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Ryan: Five things you might have missed on the NASCAR Media Tour

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CHARLOTTE — Generational driver schism EXPOSED!

Top-secret EFI data REVEALED!

NASCAR chairman’s absence CALLED OUT!

If screaming headlines are your thing, NASCAR’s 2018 Media Tour delivered the goods with all the subtlety of a two-by-four to the forehead.

The annual preseason event provided its share of conversation starters (even if some topics seemed played out, or at least very familiar). The rift between the emerging class of budding stars and the establishment was notable, and a more widespread dissemination of acceleration, braking and turning information could have an impact on competition this season.

If you prefer nuance, however, you might have been left wanting for deeper analysis after this annual paean to pack journalism (in which the subject matter is limited to what is disclosed by a limited group of subjects – in this case, exclusively drivers with often limited agendas). And beyond the sexiest of storylines, there were other clues as to what might bear watching this season.

Here are five things you might have missed from last week’s Media Tour, particularly if you were following the updates in 280-character dispatches:

1. For Ford teams, it’s in Hawkeye we trust: It’s rare to find consensus among such a bull-headed constituency as race car drivers. But when asked how they will keep up with the newer Camry and Camaro, virtually every man behind the wheel of a Fusion cited NASCAR’s new inspection process as the saving grace. The system being implemented in 2018 will rely on cameras and computer scanning technology for more scrutiny.

Publicly, this was hailed as a win by Ford drivers who spoke mostly in generalities about the why. Privately, many were saying the new system will neutralize body advantages gained by the more recent models of Chevrolet and Toyota. Theoretically, it will eliminate precious wiggle room under the previous laser inspection and template processes.

As NASCAR has adjusted its rules to strip downforce in recent seasons, Ford’s older model seemed to lack the adjustability needed to regain rear downforce. This partly accounts for why Brad Keselowski has been lobbying for help since last season, warning ominously after the 2017 season finale that Ford could be headed for “a drubbing.”

The Hawkeye system seems to have ameliorated some of those concerns. It probably will be at least two months until its impact can be fully evaluated. But based on their confidence at the Media Tour, the Blue Oval brigade clearly has bought into the idea that the inspection changes will offer a fighting chance – at least until Ford rolls out a redesigned body (likely the Mustang) next season.

2. Teams have made big offseason changes … : After essentially operating as two two-car teams (competing out of adjacent buildings) for more than a decade, Hendrick Motorsports’ reorganization into a more universal approach is indicative of the teams’ struggles last season but also of the engineering-driven assembly line mentality that has taken root in Cup.

Traditionally, crew chiefs have stood as the king of the mountain at Hendrick, but its latest organization chart suggests that decision-making will become more diffuse. That could be an adjustment (and perhaps a welcome one) for Chad Knaus, who has enjoyed unprecedented success while leading Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet for the past 16 seasons. After arguably the most underperforming season of Johnson’s career, it seems an acknowledgment that the teams’ cars and setups would benefit from more input and “a think-tanking of ideas,” as Johnson alluded (while also hinting that shrinking sponsorship also makes standardization an easier choice over customization).

On a lesser scale, internal moves by smaller teams such as JTG Daugherty Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports seem aimed at enhancing the efficiency and leverage afforded by forming alliances with large teams. The blueprint is last year’s championship campaign of Furniture Row Racing, which outran Toyota ally and chassis supplier Joe Gibbs Racing with a much smaller budget and staff.

3. … and so have some drivers: After living much of the past two seasons in Aspen, Colorado, Johnson indicated he will be spending more time in Charlotte this year, aiding his team’s transition to a new structure with younger drivers. Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne is headed in the other direction, relocating to his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee (though he will make frequent trips to the shop).

Kasey Kahne outlined his plans for running a couple dozen sprint car races with his teams now that his contractual shackles have been loosened. While the moonlighting surely will keep him loose, it was telling that Kahne recalled his 2011 with Red Bull Racing was “awesome” and more enjoyable than any of his six seasons at Hendrick.

Though he did score a win at Phoenix (in Red Bull’s penultimate race in NASCAR) and a respectable 14th in points (better than his final four years at Hendrick), it wasn’t the results that made him happy at Red Bull – it was the less constrained atmosphere of a smaller team. Kahne probably won’t have the same caliber of cars at Leavine Family Racing, but he will have less pressure, and that might make a difference.

4. Kyle Busch’s drive: The runner-up in last year’s championship race hasn’t rewatched the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale, and he probably won’t have another screening until November when Kyle Busch hopes to be advance to the championship round for the fourth consecutive season.

While he concedes that Martin Truex Jr. was deserving of the title because of his season-long excellence, Busch and his team believed they were as good or better than the No. 78 at Miami. That compounded the sting from Busch feeling as if he should have repeated as champion in 2016. “It’s tough when you feel like you should have won it three years in a row,” Busch said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “You’re obviously feeling like a failure and a letdown and not just for yourself but your team and organization and everyone around you.”

Busch had five wins last year but easily could have had twice as many, and those misses linger with him as much as the triumphs. His cutthroat determination makes him a star as much as his singular ability, and his edge already is evident this year. With the growing pains that slowed the Camry at the start of 2017 long gone, Busch seems primed to open 2018 the way he did a decade ago (when he won eight of the first 22 races in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing) and don’t forget that the Daytona 500 remains a glaring omission on his resume.

5. Kyle Larson (literally): The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was missing from the Media Tour because of an illness. But Larson was present at a sponsor announcement the previous week and provided some interesting reflections on last year’s finale and this season’s outlook.

He also reaffirmed his desire to have more Cup drivers run in grassroots series such as the Chili Bowl, laughing at Keselowski’s suggestion of being too tall to succeed (“He would barely be above average height in a Midget”). But he also empathized with those who worry about the reputation risks of parachuting into the Chili Bowl.

“I’ve thought about running a big dirt late model race, but I can’t even get the courage to go do it because I don’t want to embarrass myself not having practiced or raced it before,” Larson said. “So it would be really tough for a NASCAR guy to have high expectations or anything like that. I’m sure a lot of fans would have expectations of some sort for them, so it would be tough, but I’d love to see everyone give it a try because it’s a huge event and they’re amazing cars to drive. I think they would all be amazed at the power they have compared to what they’re used to, so it would be cool for sure to see them run.”

NASCAR America: Martin Truex Jr. looks for rebound at reliable Kansas

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Martin Truex Jr. started the playoffs on good footing, finishing third in the first two races at Las Vegas and Richmond after leading the most laps in both races. He then was one turn away from winning on the Charlotte Roval before being spun by Jimmie Johnson.

Then he more or less disappeared, with his last two races culminating in a “miserable” run at Talladega and a 23rd-place finish.

Entering this weekend’s elimination race at Kansas, where he’s won two of the last three races, Truex is 18 points above the cutoff spot in the last transfer position.

On NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman and Dale Jarrett discussed the defending series champion’s prospects entering Kansas.

“Someone is always having a problem and falling out of that eighth (playoff seed in the elimination race),” Jarrett said. “Can that happen this Sunday afternoon? It certainly can happen. Can Martin Truex be that one? You wouldn’t think (so) because he’s done so well over the years at this race track regardless of what car he was driving. … He just knows how to get the job done there.”

Kligerman said “there’s no doubt in my mind that they will advance” if the No. 78 team does everything they do well.

Watch the above video for more.

 

 

Long: Is Talladega supposed to look like this?

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So what is NASCAR? Is it a sport? Or is it a show?

Admittedly, those in the NASCAR offices likely will view its racing as both. But that creates a conflict over how to look at Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

If one views it as a sporting event, Stewart-Haas Racing’s domination — qualifying all of its cars in the top four, running there much of the race and Aric Almirola winning with Clint Bowyer second — should be celebrated because SHR did what every team hopes to do every weekend.

But that performance doesn’t play well to the overall view of the race (or show). With SHR controlling the front and drivers battling ill-handling cars, the two- and three-wide racing so common at Talladega often was replaced by single-file racing.

The 15 lead changes were the fewest at Talladega since 1973.

Green flag passes — a stat NASCAR tracks based on position changes over each scoring loop on every lap — were down 54.4 percent from last fall’s playoff race at Talladega.

Think about that … lead changes at its lowest level since before any driver in Sunday’s race was born and green-flag passes down more than 50 percent from the previous year.

Is that something fans want to see more of?

Doesn’t seem to be the case based on Jeff Gluck’s weekly Twitter poll. He stated that only 42 percent of those who voted this week thought Talladega was a good race.

Fewer than 50 percent of the voters said either Talladega race this year was a good one in Gluck’s poll. The April race had 24 lead changes — the fewest for that event since 19 lead changes in the 1998 race — and saw a 57.8 percent decline in green-flag passes.

There’s an expectation when NASCAR races at Daytona and Talladega of pack racing, passing and wild action.

Such was in limited supply at both Talladega races this year. But it wasn’t just there. The four plate races (Daytona and Talladega) saw 89 lead changes this season — down 29.4 percent from last year’s plate races.

While three of the four plate races this year ended with a last-lap pass (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500, Erik Jones at Daytona in July and Aric Almirola at Talladega last weekend), not everyone may be willing to wait through the racing to those final laps.

With the 2019 rules package, NASCAR anticipates pack racing to remain key at Daytona and Talladega but Sunday’s race might force series officials to make some additional changes to ensure the pack is back next year.


Questions have been raised about how NASCAR officiated the end of the Truck and Cup races this weekend at Talladega.

Kurt Busch was critical of NASCAR’s decision. Had NASCAR called a caution for the crash in Turn 1 on the last lap, Busch likely would have won. Instead, he ran out of fuel and Aric Almirola won.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, explained Monday on SirusXM NASCAR Radio how series officials made the call on if to throw the caution in either race.

“Our first job is to always make sure everybody is safe, and we felt we did that in this case,” O’Donnell said about letting the Cup race finish under green.

While each last-lap scenario presents different challenges, NASCAR must remain steadfast in following what O’Donnell said in terms of driver safety. That must be No. 1 regardless of it is the last lap at Talladega, the last lap of the Daytona 500 or the last lap of the championship race in Miami.

NASCAR must be consistent with that. And that may mean calling for a caution instead of a dramatic race to the finish line.


It won’t be next year but maybe someday GMS Racing likely will field a Cup team.

GMS Racing, owned by Maury Gallagher, was in talks with Furniture Row Racing earlier this year to purchase the team’s charter, align with Joe Gibbs Racing and move to Cup next season. It’s one of the reasons why the team, through Mike Beam, didn’t try to top Front Row Motorsports’ bid for BK Racing’s charter and equipment in a court-appointed auction in August.

After examining all the costs, Gallagher decided not to pursue the Furniture Row Racing charter and equipment.

“We’re still talking and thinking about it, but first things first, we’re trying to get through this year and do some good things, particularly winning the (Truck) championship,” Gallagher said after Timothy Peters won the Truck race at Talladega.

Spencer Gallagher called the deal not working out a “tempered disappointment” but added “we got into that deal and we realized that we were going to have to undertake some additional complications with it. More than anything, if and when we make the decision to go Cup racing, I’d like to think that if we have one true luxury it is that we get to choose when and where we get to do it, which means that we’re committed to only doing it if it can be done right.

“As Maury likes to say, there’s always another deal that comes along. Patience is our watchword for getting ourselves into Cup.”

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Kansas preview, Scan All Talladega

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to look at the fallout of the Talladega Cup race.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Parker Kligerman from the Stamford Studio. Dale Jarrett joins them from the Charlotte Studio.

On today’s show:

  • As the playoffs head for Kansas, only Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott are safe. And as we’ve seen in years past, big names have entered the Round of 12 cut race with good points cushions – only to meet with disaster and elimination. Which driver above the cut line should be the most worried?
  • Marty Snider is at Stewart-Haas Racing with a report on how they’re looking to have all four of their drivers advance again in the playoffs. Plus – he talks 1-on-1 with Aric Almirola’s crew chief, John Klausmeier, about how the No. 10 team is preparing for the Round of 8.
  • Almirola and Co. are riding high, but Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 crew are in big trouble. A three-week series of unfortunate events have put them 18 points behind the cut line. Can they find a way to save their season? Steve Letarte talks with their champion crew chief, Paul Wolfe.
  • And we’ll take one last look – and listen – to last weekend’s wild finish that shook up the playoff picture in Scan All Talladega.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Aric Almirola ended third longest drought between first, second Cup wins

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Despite being just over four years ago, July 6, 2014 feels like it was in another lifetime.

Now imagine how Aric Almirola felt prior to his win Sunday in the Cup race at Talladega.

It had been 149 races since Almirola first visited Victory Lane in the Cup Series. He won the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in 2014 driving Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Ford.

When Almirola passed Kurt Busch coming to the checkered flag Sunday, it snapped the third-longest streak of starts between wins No. 1 and No. 2 in the Cup Series.

Here are the top five longest streaks.

1. Martin Truex Jr.  – 218 starts between wins

Truex’s first win came on June 4, 2007 at Dover International Speedway while driving Dale Earnhardt Inc.’s No. 1 Chevrolet.

He would have to wait until June 23, 2013 at Sonoma Raceway to get win No. 2, this time coming in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 56 Toyota

2. Jamie McMurray – 165 starts between wins

McMurray famously earned his first Cup win in his second career start. Subbing for an injured Sterling Marlin in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge, McMurray won on Oct. 13, 2002 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Win No. 2 did not present itself until July 7, 2007 at Daytona. Driving the No. 26 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray beat Kyle Busch by five-thousandths of a second to return to Victory Lane.

3. Aric Almirola  – 149 starts between wins

4. Ward Burton – 131 starts between wins

Burton won his first Cup race in his sophomore season, driving the No. 22 Pontiac for Bill Davis Racing. He won on Oct. 22, 1995 at Rockingham Motor Speedway.

Five years later and still driving the No. 22 for Davis, Burton returned to Victory Lane on March 19, 2000 at Darlington Raceway.

5. Morgan Shepherd – 115 starts between wins

After making eight Cup starts from 1970 – 1978, Shepherd finally ran a majority of the schedule in 1981, running all but the first two races. His first win came relatively quickly in race No. 9 on April 26 at Martinsville Speedway.

The second victory came on March 16, 1986 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Of Shepherd’s four career wins, three came at Atlanta.

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