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Friday 5: Drivers call for schedule changes? Then try this …

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Is it time for NASCAR to start over in regards to the Cup schedule?

Ryan Newman says so.

“I think our sport, in a lot of ways, has become stale because it’s been so consistent, going to the same race tracks schedule-wise year after year after year,’’ he told NBC Sports this week.

Former champion Kevin Harvick shares Newman’s sentiment.

“Do you really want to get me started on schedules?,’’ Harvick said this week and did, suggesting a rotation of tracks to host the championship race and altering what tracks host playoff races.

“People don’t like the same thing,’’ Harvick said. “You have to keep their attention.’’

Harvick applauded the changes NASCAR has made to the schedule this season — Las Vegas and Richmond host playoff races for the first time, Charlotte’s roval will host a playoff race and Indianapolis is the final regular-season race.

But Harvick suggests more can be done. 

“I think Harvick has got a really good point about changing it up, keeping it new, keeping it interesting,’’ reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. said.

Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger also spoke out about the schedule and need for change.

Understand that NASCAR, its TV partners and track operators work together on the schedule and it isn’t as easy as just putting races on a calendar because of weather issues, other major events in that area, travel matters, etc. 

Yes, there will be challenges. Some tracks may not want to change dates for various reasons. Some fans won’t be able to go to a track if it changed dates. Because a schedule change impacts so many people, any change likely would be met with as much groaning as cheering. Still, that shouldn’t keep all involved from looking at ways to create a different look with the schedule. If a change can help make the sport better, it should be done. If not, move on to something else. 

NASCAR figured out stage racing and gave fans plenty of action throughout last season. NASCAR and its partners can handle this task.

So what to do?

Here’s one person’s view.

Mix it up even more!

Have a summer series

Remember when TNT did the summer races between Fox and NBC? With that in mind, create a summer series of midweek races. Run five Wednesday night races in a row in June and July.

Make Martinsville the first midweek race. Move its spring date to June. Middle of the week, under the lights for the first time for a full race. What a sight.

One note, for any midweek race, the goal should be for it to go no more than three hours. That would require cutting Martinsville from 500 laps and maybe some of the other races run in this time period.

A week later, go to Bristol, followed by Richmond and Daytona. That would put Daytona on July 3 next year. Want something really different? Light Watkins Glen and run that on a Wednesday night. Imagine the action on the track and the party in the infield for that event?

So the summer series would have three short tracks, a restrictor-plate race and a road course. That’s quite a combination. 

Rotate the championship race

No doubt Homestead has provided its share of drama in recent years. Admittedly, this is one I had to hear more to even consider such a notion.

Look at a rotation of Homestead, ISM Raceway (Phoenix) and Auto Club Speedway for the finale. All three tracks provide good racing. Drivers rave about all the lanes and how little grip there is at Auto Club. ISM Raceway will move the start/finish line beyond what is now Turn 2, meaning cars will restart in the corners, which should be dramatic. Homestead has shown what it can do.

The example often cited is that the Super Bowl moves each year and people still go and watch. Same with how NCAA football rotates its playoff games among bowls. The notion is that a big-time event in sports is viewed as one that moves around.

Want to mix it up, throw Las Vegas in the mix every so often as the finale. Or want to do something really different? Make Martinsville the finale. Just think about a short track hosting the championship race. Wow.

Of course for Martinsville to happen, NASCAR would likely need to …

Start the season earlier so it ends earlier

Want to avoid more of the NFL? Why can’t the Daytona 500 be held the week after the Super Bowl instead of two weeks? Even if one kept the schedule the same from that point on, it would end the season earlier in November. 

Want to tighten the schedule more, move the All-Star Race to the Thursday of the Coca-Cola 600 and put another race in its spot the weekend before. That’s if the All-Star Race remains at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Maybe it would be better at a place like Iowa Speedway or at South Boston Speedway or some other short track in the country that could accommodate the series.

2. One more change …

Ryan Newman has another suggestion for the schedule.

“I think there’s great opportunities for us to have a dirt track in our future,’’ he told NBC Sports. “We talk about doing things like in the past. Dirt racing was where it all started. Before there was Daytona, there was dirt.

“Do an exhibition race on a weeknight with 10 or 12 cars at Eldora. Think there would be a lot of people that would interested? I think a few guys might come out of retirement for that. I think that would be special. I think it would be crazy.’’

Or just make it the All-Star Race?

Hmmm.

3. Who is that guy?

Drivers were asked by NBC Sports to describe themselves in one word.

“Mysterious’’ was the word one driver used.

“The reason why is because I feel like I come across and I get labeled a lot as kind of a quiet guy, that kind of keeps my mouth shut and just kind of listens. I think once people get the opportunity to learn me, they start realizing that I’m a little more complex, a little bit different and a little more unique than what people think.

“I’ve kind of carried this mysterious tag a little bit more than what I probably would like to. That’s something I’m trying to develop in myself and growing in social media, let people get the opportunity to know who I am and to follow me and give them more opportunity to see what I’m passionate about.’’

The driver?

Ty Dillon.

4. What was he thinking?

We’ve all had times when a song gets stuck in our head. For Chris Buescher, it’s happened in a race.

“I got Chris Stapleton stuck in my head at Bristol and it was our best run in 2016,’’ Buescher told NBC Sports. “So ever since then, I try to get Chris Stapleton stuck in my head when we go back there.’’

5. The last word goes to Clint Bowyer

Asked what is one thing he would change about his car from last year, Bowyer, whose last Cup victory came in Oct. 2012, didn’t hesitate.

“Confetti,’’ he said. “More confetti.’’

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Brad Keselowski wins pole for New Hampshire Xfinity race

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Brad Keselowski will start first in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Keselowski claimed the pole for the Lakes Region 200 (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a speed of 130.296 mph.

It’s his second pole in three starts this season and his fifth pole in 10 starts at the 1-mile track.

Keselowski is trying to win his fourth straight Xfinity race.

The Team Penske driver will be joined on the front row by Christopher Bell (130.126 mph).

The top five is completed by Ryan Preece, Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek.

Ryan Truex, Matt Tifft, Austin Cindric, Kaz Grala, Jeremy Clements, Michael Annett and Ross Chastain did not advance out of the second round.

During the first round the red flag came out with 6:25 left due to fluid on the track from Ryan Reed‘s No. 16 Ford.

Reed will start last.

Click here for qualifying results.

 

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

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Last year, Ryan Preece finished second to Kyle Busch in this race. Preece takes over the car that beat him last year and hopes to improve by one position. He’ll have to beat Cup regulars Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon to do so.

Here’s all the info for today’s Xfinity race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (211.6 miles) around the 1.05-mile track.

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

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7 a.m. Qualifying is at 11:05 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Boston Sports Team Vocalist John Robert Murphy will perform the anthem at 4:01 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Jodie Cunningham at 3:58 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 78 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Busch beat his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ryan Preece by more than 10 seconds. William Byron came home third, with Cup regulars Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Denny Hamlin posts fastest lap in Saturday morning Cup practice

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LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin had the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading the field with a lap of 132.942 mph.

He was followed by Ryan Blaney (132.526 mph), Martin Truex Jr. (132.462), Kyle Busch (132.406) and Kevin Harvick (132.356).

Harvick ran the most laps at 50. Harvick told NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Rick Allen in the garage that he ran so many laps to see how much the speed falls off as the tires wear. Jimmie Johnson was next with 42 laps run.

There were no incidents in the 50-minute session.

Ryan Blaney had the best 10-lap average at 131.767 mph.

Click here for the speed chart.

Start time of Sunday’s Cup race moved up to 1 pm ET

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LOUDON, N.H. – The start time for Sunday’s Cup race has been moved up to 1 p.m. ET because of the threat of rain, NASCAR announced.

NBCSN will broadcast the race. NBCSN’s coverage begins at noon ET.

The wunderground.com forecast for 1 p.m. ET Sunday calls for a 49 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms. There is a threat of rain throughout the day.

Kurt Busch won the pole for Sunday’s race.