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Friday 5: NASCAR ends practice of drivers sitting in cars to serve penalties

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The public shaming drivers, most notably Joey Logano, suffered last year because their cars did not pass inspection will not be repeated this season, NASCAR confirmed.

Logano was forced to sit in his car at the end of pit road for an entire 50-minute practice session in September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because his car failed to clear qualifying inspection.

At one point, Logano’s wife delivered water as he sat strapped in the car in full uniform. The intent for such penalties was that since drivers are part of a team they should also suffer consequences when their cars failed to pass inspection in a timely fashion.

But the Logano spectacle turned the penalty into “a joke” as Logano called it that day after exiting his car in the garage.

NASCAR will change how it will enforce such penalties this year.

Teams still will be docked practice time but they will serve it in the garage instead of on pit road. Also, the driver no longer has to be in the car. Teams cannot work on the car while it is serving a timed penalty.

Also, teams will serve their penalties at the end of a practice session instead of the beginning. So, if a team has a 15-minute penalty, the driver must take the car back to the garage at that point, exit the car and the team is done for the session.

The move keeps cars from being parked on pit road, drivers sitting in them for 15, 30 minutes or more and people talking more about a car not on track instead of those that are practicing.

2. More details revealed on NASCAR’s new pit crew rules

When NASCAR announced in November that it was eliminating one person from going over the wall to pit the car, it led to many questions. At the time, NASCAR couldn’t answer all those questions as they were sorting through the details of allowing only five people to service the car.

NASCAR provided a few more answers this week.

What happens if a pit crew member is injured during an event?

That person can be replaced by a backup — even if they are assigned to another team. Say, a member of Stewart-Haas Racing’s pit crew is injured and cannot continue. SHR, which has provided pit crews to Front Row Motorsports, could take one member from that pit crew to replace the injured person. Front Row then would have to fill the open spot with someone who is listed as a pit crew member on a team roster.

OK, what about a situation like what happened at Texas in 2010 when Chad Knaus replaced all of his pit crew with teammate Jeff Gordon’s pit crew during a race?

Teams can make changes based on performance within their organization as long as they are on a roster. Recall, teams must submit a roster listing their pit crew, road crew and organizational members each weekend.

Previously it was stated that the fuel man can only fuel the car during a stop. Has that changed?

NASCAR remains steadfast in that the fuel man can only fuel the car — he is not allowed to make adjustments on the car or help with tires. The exception that NASCAR will allow is that the fuel man can kick a tire down in the name of safety — to avoid being hit by a tire.

Wait, there is a time when a fuel man can work on the car?

Yes. Say a team has damage and comes to pit road for repairs. A fuel man can go over the wall to help repair damage but cannot fuel the car during that stop. If a team changes only tires and doesn’t add fuel during a routine stop, the fuel man cannot go over the wall. No fuel, no fuel man over the wall — unless it is related to repairing damage.

3. “Jimmie Johnson rule” goes away

A controversial call NASCAR made last year in the playoff race at Charlotte won’t be repeated this season.

Jimmie Johnson started to pull out of his pit box before his team stopped him because of an unsecured lug nut. Johnson backed his car but it was not entirely in his pit stall when a crew member secured a lug nut on the left front wheel.

As it happened, many figured Johnson would be penalized for having work done on the car outside the pit box.

NASCAR did not penalize, stating that it had routinely allowed teams to secure a lug nut outside the pit box, calling it a safety issue.

All such work this season must be done in the pit box, NASCAR confirmed. If not, it’s a penalty.

Another change involves the fuel man. Previously, NASCAR allowed the fuel man to have the fuel can connected to the car and follow the car as it exited its pit stall. That no longer will be allowed. The fuel man must unplug the fuel can before the front of the car crosses over the edge of its pit stall or the team will be penalized for servicing the car outside the stall.

4. Maybe next year

One of the changes Denny Hamlin said the Drivers Council discussed last year was the choose rule. That’s what is used at short tracks.

The premise is that as drivers cross the start/finish line a lap before a restart, drivers have the option to choose if they want to start on the inside or outside lane. On a track where one groove is significantly better .

I know we talked a little bit about cone choose rule on restarts for some tracks,’’ Hamlin said of the Drivers Council. “That didn’t come forth this year. I know several of us were hoping so, being that there was such a disadvantage at some racetracks such as (you) happen to come off pit lane in the wrong lane, you’re not going to win the race, and that’s not necessarily fair.

“I think giving the drivers a choose rule would be something good to look forward in the future, but overall it’s status quo on the way the stages went. The cars are relatively the same, so there’s good momentum that we need to build on from last year.”

5. One last weekend …

This is the final weekend before NASCAR resumes at Daytona International Speedway. This also marks one of only two weekends without any of NASCAR’s three national series racing between now and the end of the season on Nov. 18.

The other weekend? March 31-April 1 because April 1 is Easter.

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NASCAR completes merger with International Speedway Corp.

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NASCAR announced Friday morning it had closed on its merger with International Speedway Corp.

Jim France will serve as the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. Lesa France Kennedy will be the executive vice chair. Steve Phelps has been appointed president and will oversee all operations of the company.

“The merger of NASCAR and ISC represents a historic moment for our sport,” France said in a statement. “There is much work ahead of us, but we’re pleased with the progress made to position our sport for success. Delivering for our race fans and partners is job number one and we look forward to doing that better than ever for years to come.”

As part of the new organization, the Board of Directors will consist of France, France Kennedy, Mike Helton and Gary Crotty, chief legal officerPhelps’ direct reports will include Ed Bennett, executive vice president & chief administrative officer; Jill Gregory, executive vice president & chief marketing and content officer; Craig Neeb, executive vice president & chief innovation officer; Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president & chief racing development officer; and Daryl Wolfe, executive vice president & chief operations and sales officer.

Helton and John Saunders will serve as senior advisors under the new leadership structure.

“With great racing across all of our series, an exciting 2020 schedule on tap, and the Next Gen race car in development, we are better positioned than ever before to lead the sport into a new era of growth,” said Phelps in a statement. “We have a strong, experienced leadership team in place with incredibly dedicated employees at every level throughout our organization. Our best days are ahead of us and our new organization is going to allow us to better deliver great racing to our fans everywhere.”

NASCAR’s Friday schedule at Kansas Speedway

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The NASCAR playoff race weekend at Kansas Speedway begins today.

Cup and Xfinity Series teams will each hold two practice sessions.

The wunderground.com forecast predicts a high of 74 degrees, partly sunny skies and a 10% chance of rain.

Here’s the day’s schedule.

(All times are Eastern)

Noon – 11 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

1 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

3:05 – 3:55 p.m.  – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4:05 – 4:55 – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

5:05 – 5:55 – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

7:05-7:55 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

 

Friday 5: Is this Kyle Busch’s time?

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Will this become the fall of Kyle Busch?

Not fall as in stumble but fall as in season — when he takes control of the Cup playoffs.

Busch, the regular-season champion, has been many things this postseason — moody, controversial and mistake-prone — but he’s not been a dominant figure on the track.

His average finish in the first half of these playoffs is 16.6 — marking the fourth time since 2015 he’s had an average finish of 14th or worse halfway through the postseason.

Busch, though, made it to the championship race each of those four years, winning the title in 2015.

But with Busch, there’s always something more.

Instead of a streak of Championship 4 appearances, it is his winless streak that draws more attention. Busch has failed to win in the past 17 races, his longest drought since going 36 races between Cup victories in 2016-17.

Since Busch last won at Pocono in early June — before Justin Haley’s improbable win at Daytona, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. losing his ride at Roush Fenway Racing and then signing with JTG Daugherty Racing and Bubba Wallace and Busch beating and banging at Watkins Glen — he’s seen Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones all win.

Miscues have hindered Busch’s playoffs. He hit the wall on Lap 3 of the opener at Las Vegas. Busch rallied from two laps down to be back on the lead lap before running into the rear of Garrett Smithley’s car. After the race, Busch called out Smithley and Joey Gase, questioning their credentials to be in the Cup Series.

Busch’s Dover run was hurt by a speeding penalty. He had a flat tire after contact with Kyle Larson on a restart at the Charlotte Roval and had to pit. A suspension issued later led to his day ending. Several laps down and with nothing to gain, Busch drove the car back to the garage during a red flag. His Talladega race was impacted by an accident, just like about every other driver. The only playoff driver not involved in an incident in the race was winner Ryan Blaney.

But things could be changing for Busch.

For all his struggles, he’s finished second three times during his winless drought and had six top-five results. Only Hamlin (10 top fives), Truex (eight) and Kevin Harvick (seven) have had more top fives than Busch in this stretch.

Provided Busch advances — he is 41 points Alex Bowman, the first driver outside a transfer spot — he’ll likely be the points leader heading into the Round of 8 after Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The Round of 8 begins at Martinsville Speedway. Busch finished third there in the spring. He’s not placed worse than eighth in any of the five short track races this season. He led 66 laps before finishing 10th at Texas and won at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, leading 177 of 312 laps.

Get Busch to Miami (again) and he could leave as a two-time champion.

2. Tough challenge for hopefuls 

The most likely way Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer or William Byron — the four drivers outside a playoff race — will advance to the next round will be to win Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Bowman trails Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot by 18 points. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points. Bowyer trails Logano by 24 points, and Byron trails Logano by 27 points.

The only time Byron and Bowyer outscored Logano in a race by as many points as they trail was at Dover in the playoffs when Logano spent the first 24 laps in the garage.

Bowman has outscored Logano by 18 points in three races this year: Dover playoff race, Talladega in April (Bowman was second) and Kansas in May (Bowman was second)

Elliott has had better results. He has outscored Logano by 22 or more points in a race five times this year: Martinsville in March (Elliott outscored Logano by 28 points), Talladega in April (22 points), Kansas in May (29 points), Watkins Glen (46 points) in August and the Bristol night race (25 points) in August. Elliott won at Talladega and Watkins Glen. He was second at Martinsville, fourth at Kansas and fifth at Bristol.

That’s the challenge those four drivers face this weekend trying to knock Logano out of the final playoff spot.

3. Looking to help 

Brad Keselowski expressed his concern about team members who will be or could be losing their jobs in the near future as the sport goes through change.

He recently sent this tweet:

So what can Keselowski do?

“I haven’t gotten an answer to it yet, but I’m looking at it, trying to think about what ideas there might be” Keselowski said. “I haven’t come up with a solution yet. I just wanted those people to know that are affected by it that I cared about it. I can’t employ the couple of hundred people that are probably going to get laid off in the next few weeks, but I’m sure I can do something for someone.”

4. Youth movement?

The last three races have been won by three of the five youngest drivers in the playoffs: Chase Elliott (Charlotte Roval), Kyle Larson (Dover) and Ryan Blaney (Talladega).

Elliott is 23, Larson is 27 and Blaney is 25. The playoffs also include William Byron (21 years old) and Alex Bowman (26). Erik Jones (23) was eliminated in the first round.

5. Drought busters

Five drivers have ended winless streaks of 30 or more races this season: Kyle Larson (75 races) Denny Hamlin (45), Erik Jones (42), Ryan Blaney (37) and Kurt Busch (30).

Among drivers with long winless droughts: Paul Menard (299 races), David Ragan (237), Chris Buescher (118), Ryan Newman (99), Jimmie Johnson (90), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (86), Austin Dillon (66), Clint Bowyer (52), Aric Almirola (36),

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2019 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award finalists announced

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Comcast has announced the three finalists for this year’s Community Champion of the Year Award, which recognizes the philanthropic efforts of individuals within the NASCAR industry.

Through the award Comcast has donated $600,000 to 15 different NASCAR-affiliated organizations to honor their efforts and help further the impact of their causes.

The three finalists are:

  • Artie Kempner, NASCAR on FOX Coordinating Director and Co-Founder of Autism Delaware
  • David Ragan, Cup Series driver and Ambassador for Shriners Hospitals for Children
  • Mike Tatoian, President and CEO of Dover International Speedway and USO Delaware Chairman

The award winner will be selected by a panel composed of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano, who won the award in 2018. Comcast will award $60,000 to the winner’s affiliated charity, and $30,000 to each of the two remaining finalists’ selected charities.

The winner will be announced Nov. 14 at W. South Beach Hotel in Miami in conjunction with the NASCAR Championship Weekend.

Artie Kempner (Wilmington, Delaware) – In 1998, a small group of parents got together in the living room of Marcy and Artie Kempner’s house in Wilmington, Delaware. The Kempner’s had three boys and their middle son, Ethan, had been diagnosed with autism a year earlier. All of the parents at the table had children on the autism spectrum. That gathering was the beginning of Autism Delaware and Artie became the group’s first president. The organization started as a simple support group, but 20+ years later it’s a statewide service agency, fielding more than 1,500 calls from families annually, offering lifespan services, as well as social and recreational program for families in a safe and welcoming environment.

Kempner’s work on the Drive for Autism Celebrity-Am Golf Outing, helped the group raise the necessary money to launch its critically acclaimed adult vocational and employment program known as POW&R, Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation. Now in its 11th year, POW&R assesses an individual’s strengths and vocational goals, and matches them with community-based employment, volunteer and recreational opportunities. Today, the program serves over 150 adults with autism in paid employment.

David Ragan (Unadilla, Georgia) – Since 2012, Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan has been dedicated to supporting Shriners Hospital for Children as a part of their ambassador program. Ragan spends much of his off-time visiting hospitals, fundraising, as well as inviting patients to the race track for once-in-a-lifetime experiences at NASCAR events. Ragan’s passion for the hospital goes beyond just the bare-minimum appearance, he makes an effort to remember each patient’s name + story and will continue to stay in touch long after he meets them. Ragan knows the children and families he meets are likely struggling and wants to do what he can to put a smile on their face. His association with the Shriners, as well as being a Shriner himself, has not only brought attention to the hospitals and the great work they are doing, but has increased donations from race fans and team partners. Many people aren’t aware of the great work that the Shriners do, but Ragan has been a strong voice for them for the past 10 years and has changed countless lives because of his great work.

Mike Tatoian (Dover, Delaware) – Mike Tatoian has been a staple of the Delaware and mid-Atlantic charitable communities, particularly with local military organizations at Dover (Del.) Air Force Base, since he began his tenure at the “Monster Mile” in 2007. One of his longest commitments has been with United Service Organizations. Established during World War II, the USO supports U.S. service members wherever they are, including on-base, deployed abroad, passing through an airport or in local communities at more than 200 locations around the world. One-particular duty that distinguishes USO Delaware is it’s the only USO in the world that shares the responsibility of bringing home fallen service members, working alongside other units such as the Air Force Mortuary Affairs, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Joint Personal Effects Depot and the Families of the Fallen. For 13 years, Tatoian has assisted USO Delaware with countless programs and currently serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for the organization.