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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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Daytona road course entry lists

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NASCAR’s national series will make their debuts on the Daytona road course this weekend. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck events will be held without any practice or qualifying.

NASCAR is prohibiting drivers from competing in more than one series this weekend on the Daytona road course in an effort to get extra track time. NASCAR states that is to make the event fair for everyone.

Sunday’s Cup race will be broadcast on NBC.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the races at the Daytona road course 

Cup – Go Bowling 235 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for the race at the Daytona road course.

JJ Yeley is in the No. 27 for Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Gase is in the No. 51 for Petty Ware Racing.

Gray Gaulding is in the No. 53 for Rick Ware Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is in the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports.

Timmy Hill is in the No. 66 for Motorsports Business Management.

Reed Sorenson is in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports.

Click here for Cup entry list

 

Xfinity – UNOH 188 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-eight cars are entered.

Andy Lally is back in the No. 02 Our Motorsports car after finishing fifth last week at Road America.

AJ Allmendinger, who finished second last week at Road America, is in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing.

IMSA driver Earl Bamber will make his Xfinity debut this weekend in the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing.

Brandon Gdovic will make his second start of the season, driving the No. 26 for Sam Hunt Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Truck – Sunoco 159 (Noon ET Sunday on FS1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered in the race that will be held before the Cup event on Sunday on the Daytona road course.

Alex Tagliani will drive the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Click here for Truck entry list

Silly Season Scorecard: Christopher Bell moves back to JGR

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No surprise that Christopher Bell moves over to the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing next season with Leavine Family Racing being sold and Erik Jones not remaining with JGR beyond this season. Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement Monday.

While JGR lets the 24-year-old Jones, who has 133 Cup starts go, it brings in the 25-year-old Bell who has made 22 career Cup starts. Jones said before Sunday’s race he was “blindsided a little bit” by JGR’s move.

It’s part of the building momentum of Silly Season. In the last week, Team Penske signed Brad Keselowski to a reported one-year extension and Bubba Wallace said he has an offer for next year not only from Richard Petty Motorsports but also Chip Ganassi Racing.

Here’s how the Cup Silly Season scorecard looks as of Aug. 10.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said in a press conference Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through at least 2021.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 10: Aric Almirola is in a contract year at Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon is in a contract year at Germain Racing.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto is in a contract year at Wood Brothers Racing. He said after the Aug. 9 Michigan race: “I haven’t really talked about that stuff for next year yet, but we’ve just been so focused and head down on digging and trying to make the playoffs and run well. We haven’t even really talked about it, so, hopefully, I stay here for a very long time to come and that’s what they had expressed to me when I came over here.”

No. 32: Corey LaJoie is in a contract year at Go Fas Racing.

No. 42: Matt Kenseth told NBC Sports on Aug. 8 in regards to talks with Chip Ganassi Racing for next year: “We really haven’t had any very meaningful discussions really about any of that to be honest with you.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace said Aug. 9 he has an offer from Richard Petty Motorsports and an offer from Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 42 car next season.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Leavine Family Racing announced it was selling its assets earlier this week. The buyer has not been announced. Christopher Bell will move to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team for 2021.

Christopher Bell to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021

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Christopher Bell will drive for the No. 20 next season for Joe Gibbs Racing, the team announced Monday, a decision that was expected with Erik Jones’ contract expiring after this season and it not being renewed. 

“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity I have this year with LFR and I want to finish this season strong for Bob (Leavine) and everyone there,” Bell said in a statement from the team. “At the same time, I’m extremely excited to return to Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2021. It’s an organization I’m very comfortable with and have had a lot of success with.”

Said car owner Joe Gibbs: “We are excited to bring Christopher into our Cup Series program starting in 2021. He obviously had tremendous success in the Xfinity Series with us and we look forward to his return to JGR.”

Bell drove for JGR in in the Xfinity Series in 2018 and 2019, winning 15 races, before moving to the Cup Series and Leavine Family Racing this season. Leavine Family Racing announced last week that it has been sold.

Entering Sunday’s race at the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC), Bell is 19th in points. His best finish this season is fourth at the first Pocono race in late June.

Xfinity playoff grid after Road America

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Brandon Brown extended his hold on the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid last weekend at Road America after struggles early in the race.

Brown needed to be pushed back to pit road before the field took the green because of a mechanical issue. He fell a lap down as his crew diagnosed the issue, got his lap back, scored four stage points in the second stage and finished 12th, one spot off his best career finish on a road course.

MORE: Brandon Brown wants to reward father with a special celebration

MORE: Austin Cindric wins at Road America 

Brown’s effort and Jeremy Clements misfortune in being collected in a crash to finish 29th led to Brown extending his lead on Clements for the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid to 53 points. Myatt Snider is 73 points behind Brown. Eight races remain until the Xfinity playoffs begin Sept. 26 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Here is a look at the playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Those shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Xfinity playoff grid.