Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

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

1 Comment

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.”

Scan All: “It’s crazy what you guys’ll do for a million bucks”

Leave a comment

“It’s crazy what you guys’ll do for a million bucks,” crew chief Todd Gordon told his driver after Joey Logano narrowly missed a multicar accident In the All-Star Race.

“You just wait. You’ll see a lot more of that,” Logano replied.

Here are some other highlights:

  • “Beside the 4, I think we’ve got the best car; it’s driving pretty good.” – Kyle Busch
  • “We’re tore up. Lost the hood.” – Brad Keselowski
  • “I just want to thank my teammate Clint Bowyer for putting us in that position.” – Kurt Busch
  • “He’s the last one to do that because he mirror drives everybody.” – Kyle Larson, after contact from Logano sent him spinning.
  • “That 22’s probably going to be our next caution. I think he’s gonna cut a tire, personally.” – Chase Elliott
  • “A million dollars baby. Hell yeah!” – Kevin Harvick

For more, watch the above video.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: All-Star Scan All, look ahead to Coca-Cola 600

NBCSN
Leave a comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Carolyn Manno hosts from our Stamford, Connecticut studio and is joined by driver Landon Cassill. Jeff Burton joins from Burton’s Garage.

  • This weekend, NASCAR’s best will be put to the longest test of the season in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 600-mile distance isn’t the only thing that’s unique about this challenging event. Landon and Jeff will explain what drivers have to look out for, both on and off the track!

 

  • The Charlotte region is also home base for Team Penske and its 2017 IndyCar Series champion, Josef Newgarden. As he heads into this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, Newgarden joins the show LIVE to discuss the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, his relationship with his Penske teammates, and what it’s like working for “The Captain.”

 

  • And it’s our favorite feature of the week – Scan All! Crank up those scanners and listen in on drivers, crew chiefs and spotters as they battle for a million bucks in last Saturday’s All-Star Race.

 

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.

Matt Kenseth discusses early progress for Roush cars on Dale Jr. Download

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Matt Kenseth shares parenting tips for Dale Earnhardt Jr., discusses their early days racing together and talks about his return to the car for Roush Fenway Racing in this week’s Dale Jr. Download.

Kenseth returned to the Cup Series earlier this month, driving the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing at Kansas. He finished 36th after he was eliminated by a crash. He won the pole for last weekend’s All-Star Race and finished 14th in the 21-car field.

Kenseth will be back in the car for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 and the next two races (Pocono and Michigan) before Trevor Bayne drives the No. 6 at Sonoma.

Kenseth and Bayne will split time in the car the rest of the season.

Kenseth, without a ride after Joe Gibbs Racing did not renew his contract last year, was brought to Roush Fenway Racing to help that organization improve its cars.

“It’s been really different for me because it’s a different role than I’ve ever felt like I’ve had through my racing career,’’ Kenseth said on the podcast.

After two races, Kenseth is learning what needs to be done to help the team. 

“I kind of now know where I feel like that they’re at and how much we need to do to get back to an extremely competitive environment,’’ Kenseth said, “so it’s just a lot different role and different feeling than I’ve ever had before, it’s more of a project.’’

In terms of that project, where do things stand after two races?

“Obviously, there’s a lot of room for improvement,’’ Kenseth said. “I think, the potential is there but certainly it’s going to take some work and probably a little more patience and a little more time than maybe I originally thought.’’

Listen to the show here and all that Kenseth had to say.

Cup team’s debut stirs debate on value of smaller part-time teams

Photo: NY Racing
5 Comments

The entry of NY Racing for this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 has stirred talk about the value of smaller teams unable to compete a full season in Cup after a comment from the chairman of the Race Team Alliance.

NY Racing is entered in its first Cup race of the year. JJ Yeley is the driver. The team announced Tuesday a multi-year deal with Steakhouse Elite as sponsor. The team is owned by John Cohen, whose previous Cup teams ran 16 races between 2012-15. His team’s best finish was 32nd in the 2015 Daytona 500 with Reed Sorenson. His teams also failed to qualify for seven races and withdrew five times.

The entry of NY Racing means one car will fail to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600. The five teams going for the four spots available for non-charter teams are those of BJ McLeod (No. 52, Rick Ware Racing), Sorenson (No. 55 Premium Motorsports), Timmy Hill (No. 66, Motorsports Business Management), Parker Kligerman (No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing) and Yeley.

NY Racing’s entry drew the ire of Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing and chairman of the Race Team Alliance. Kauffman tweeted about NY Racing’s entry and then responded to a few who questioned him.

Kauffman’s tweet drew a response from Xfinity driver Tommy Joe Martins, who has been vocal about the importance of smaller teams in NASCAR’s national series and the need to raise the profiles of such teams. Martins responded to Kauffman’s comments with a series of tweets.

 and on Facebook