Nate Ryan

NASCAR’s New Kids are in the spotlight (without knowing the songs)

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FORT WORTH, Texas – Call it NASCAR’s hottest boy brand.

Never one to shy from stoking the embers of a controversy, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage unfurled his 10-foot-high take on the generational divide in the Cup Series that has become one of the defining stories of the season.

“The New Kids On The Track” were introduced Friday via a banner hanging from the broadcast tower adjacent to victory lane at Texas. Per Gossage (who had told NBC Sports in a February story that he was kicking around such a branding idea), NASCAR’s new Magnificent Seven of the Under 30 set are Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and William Byron.

A much smaller sign alongside highlighted a recent tweet by Kevin Harvick on the advanced age of race winners in 2018.

Harvick also took note of the fact that the combined career win total in Cup for the New Kids on the Track … is one.

“It’s a cool promotion if you like good marketing,” Harvick said. “But if you like winners, you go for the old guys.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was smiling, but it was another reminder of the undercurrent of tension running through a storyline that dates to January when Kyle Busch expressed his annoyance of a NASCAR marketing push for youth.

This week on the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Brad Keselowski said it was natural for veterans to be jealous of their younger peers because many (such as Busch and Keselowski) lacked the exposure and visibility at the same age despite producing much better results than the new wave of Millennials.

“I love every one of those kids on that poster,” Harvick said. “I think they’re all great for our sport, and I’m not taking personal digs at them. I’m trying to have as much fun with it as I told them they should have fun with it, too.

“That’s really what it’s about. It’s the dad and kid sitting in the grandstands from two different generations. Mom and daughter sitting in the grandstands from two different generations. They root for the young guys, you root for the old guys, and that’s great for our sport, it really is. It makes it fun to be able to have that banter back and forth. So yeah, most of those guys probably don’t even know who New Kids on the Block are. I would venture to say that.”

Uh oh, oh oh oh.

Harvick, a 42-year-old who was on the cusp of high school when the New Kids on the Block became America’s breakthrough boy band of the late 1980s, was right.

In an informal and incomplete poll, only Ryan Blaney was able to lay claim to knowledge of the New Kids, though he didn’t know any songs and sometimes is confused about the lineup.

    “I get them and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch mixed up ((Mark Wahlberg’s brother, Donnie, was in NKOTB),” Blaney said. “I thought (the banner) was pretty funny. I saw a picture of it last night. I thought that was pretty neat. Eddie has always done really well at making things fun and light. It’s just cool to be a part of that group.”

Erik Jones, who will turn 22 next month, was at least savvy enough to learn that he was born after the group went defunct in 1995 (at least before the inevitable cash-grab reunion tour a few years ago).

“They asked me what New Kids on the Block I was and I was like ‘Man, I’ve got to be honest with you, I have no idea,’ “ he said. “I saw that (banner) though. It’s cool. It made me laugh. I liked the (Harvick) sign they put next to it better. At first I thought Harvick actually put it there. I was like that, that’s pretty funny, but then I realized the track did it.”

No hard feelings, though, many of the younger drivers say.

“We haven’t had a young crop of guys all enter the sport at once in probably 15 years now,” Jones said. “When you see this many young guys coming at once, obviously I think NASCAR’s done a good job trying to promote us and give us an advantage early on to get our names out there and get some more fans and get some more exposure and you know we all appreciate it.

“We’re willing to take advantage of those events and I think Blaney said it well. I think we’re just more willing to take some of these opportunities that they’re not willing to. You know a lot of them have families and want to spend as much time at home as they can and for us to take a trip to wherever or spend some extra time somewhere isn’t as big of a deal. I think we’re just more willing right now to take advantage of some of those opportunities.”

Texas will be taking advantage of the promotion this weekend as Gossage said a mashup of the young drivers and the New Kids song “Hangin’ Tough” will air often on Big Hoss, the track’s enormous backstretch videoboard.

Daniel Suarez, who was happy the banner made him feel young and had no knowledge of the New Kids, believes there is some latent jealousy among older drivers.

“I think a little bit,” he said. “What I think is all the veteran drivers are very strong and have a very strong fan base and obviously a lot of support. They have pretty much the path already made. I feel like for young drivers, sometimes we need that extra push to start making that path and building that fan base. There’s nothing wrong to have extra support.

“Kevin, Kyle, any of veteran drivers when they were young in middle 20s, am sure they had good exposure to build brand and fan base. That’s what I think, but maybe that’s part of racing, too. Everyone is competitive, not just on the racetrack but sometimes out of the racetrack.”

Said Blaney: “I’ve said it all along, it’s just really fortunate to be involved in not only in NASCAR but involved in this younger driver group with some of those guys. I don’t really look at age. I don’t care if you’re 18 years old or 50 years old, we’re just competitors. I think it was a pretty neat thing that Gossage did.”

Well, mostly.

“I like how (the banner portrays him) throwing up the peace sign, too,” Blaney said. “I’ve never done that in my life.”

Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

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JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.