Daniel McFadin

When it comes to promoting NASCAR, Ryan Blaney isn’t afraid of saying yes

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Ryan Blaney took exception to comments made by Kyle Busch on Tuesday criticizing NASCAR marketing and publicity campaigns that focus more on young Cup drivers over veterans like Busch.

Busch described the strategies as “stupid” and “bothersome,” saying veteran drivers and their sponsors have paid their dues.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver also said young drivers “are bullied into doing more things than the older guys are because we say no a lot more because we’ve been there, done that and have families.”

Blaney said the comments “kind of made me upset how he bashed that part of it.”

The 24-year-old Team Penske driver is entering his third full-time Cup season after two years with Wood Brothers Racing.

Blaney made clear he’s never been bullied into doing something to promote the sport.

“I’ve been really fortunate to get a lot of great chances from NASCAR to go do things outside of motorsports,” Blaney said Wednesday during the NASCAR Media Tour. “NBC and NASCAR were a big thing in getting me to do “Taken,” the Cars (3) voice and Logan Lucky. That was all really from NASCAR. I’ve always been very open to do a lot of the things they want. It’s not always been stuff like that. You go do some markets where maybe you don’t think it’s going to be a very good market, but you do it anyway because it helps the sport and it helps yourself. It’s win-win for everybody.

“Maybe (Busch) doesn’t like doing it. I feel like if some drivers were more willing to do these things they’d get asked more to do it. The reason I get asked to do it a lot is because I say yes a lot. Because I think it’s good for the sport and myself. I can tell you personally he doesn’t like to do a lot of stuff so that’s why they don’t ask him to do a lot of stuff.”

Blaney was among many current and former Cup drivers who appeared in Logan Lucky in cameo roles, including Busch. They joined Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano.

Blaney stressed the importance of all drivers, not just those in his age bracket, making the effort to push NASCAR toward “new demographics of the world.”

“Whether it’s from younger fans to new fans who don’t pay attention to it who aren’t young,” Blaney said. “It’s not just young drivers who are gonna make people appeal to the sport, it’s the whole lot.

“I think everybody should be little bit more open to helping the sport out because that’s how it’s going to survive. I’m trying to the best that I can at it and a lot of other drivers are helping to. It’s just trying to get more and more every day.”

Ty Dillon, 25, “laughed a little bit” at Busch’s comments.

“Kyle’s got a good reach himself,” said Dillon, driver of Germain Racing’s No. 13 Chevrolet. “The fact that he’s such a good driver and winner, I don’t know if he realizes how much a following and push that he gets as well. I think it’s good that NASCAR is pushing the younger demographic, we need the younger fans. We need to keep getting those fans. But you shouldn’t have to rely on NASCAR to go all your social and your reach out for you. We have such great platforms to be able to do things like that with. If he feels that way, that he’s frustrated, he should use his platforms to go after that fan base himself.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”

Pocono race weekend to be held without fans

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Pocono Raceway officials on Friday announced that all races scheduled for its tentative upcoming race weekend on June 27-28 will be held without fans in the stands.

The track made the decision not to admit fans based upon guidelines issued by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Following the guidance on sporting events in Pennsylvania issued by Governor Tom Wolf, it is with sadness to announce the 2020 NASCAR events at Pocono Raceway will be held without fans in attendance,” the track said in a media release. “This decision, made in coordination with NASCAR and our state officials, was not made lightly.”

All race dates are tentative, per the track statement.

“The exact dates of our 2020 races is being finalized and will be announced by NASCAR at a later date,” the track said in a media release.

NASCAR has not announced confirmed dates on the schedule past the June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. However, NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell tweeted this afternoon that NASCAR is “hoping to put out next portion next week – not a full schedule yet though.”

For now, the tentative weekend schedule at Pocono includes the first-ever NASCAR Cup doubleheader with a 130-lap/325-mile race on June 27 and a 140-lap/350-mile race on June 28.

Click here to read the full statement from Pocono Raceway.

Also slated are a 60-lap/150-mile Truck race on June 27, which would precede the first Cup race that weekend, and a 90-lap/225-mile Xfinity Series race on June 28, which would precede the second Cup race.

“Our Raceway family shares in your disappointment and will certainly miss your passion, laughs, cheers, and smiles as the green flag drops in the Pocono Mountains,” the track said.

Ticket holders have the option to either receive a refund or account credit for the value of their tickets, track officials said.