Ryan: Squelching social media isn’t solution for improving inspection

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The content was so compelling, the engagement was so widespread, and the stakes were so high.

There was so much resonance rumbling through the myriad feeds of NASCAR Twitter, it had to get someone’s attention.

And it did.

Of course we’re talking about NASCAR being named a finalist for best use of Twitter (the #NASCARPlayoffs hashtag) in the Cynopsis Sports Media Awards.

Wait, did something else happen last week in the realm of NASCAR social media?

Oh, right.

At the same time the hottest driver in NASCAR was fingering social media as the source of his penalty after winning at Las Vegas and subtly upbraiding NASCAR executives for whiling away too many hours on Twitter, other NASCAR staffers were cheerily hailing the sanctioning body’s appearance five times on the Cynopsis list.

Besides the Twitter accolade, NASCAR Digital Media also picked up a nomination for best podcast series (The Glass Case of Emotion, co-hosted by Ryan Blaney), and even Harvick was represented in best radio program (for his Happy Hours show on SiriusXM with Matt Yocum, which is up against heavyweights Dan Patrick, Jim Rome and Dan Le Batard).

The point of this is to note that while Harvick’s points about the impact of social media on NASCAR officiating are fair (particularly as it relates to high-ranking decision-makers who spend chunks of their days interacting with fans), there also is no putting the genie back in the bottle and pretending that Twitter and its pervasive tentacles can simply be ignored.

NASCAR is craving that input. Many of its strategies for future audience growth and retention are predicated on leveraging social media to the hilt. Its Fan and Media Engagement Center in Uptown Charlotte is monitoring what fans are saying on the Internet in real time with an Oceanic breadth and precision.

The Reddit detectives are here to stay, and God love them, because it actually is good to have that level of interest from a sophisticated segment of the fan base. NASCAR actively is promoting its STEM initiatives in attracting younger fans; what better example of how engineering principles are being applied in the viewing experience.

No, the answer to how NASCAR can improve its officiating won’t be found in constraining social media, whose rise can’t be untethered from the technology that also made Harvick’s Las Vegas penalties possible. In the era of high-definition TV and digital images transmitted instantaneously, rival teams and NASCAR were seeing potentially incriminating evidence of the No. 4 Ford ahead of anyone on Twitter.

In the 21st century digital age, the best solution is to stop evaluating and announcing postrace infractions on a late 20th-century timetable. NASCAR needs to find a way to do postrace inspection expeditiously and exclusively at the track.

Harvick alluded to this in praising Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip, who said in a SiriusXM interview last week that postrace inspections at the R&D Center (which opened in 2003) should be informational only. During a January appearance on the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Harvick suggested a similar approach with the advent of the Optical Scanning Station, which he hoped would transform postrace inspection. “You’ll see cars taken back (to the R&D Center) not really to be relevant of whether you won or lost or are getting a fine, but if something’s happening and moving and to say, ‘This can’t happen,’” Harvick said.

After Denny Hamlin’s Southern 500 victory last year was tainted by a Wednesday penalty, there seemed serious momentum for limiting the shelf life of a Cup penalty to Sunday night. Somehow, that got sidetracked before the 2018 season, leaving NASCAR vulnerable to the negative optics of last week’s controversy. It’s never good when the main storyline four days after the race is whether a winner was legal.

The best option is simple: NASCAR needs to get out of the business of R&D Center teardowns two to three days after a race. Not because of social media but because it’s inevitable that teams always will be ahead of NASCAR inspectors and increase the odds that a midweek teardown will uncover something pushing the boundaries, as Jeff Burton explained on the NASCAR on NBC Podcast last fall.

“They have to get to a place to where you roll through tech postrace (at the track), you’re good,” Burton said. “You can’t not have postrace (inspection), but some of it, they’re just going to have to give up on.”

That isn’t as large of a concession as it might seem. Surely, if there’s an instance during a race in which a winner appears to be benefiting from a questionable part, it can be given closer scrutiny afterward.

Social media is hard-wired into NASCAR’s existence and can’t be eradicated. It’s best to figure out how to incorporate it (with efficiency) instead of excluding it from inspection.


Asked why his team wouldn’t appeal Harvick’s penalty, Tony Stewart answered with a question. “How many appeals have you seen overturned?”

Maybe more than “Smoke” thinks.

According to NASCAR research from the past 20 seasons (when appeals records have been kept consistently), there have been 202 appeals heard. Including both levels of appeals (which initially are heard by a three-person panel and then can be sent to the Final Appeals Officer), 67 percent have been upheld. There were 33 percent that have been adjusted, including 49 that were reduced and 14 were overturned completely (7 percent of the full total).

The most recent appeal “win” involved a shock infraction against a K&N team at Phoenix International Raceway in November 2015 that resulted in the elimination of a six-month probation.

So maybe the odds weren’t stacked against Stewart’s team as much as it seemed – though NASCAR also has rewritten its rulebook in recent years for clarity that enhances the chances of penalties being upheld. It also looks at issuing penalties the same way federal prosecutors do – they won’t bring a case unless they believe they have ironclad evidence to win at trial.


Danica Patrick’s name hardly has been mentioned, but it’s easy to spot the subtext of the best start in Stewart-Haas Racing history: Patrick’s departure after five seasons is being viewed as a positive by the team.

Harvick intimated as much during a postrace interview Sunday (video above) with NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast (“It’s elevated the 10 car (Patrick’s former ride) to make it relevant in our organization; it was irrelevant for several years because it didn’t perform”), and he already took a subtle dig at Daytona International Speedway last month about the productivity of Patrick’s feedback (“You have to have the input to help build your team going forward, so some of those things fall short possibly from maybe not getting the input that the team needed to push the cars in a good direction.”).

Stewart, who also hasn’t been shy about pointing a finger partly at Patrick for the struggles of her team (noting its personnel was overhauled at her behest), said Sunday that “it just shows the strength of having four really good teammates that are giving four valid sets of information that they can all feed off of and work off of.  It just seems like this group of these guys really work well together.”

The implication is clear: Patrick was the weak link replaced by Aric Almirola.

What impact might it have on Patrick’s brand or legacy in NASCAR?

Probably very little, as she wraps up her racing career with the Indianapolis 500 and focuses her attention on clothing lines, fitness books and cooking show concepts. But if SHR continues to excel, it will undoubtedly be hailed as validation by her detractors in NASCAR.


After his third consecutive victory, Harvick joked that Gil Martin, his crew chief from 2009-2012 at Richard Childress Racing, intentionally tried to fire him up to produce better results.

Sunday’s gleeful celebration showed why it often works for a driver who admittedly thrives on controversy and stirring up trouble. So why not make Harvick angry all the time?

Because it doesn’t always work.

For every instance in which he has delivered a playoff moment after getting ticked off (e.g., Dover 2015 when he remained upset with Jimmie Johnson for a collision in the playoff opener), there have been others in which he has come up short (e.g., Dover 2010 when he finished 15th after a garage confrontation a day earlier with Denny Hamlin, who had questioned the legality of RCR’s cars).

Any rival knows there is nothing to be gained with “Happy” by poking the bear, but the anger doesn’t automatically translate into transcendent performances. With a fast car and a foul attitude, there is no one better, but the former also can matter as much as the latter.


Harvick will stay squarely in the spotlight even before the garage in Fontana, California, opens this weekend. The Bakersfield native will be racing Thursday night just a few hours up the road at his hometown track of Kern County Raceway in a K&N race (that will be broadcast at 11 p.m. ET March 20 on NBCSN).

The 2014 series champion spoke eloquently about why the grassroots outreach was important and how it had gone missing in recent years.

Here’s a good example of what he meant: Before NASCAR’s 1997 inaugural race at Fontana, there was anticipation that short tracks such as nearby Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino would benefit from Southern California’s first Cup race in nine years. During Riverside International Raceway’s heyday, stars such as Bill Elliott often would show up to run a Late Model at Orange Show the night before the main event

But when the Cup Series returned, the stars didn’t come to the short tracks. If Harvick, who singled out Elliott’s son, Chase, as a prime candidate for following his footsteps, can start a trend at Kern County, it’ll be a good one.


If winning felt like a playoff moment for Harvick, finishing second might have felt the same way for Kyle Busch – but not for the right reasons.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver now has finished second in three of the past five Cup races dating to last season’s championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And just as when he lost the 2017 title to Martin Truex Jr., Busch’s No. 18 Toyota seemed faster than Harvick’s Sunday (leading a race-high 128 laps).

At Miami, it was an inopportune caution flag that wrecked Busch’s chances to beat Truex. It was strategy again Sunday, but this time it was more self-inflicted (as noted by Steve Letarte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Monday’s NASCAR America) with a curious decision to wait on pitting under green and then a botched stop.

“Had a couple guys pit a little bit before us,” Busch said. “I don’t think that hurt us too bad, but the jack dropping certainly did. We lost the race on pit road today. There’s been races where I’ve won it on pit road, too. We’ll just have to go into next week and see what we can do there. “

Crew chief Adam Stevens prepares championship-caliber cars, and Busch brings all-world talent. But the persistent struggle at closing out wins (evidenced by how long it took for a breakthrough to happen last season) has to be eating at the team at some level.

Friday 5: Could Jimmie Johnson score Most Popular Driver award in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It would be easy for some to expect that Chase Elliott’s second consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver award marks the early stages of a streak that could rival, if not top, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s record run of 15 consecutive titles.

But that would be overlooking some challenges Elliott will face.

One could come from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who said 2020 will be his last full-time Cup season.

That gives him a final chance to win one of the few honors he’s never captured in his NASCAR career.

Johnson is the only seven-time champion not to win the Most Popular Driver award. Dale Earnhardt was awarded the honor posthumously in 2001. Richard Petty won it eight times, the last time in 1978.

If he couldn’t win an eighth championship, would there be a better sendoff for Johnson than to win the sport’s most popular driver award?

“There’s no award that Jimmie could or will ever win that he doesn’t deserve,” Elliott said Thursday night after the NASCAR Awards show at the Music City Center. “Whatever next year brings, I’m looking forward to spending it with him. It’s been an honor to be his teammate. If he gets the (most popular driver) honor next year, that’s great and I’ll be happy for him. There’s no doubt that he deserves it. You do what he’s done in this sport, my opinion, you can do whatever you want. Pulling for him. I’d love to see him get eight (championships). I’d also love to get one.

“Don’t write him off yet because I think he’s pretty fired up, and I could see him having a big year next year.”

Johnson had his fans early in his career but his success turned many off, who tired of the Californian winning so often.

Things changed before the 2016 championship race in Miami as Johnson prepared to go for his record-tying seventh title. He saw it as he went around the track in a pickup during driver intros.

“I usually get flipped off a lot,” Johnson said that day after winning his seventh title. “They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go. I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they’re shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven. All the way around the race track everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.”

Another key challenger for Elliott for Most Popular Driver is two-time champion Kyle Busch.

Yes, that is correct.

Busch finished second to Elliott in the voting for Most Popular Driver award this year.

It once seemed impossible that Busch would finish in the top five in any type of most popular driver voting, but his Rowdy Nation fan base continues to grow.

If not next year for Busch, there’s the chance his fan base could carry him to a Most Popular Driver award sometime in the future.

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

2. Gut-wrenching pain

The most emotional moment of Thursday’s awards show came when Kyle Busch turned to wife Samantha to thank her for her support and also console her for the multiple failures this year in trying for a second child.

The couple went through in-vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in 2015. They used that experience to create the Bundle of Joy fund to provide money to infertile couples.

Samantha Busch announced in Nov. 2018 that she was pregnant with their second child only to suffer a miscarriage eight days later.

Busch’s voice quivered as he revealed on stage the pain he and his wife went through this year.

“I read quote recently that hit home for me,” Busch said to Samantha. “It said: “The strongest people are not those that show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others don’t know anything about. I’m right here with you knowing how hard it has been to go through multiple … yes multiple failed attempts of (in-vitro fertilization) this year.

“To walk around and try to face people week after week is difficult for me always knowing in the back of my mind how helpless I feel in life knowing how much I wanted to answer your prayers and be able to give you a gift of our baby girl.”

Busch said he had talked briefly to his wife ahead of time about revealing their loss publicly.

“I think there was a lot of naysay and negative discussions about what my emotions where and who I was in the playoffs and things like that,” Busch said after Thursday’s ceremony. “Not everybody knows exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Focus on your own.”

Busch said he never felt the devastation from the miscarriages impacted his performance.

“There were certain times, maybe, in meetings and things like that that I wouldn’t say it affected but it obviously came across my mind,” he said. “As far as it comes to the race track, when I put my helmet on, I feel like I can zero that out and do a really good job of focusing what the task at hand is.”

 

3. Nashville momentum?

The fan reception in Nashville has those in the sport encouraged that this week can build momentum to have a race at Fairgrounds Speedway.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

But to do so, Caldwell and SMI officials will have to navigate through the city’s politics from the mayor’s office to the metro council and the fair board.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor John Cooper, who was sworn into office in late September. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

With NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of April 1 to announce the 2021 Cup schedule, it would seem highly unlikely that negotiations can be completed in time for the track to be added to the schedule by then. Caldwell declined to speculate on timing “because we’re still in some conversations with the city to figure that out because there are a lot of moving pieces.”

Chase Elliott hopes this week shows city leaders the value of what a NASCAR race at Fairgrounds Speedway could be.

“Hopefully this sparks something in the city that allows the right people to make the right moves to come and race up here,” Elliott said, “because this place is too perfect not to.”

 

4. New cars for Bubba Wallace

Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer for Richard Petty Motorsports, says the team plans to have some sponsorship news in January. With the additional funding, the team will add new cars to its fleet for Bubba Wallace.

Even with the upcoming news, Moffitt said the team will still have some races available for sponsorships for the upcoming season.

Moffitt has high hopes entering the 2020 season.

“We’re going to be better right out of the gate this year in 2020,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be right there with our partner (Richard Childress Racing) working with them a lot closer.”

Moffitt said the team anticipates having about half a dozen new cars by the first quarter of the season.

“We are going to have a lot newer equipment than we started (2019) with,” Moffitt said.

The challenge with that is that all the equipment will be outdated by the end of the season with the Next Gen car debuting in 2021.

“It’s still important in 2020,” Moffitt said. “We still have to perform for our partners. We want to be up there. It will help you prepare for 2021 coming out of the gate.”

Moffitt said the team also plans to add engineers and mechanics this season.

“We’re going to have some track engineers we haven’t had,” Moffitt said.

Wallace finished 28th in points last year, matching his finish in the points in 2018 as a rookie.

 

5. Pit road woes

Kurt Busch said a key area of improvement for his Chip Ganassi Racing team will be its performance on pit road. Busch said the team lost 120 spots on pit road.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “You’ve got to try to break even. You’re supposed to have a plus on pit road as far as spots gained. That’s where you’re going to see Gibbs … all those guys at Gibbs gained spots on pit road. We can’t lose that many spots at Ganassi on pit road.”

Losing spots on pit road can be related to when a crew chief calls in the driver to pit road, how quickly the driver goes down pit road without speeding and how well the pit crew performs.

“It just seemed like one pit road penalty led to a bad restart, a bad restart led to now the pit crew has to pick it up and get those spots back,” Busch said.

He noted how his season mirrored another Chevrolet driver.

“Our season was real similar to Alex Bowman,” said Busch, whose one win last season came in July at Kentucky. “Alex Bowman won at Chicago (in June) and then they faded and they were right with us in points all the way through the playoffs.

“Some of it was team. Some of it was me overdriving. Some of it was pit crew mistakes. The Camaro was a bit behind that we saw now at the end of the year with all those Toyotas in the championship 4.”

JGR teammates prank Kyle Busch with 30,000 pennies

Photo: Denny Hamlin
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. pranked Cup champion Kyle Busch by dumping 30,000 pennies on his bed as part of Truex’s payoff for losing a bet to Busch last month in New York City.

Hamlin, Truex, Busch and Kevin Harvick were all together in New York City promoting their appearance in the championship race in Miami. They were riding in traffic when Busch bet he could get to the hotel quicker by jogging. The other three took him up on it.

Busch arrived ahead of them and won.

Truex owed Busch $300 for losing the bet. Hamlin helped him come up with a creative way to pay it back.

Truex said on an Hamlin’s Instagram story: “It’s going to be fun to see his reaction. He’s going to be happy that he’s getting his money, I’m just not sure he’s going to be able to carry it home with him. We’ll see how this plays out.”

Busch didn’t know about the prank until Hamlin asked if he had seen Hamlin’s Instagram story.

“Took a look … and damn it,” Busch said after the banquet.

“I guess it’s in the pillow cases and everywhere. We’ll have to figure that out (how to remove them).

Asked if Truex was still good for paying off the bet that way, Busch joked: “He might get wrecked.”

 

 

What they wore on the red carpet …

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Before the show, drivers and their significant others walked the red carpet. Here’s a look at their outfits for the evening.

Kyle Busch, wife Samantha and son Brexton. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Kyle and Katelyn Larson. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Kevin and DeLana Harvick (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Clint and Lorra Bowyer. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Joey and Brittany Logano.(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Kurt and Ashley Busch. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott and Kaylie Green. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Aric and Janice Almirola. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Daniel and Kenzie Hemric. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott wins Cup Most Popular Driver award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver in a fan vote announced during Thursday’s NASCAR Awards show.

It is the second consecutive victory for Elliott in the category.

“Honored to have two,” Elliott said on stage. “It’s really more than a trophy or award. It is about the people you see at the race track.”

Completing the top five in balloting: Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney.

It is the 29th consecutive year that either an Elliott or Earnhardt has won the award. Bill Elliott won the award 16 times.

“To have 18 awards going back to Dawsonville is, I think, pretty cool,” Elliott said of the Most Popular Driver awards he and his father have won. “Obviously, I think a lot of that is due to him and his career and what he and his family built. It’s certainly isn’t all me and what I’ve done. I haven’t done anything … compared to what they did.”

The last driver not named Elliott or Earnhardt to win this award was Darrell Waltrip in 1990.

Other award winners included:

The Bill France Award of Excellence, an award that is not given every year, was presented to car owner Joe Gibbs for his signifiant contribution to the sport.

The NMPA Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contribution to the sport was presented to Darrell Waltrip.

The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is Joe Vaughn, who has volunteered for nearly two decades, raising both awareness and funds on behalf of the Project HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, South Carolina. The foundation’s mission is to provide a lifespan of services to the autism community to help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential.