 2017).

These next five races, particularly the last two of that stretch at Homestead-Miami and Texas, will help give Andrews and his staff a better handle on where their adjustment to the Camaro goes from there.

“We know it’s a long season and have a long ways to go with this,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “We need to get through three or four more races.

“I think we’ve targeted as a company a better understanding of where we’re at after the Homestead/Texas timeframe to get some types of tracks and learn with this new car.

“Steep learning curve with the new car and we’ve got to act quick. We have just a year to work with this before we get to another generation of race cars. … We’re looking forward to going back to the track this weekend in Fontana and see where we go with it.”

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