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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Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

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The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

MORE: Toyota looking to expand NASCAR presence

Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.