Ryan: Hey, if Kyle Busch wants to stick around, how about everybody?

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Kyle Busch is right: The top three finishers after every Cup race should make mandatory visits to the media center.

But don’t stop there. Bring every finisher to an Olympics-style “mixed zone” accessible to media after the race, and let’s curtail the pointless exercise of madly scrambling out of the track and to the airport to beget the social media transmissions that often serve as a crude deconstruction of what exactly happened over the past three hours.

It would be much more productive for everyone (and enlightening for fans starved to gobble up every salient morsel of analysis and explanation) if the checkered flag finally fell on the “race after the race,” which essentially precludes much of the news gathering opportunities inherent to other pro sports.

The media corps has been culpable in glorifying this dash, which is exclusive to NASCAR in a way that seems odd when framed in context.

In the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL, locker rooms for both teams open after a cooling-off period that ranges anywhere from a few to 15 minutes. The key is that when the games end, the coaches talk, and then every player ostensibly is fair game for interviews (though it can take patience to wait out the superstars).

That’s difficult in the chaos after a Cup race, where there is less of a guarantee of information being disseminated efficiently. There is no cooling-off period — a selling point because interviews often are emotional with drivers exiting cockpits after three hours of intense pressure and sometimes insane temperatures.

But it’s tricky to pin down interviews with three dozen cars parked in close proximity and a few hundred people zipping between them packing up tools or making beelines for the infield tunnel.

Everyone is in a hurry to go somewhere because … why?

There is the pride of winning the “race” out of the track that hardly anyone cares about beyond the participants (depending on traffic flow at nearby airports, the reward can be sitting on a tarmac and idling away jet fuel worth thousands while awaiting departure).

And yes, there is the joy of getting home in time to catch loved ones before bed.

But neither scenario necessarily is threatened by waiting an extra 20 to 30 minutes. And the work at the shop still starts at the same time Monday.

This trend began in the early 1990s when many drivers began buying or leasing their own planes (and some had pilot’s licenses). But it really took flight in the mid-‘90s when teams assembled private air forces to ferry hundreds of crew members around the country in what has become a well-oiled marvel of travel logistics.

In the span of a few years, road trips went from four wheels to two wings, and it radically changed postrace dynamics that weren’t all that dissimilar from a locker room in some instances. A few decades ago after the Southern 500, the Darlington Raceway showers were where many reporters found drivers. Richard Petty would be accessible for hours while signing autographs.

What if drivers now were asked to hang around a little while for interviews? And in some designated media bullpen (once upon time, it was known as the Unocal gas pumps)?

There is a successful setup employed in Formula 1, whose drivers must traverse a mandatory TV media area with affiliates from around the world (the top three also attend a news conference, and some hold open availability at team hospitality).

There is sure to be pushback in NASCAR against this idea, likely from those who will trot out the tired argument that it’s another example of news media “laziness.”

This is in the same vein of those who decry lobbying for shortening races and blame-shift it to “a NASCAR industry that wants to work less.”  (Psst, the length of a race, whether it’s two hours or three and a half hours, has little impact on the hours worked afterward … feasibly, reporters will be working much longer after a short race that’s eventful than a three hour-plus snoozer).

At least with longer races, a case is made for incremental value by those who demand more laps.

What is gained by getting to the airport 20 minutes earlier? A head start on angry tweeting on the ride home?

Take a cue from Kyle, fellas, and stay a while. Your stories need to be told!


After relatively smooth inspections at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, what changed to prevent 13 cars from making a qualifying lap at Auto Club Speedway?

It doesn’t seem to have been track-specific because if teams were trying to navigate the backstretch bumps on the 2-mile oval, there likely would have been work done around the fenders. But the offending areas seemed mainly concentrated in area around the rear window and deck lids.

Perhaps teams (particularly those whose advantages with customized splitters were eradicated by rules changes this season) were conservative with the new Optical Scanning Station through the first few races? Once comfort was achieved, the teams tried to take more, and many found the limit at Fontana.

It also might have been illuminating for teams without OSS machines in their shops. Though NASCAR offers the option of using the scanner at its R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, ensuring a car meets the rigors of the new inspection apparently is a process requiring multiple scans during the course of car-building – putting a premium on having an OSS handy.


NASCAR’s move to conduct inspections only after qualifying at Martinsville Speedway (essentially treating it as an impound-style race) has prompted an interesting question within the industry: Will the teams be held to looser or tighter tolerances?

Generally, it makes sense to allow more leeway in inspection post-qualifying than prerace, but in this case, those inspections are one in the same.

NASCAR will be using post-qualifying tolerances at Martinsville — which presumably would mean less potential for inspection problems.


After weathering last Wednesday’s impending departure of primary sponsor Lowe’s, Jimmie Johnson’s week has gotten off to a much better start with a season-best ninth Sunday and a ranking among the top five dominant athletes of the past 20 years.

There are still some major questions to answer about the future of the No. 48 Chevrolet and crew chief Chad Knaus (whose contract runs through this season), and a long way to secure the competitiveness and consistency to win an eighth championship. But Johnson has made a career of proving anything is possible, and it would be foolish to bet against him.


On the flip side at Hendrick Motorsports: It might be just a blip, but Chase Elliott’s 16th at Fontana in the wake of a penalty last week will bear watching.

After committing the same infraction in a victory at Richmond, Joey Logano’s 2017 season came off the rails. The Team Penske driver had eight top 10s in the first nine races. After the Richmond penalty (which disqualified his win for playoff eligibility), Logano had nine top 10s in 27 races and missed the playoffs.

Elliott could pick up where he nearly left off last October at Martinsville Speedway and win Sunday, but if the No. 9 Chevrolet driver continues to struggle, it’s sure to raise the specter of Logano’s results last year.


There were wildly varying assessments of the crowd at Fontana, ranging from near capacity to perhaps far less. Depending on the camera angles of the grandstands (overhead shots vs. from the pits), it’s easy to understand the confusion.

NASCAR discontinued releasing attendance estimates more than five years ago. Being fans of transparency in this corner, it would be encouraging if tracks could eliminate arguments such as the above by releasing official figures (the party line has been that it’s against the policies of the publicly traded companies that own nearly all the tracks that host Cup races).


There also were social media discussions Sunday night about whether there was an unfair media-driven focus on NASCAR crowds vs. the NCAA tournament and other pro sports, which unquestionably have suffered attendance declines, too.

But this isn’t about being relative to other sports leagues, it’s about teams’ revenue streams. By NASCAR’s admission, race attendance is among the most critical factors used by sponsors to evaluate the return on their investment in stock-car racing.

With teams dependent on corporate sponsorship to make their budgets, there always will be greater scrutiny on audience metrics in auto racing – regardless of the media coverage.

Watch NASCAR America’s MotorSports Hour 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America presents the MotorSports Hour runs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET, where we break down news not just in NASCAR but also IndyCar, Supercross and other racing series.

Our analysts will be Marty Snider, Parker Kligerman and AJ Allmendinger.

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.

With a new track layout, Sonoma gets new fan viewing area with ‘The Point’

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When NASCAR returns to Sonoma Raceway June 21-23, it will do so to compete on a slightly different road course than what they’ve competed on since 1998.

For the track’s 50th anniversary, it will return to its original 12-turn, 2.52-mile circuit.

That utilizes the “Carousel” portion of the track, a sweeping downhill corner from Turn 4 down through Turns 5 and 6 to the facility’s longest straightaway before reaching the Turn 7 hairpin.

With the reintroduction of the “Carousel,” Sonoma is introducing a new area for fans to enjoy that area of the track.

The track has rebranded the peninsula between Turns 1 and 6 as “The Point.” This area offers up-close views of both corners, as well as a direct perspective of the start/finish line and flag stand.

“The Point” will be upgraded with a 1,550-square-foot Humboldt Redwood shade structure, more than 700 feet of stand-up bars along the fence line and new food and beverage locations. Access to the area is free to all fans, and terrace seating is available on the hillside adjacent to Turn 1.

 

In the drivers seat: A look at one of the coolest jobs in NASCAR

Photo: Dustin Long
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Some moments they are Joey Logano. Other times they are Jimmie Johnson. Or Kevin Harvick. Or some other driver.

This isn’t a video game or make-believe. This is role-playing in the real world: They pilot a Cup car. Crew members leap from the wall. Air guns whine. Lug nuts fly.

Cup drivers rarely have time to take part in pit practice. So someone has to drive the car. That perk typically goes to an entry-level employee whose duties often include gluing lug nuts to wheels, stacking tires and monitoring air tanks.

Mark Morrison said he’ll never forget the first time he drove the car in pit practice at Hendrick Motorsports.

That was 17 years ago.

One of the sport’s coolest jobs is more than a joy ride. Teams rely on these drivers to place the car in the right position so pit crews can hone their skills. With track position critical and tenths of a second the difference between winning and losing, what happens in pit practice can make a difference in a race.

It all begins with who is driving the car.

THE FRATERNITY OF PIT CAR DRIVERS

Marcus Horton is 30 but looks young enough to get carded. His father, Phil, is the pit coach for the Drive for Diversity program but Marcus Horton didn’t plan to be a pit crew member.

He has a business degree from Marshall University but admits: “For me, I wouldn’t want to be in an office all day. I like getting my hands dirty. I probably should have took up something different in college than business. I like art, I like photographs, but I’m not sure how well that was going to translate into the real world. I thought maybe I should do something that would benefit me in the long run.”

A couple of years after graduating, Horton asked his dad if he would coach him to be a pit crew member. The younger Horton was in the Drive for Diversity program for three years and served as a pit crew member for Carl Long’s Xfinity team last year. Horton joined Stewart-Haas Racing in December as a developmental pit crew member.

Erick Harps drove the car during pit practice at Hendrick Motorsports until a recent promotion to the engine shop. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Erick Harps, 22, was recently promoted to the engine shop at Hendrick Motorsports, ending his tenure driving the pit car. He trained at Universal Technical Institute in California. Harps moved to North Carolina two years ago to work in the sport. About six months after he arrived, he got a job at Hendrick Motorsports.

Chris Tomberlin, 22, joined Team Penske on Jan. 2 as a developmental pit crew member. He will graduate this year from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he was a receiver on the football team.

“I’ve always been a fan of racing,” Tomberlin said. “The (job) opportunity presented itself. I couldn’t not accept it.”

That was before he found out he would be driving a stock car.

NOT YOUR FATHER’S CAR

When Harps told his parents he drove a car in pit practice at Hendrick Motorsports, his mother screamed in excitement.

But that wasn’t the first time he had been in a car. He had to undergo training — as any Hendrick pit car driver does — before taking part in live pit stops.

“You can’t step into one of them and think you’re going to drive it,” Harps said.

Hendrick Motorsports’ car has a race engine, providing more horsepower than a standard passenger car. The Hendrick car has a manual transmission, not automatic like many passenger cars, so if you can’t drive a stick, you wouldn’t be able to drive these cars.

Hendrick Motorsports also sets the car for each track. With the series heading to Talladega Superspeedway, that means the car will have a smaller brake package. 

At Stewart-Haas Racing, they have three different pit cars, so Horton has to know each of them. Each steering wheel is different. One is tight, another turns more freely and the other one rates between the two. The brakes also are different in each car. They’re touchy on one car, less so on the others.

“Every day it’s a like a new day for me trying to figure out where the car is going to stop and how I’m going to handle it,” Horton said.

That’s why each driver makes test runs before pit crews jump in front of the car.

“SILVER DOLLAR EYES”

One of the biggest adjustments for any pit car driver is seeing people run in front of the car during practice.

“The craziest thing is just from driving normally out on the roads, your instinct is to avoid a person” said Andy Papathanassiou, director of human performance at Hendrick Motorsports and a former pit car driver.

Having people run in front of the car is jarring for new pit car drivers. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“But when you are driving a pit practice car, you have to just focus on your mark because there are guys jumping all around you and you can’t veer from your path or then they will be in danger. So you have to literally put the blinders on and just expect that they’re going to get out of your way.”

Chris Krieg, pit crew coach at Stewart-Haas Racing, says when pit car drivers first do live stops, they all have the same condition. He calls it “silver dollar eyes” for how their eyes widen.

Horton admits when the pit crews started jumping in front of him, it altered how he entered the pit stall.

“I was stopping earlier and slowing down a lot sooner,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt anybody on our team. It was definitely a hard time because they would be like ‘You can bring it in hotter,’ and I’d be like, ‘Actually I can’t because I think I’m going to hit you guys if I do that.’”

DO YOUR JOB

If the car stops beyond where the crew is positioned, they have to adjust and it slows the stop. Same for when the car stops too short.

There are times when a pit coach will tell the driver to purposely stop short or long or close to the pit wall to test the pit crew and prepare them for possible race situations. Other times, it’s more important to hit the right spots so the pit crew can get their reps.

“The more you practice during the week with the guy who knows exactly how to put the car where he needs to put it, the better you feel for the race track on Sunday,” said Landon Walker, fueler for William Byron’s team.

At Stewart-Haas Racing, they’ll have Horton or whoever else is driving the car to try to imitate each of the drivers for the pit crews. Each driver has their own nuance on how they enter the stall, something you likely can’t tell unless you saw them pit time after time. There are those who will lock their brakes to stop or roll the car in or stop short consistently. 

“The (pit car) driver is critical,” Krieg said. “If we waste a bunch of practice because they’re not hitting the marks where we need them to, they’re wasting time and reps and beating and banging on the crews’ body. Every rep is valuable and those guys have to be spot on.”

A PART OF THE ACTION

It’s a ride of a lifetime even if one is only traveling about 50 yards to the pit stall.

“It’s got a lot of power behind it,” Harps said. “The clutch is not an easy thing to overcome just because it’s stronger than a regular clutch. You have to have a lot of leg power. It’s very hard to get going without spinning the tire.”

Once the car stops in the stall, there’s still more for the driver to do. Keep the wheel straight for the tire changers. Don’t stall the car.

“It’s cool to actually be able to feel the changers hit their lugs and feel the jackman make his first punch on the car, feel the carriers slamming that tire on the car,” Tomberlin said. “It’s rare to be able to experience it.”

It’s an experience only a few get. It’s quite a ride.

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Ryan Sieg’s crew chief shares secrets to early success in Xfinity Series

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What started off as a pleasant surprise this year has become the norm for Ryan Sieg Racing in the Xfinity Series.

Through eight races, Ryan Sieg and his No. 39 Chevrolet have yet to finish worse than 12th.

The team based just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, has an average finish of 8.6, sixth-best among series regulars.

Heading into the second off-weekend of the year for the Xfinity Series, Sieg is probably still cleaning up from the Larry’s Hard Lemonade shower he received after he placed fifth last Friday at Richmond.

According to veteran crew chief Shane Wilson, the second non-superspeedway top five of Sieg’s career was made possible by what Sieg didn’t do a month earlier at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

By not tearing up their short-track car at Phoenix, it allowed the team to take that car’s setup and add Richmond-specific tweaks that “worked out pretty good,” Wilson said Tuesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Late Shift.”

Sieg has kept his cars clean so far, finishing on the lead lap in every race but one (Bristol, 12th) and earning five top 10s. That’s the most in his seven-year, 133-race Xfinity career.

Shane Wilson has been heading Ryan Sieg’s surprise run in 2019. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Two weeks before Richmond, Sieg captured the first stage win of his career by not pitting late in Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.

What Wilson has accomplished with the family owned team is a product of a late union and a “big departure” from what Wilson was used to just a few years ago with Richard Childress Racing.

Wilson, who last year was crew chief for Kaz Grala’s upstart Fury Race Cars, was hired a couple of weeks before Speedweeks in Daytona.

Since then, Wilson wakes up every Monday around 3:45 a.m. at his home in the Charlotte area and drives around 200 miles to the team’s shop in Sugar Hill, Georgia.

“Most times I get home by Wednesday night and then we go race,” Wilson said. “That’s kind of been my schedule so far. A little here, a little there. I chase parts in the Charlotte area, Mooresville some days. It gets me home a little quicker. There’s a few of us that make the trip down here and they have a nice little, kind of like a college dorm up above the shop and some of us stay there. It’s been fun. It’s different, it’s fun and it’s been challenging.”

Another part of Sieg’s surprise performance this year are the cars he’s been keeping unscathed. The team bought three new cars from RCR in the offseason.

“We had the ECR engine deal and it was good year to buy cars from RCR because they downsized from numerous Xfinity cars to a single car,” Wilson said. “I feel like we got good stuff.

“It’s a good relationship. The Siegs bought or leased engines from RCR for many years ever since they’ve been racing in the Truck Series. So they’re a good engine customer to ECR, bought a lot of chassis from Richard. That’s kind of where it stops. There’s a few different tiers that you can get nowadays and we don’t get simulation or any kind of parts tracking or the database or anything like that.

“Chevrolet helps us with a few tools. We have what we need and we don’t have a whole lot extra, but we have enough to compete.”

Wilson said recruiting talent to help out the small team is made easier with fewer Xfinity teams.

But he’s not just getting help from the North Carolina and Georgia areas.

“I got a good friend of mine doing our shocks now and shipped some more of those up to him in Vermont,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the experience reminds him of the days “when we volunteered and helped out our best friend.”

“Ryan has some experience, so he’s very helpful,” Wilson added. “His feedback is good now that we have current cars, good engines. More people working on it. We’re able to put up more of a fight at the race track.”