Ryan: Putting the ‘fun’ back in the rulebook? Spoiler alert: Here’s how

Leave a comment

Remember when talking about NASCAR rules was fun?

No, really fun. Hours of endless debates and discussions about driver rivalries, team animosity and manufacturer intrigue.

Fun. You can’t beat that.

In the 1990s, Camp NASCAR might not have been a fun place to live (or officiate), but it was a beguiling place to observe.

Much of that was the megawatt personalities of the drivers, but some of it was attributable to the constant wars over how many inches of spoiler help Ford or Chevrolet was lobbying for and often getting.

This was an era in which the bodies were more distinct, and the rulebook was much smaller. It was undoubtedly a weekly headache to administer with the long line of agitated drivers and owners raising holy hell at the NASCAR hauler after every race.

Two decades later, that delightful complaining has been replaced by impenetrable complication.

Talking about rules isn’t fun in today’s heavily legislated and officiated world of big-league stock-car racing.

It’s no longer a debate about the famous and iconic brands (Chevy, Ford, Toyota) that pour a few hundred million dollars annually into NASCAR.

It’s become the domain of pinion shims and window support braces. The in-the-weeds stuff. There is room for that in NASCAR to showcase its technical appeal and technological ingenuity.

There’s no room for that in SiriusXM NASCAR Radio banter, though. Or in the other national media platforms that primarily drive the narratives that make NASCAR a mainstream sporting entity. Those should revolve around the stars and cars of the Cup Series and their most relatable backstories – not the intricate parts and pieces that propel them to victory lane.

For example, a 46-year-old former champion returns after an unwanted 11-race layoff to start the 2018 season. And he re-enters NASCAR’s premier series precisely as his longtime contemporaries are crowing about regularly drubbing the band of ballyhooed Millennials that threaten to oust them from their rides in the same way.

That sounds like a good story, no?

Unfortunately, Matt Kenseth’s intriguing comeback at Kansas Speedway this weekend has been muted because of Wednesday’s latest avalanche of midweek postrace penalties from Dover that sucked all the oxygen from competing topics with the subtlety and pleasure of a 2X4 to the forehead.

Eradicating midweek penalties has been suggested ad nauseam the past few years, and it’s well documented why they still are happening (the level of necessary inspection scrutiny is available only at the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord).

Kevin Harvick made an impassioned case for why this wasn’t such a hot idea (among many issues he raised about the penalty after his Las Vegas victory). Even NASCAR officials have shown a desire to get out of the business of issuing points deductions and crewmember suspensions three days after a race.

It doesn’t matter how this gets addressed. It’s a situation that needs to be fixed, stat.

So how about going back to the future: Find a way to shrink the rulebook and open up the manufacturer competition again.

Refocus any competition discussions on spoiler heights and driver styles (“who is best suited for this type of handling package?”) instead of obtuse conversation stoppers like planar mating surfaces and flat splitters.

Like everything in racing, this is easier said than done. It certainly will be harder for NASCAR, whose officials would return to the ear-splitting days of listening to nonstop lobbying (i.e., whining) for more parity among makes.

But it might be worth the effort, money and time spent if it results in keeping the attention most prominently on the stars and the cars they drive.

That sounds fun.


NASCAR found itself in an unwinnable situation at Dover International Speedway near the end of the first stage Sunday.

With a dozen cars close to running out of fuel and only about four wreckers to help push them back to the pits (how would you like to make that decision on which drivers benefit from NASCAR’s largesse?), vice president of competition Scott Miller explained Monday why the pits were opened almost immediately after the stage instead of waiting for a commercial break per normal.

It was the right call given the alternative – if several cars had run out of gas, the furor would have been much greater and the implications are more unfair. But this is something that must be done extremely sparingly.

It burned Denny Hamlin’s team, which pitted the No. 11 Toyota instead of limping to the pits (as it could have) because it rightfully expected the pits would open much later.

“I didn’t know they were going to open the pits early,” Hamlin said on an episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that will be released next week. “I would have ran another lap. That’s a little frustrating. The crew chief was telling me I could make it to the checkered but not the pit open.”

But it turned out if Hamlin had waited a lap, he would have had enough fuel (and an extra five stage points from keeping his spot).

“I had some talks with Miller and (Steve) O’Donnell about it,” Hamlin said. “If I would have known you’d open the pits, I wouldn’t have pitted early, and I think a lot of people based their strategy off that.

“But I also see their point of what happens if there are six cars out of fuel on the apron? Who gets the tow truck and push first while you have someone sitting on the apron for three laps, and then they’re pissed off? I kind of see where (NASCAR) is going there. But at some point, teams will make decisions on where to pit, and it’s kind of on them.”

There always are circumstances similar to these during a race – for example, NASCAR often must choose between a red flag or running out many laps under yellow in the event of a wreck that requires a long cleanup – so it’s unavoidable. The key is managing it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the natural flow of a race.


As Dustin Long detailed exhaustively in last week’s Friday 5 feature, the time to question the lagging results of the new Camaro has arrived. Chevrolet’s new model hasn’t shown much potential for pure speed, aside from the performance of Kyle Larson.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is sort of this year’s version of 2017 series champion Martin Truex Jr., who was far ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas last year in the rollout of the 2018 Camry. But that’s where the apples to apples comparison ends.

Nearly a third of the way into last season, it was obvious the new Camry had speed. Though Toyota won only twice in the first 11 races, its drivers led the most laps six times. The lack of victories was because of JGR’s circumstances instead of a lack of performance.

This is less true with the Camaro, which has a last-lap win in the Daytona 500 and has led the most laps only once (Larson at Bristol Motor Speedway). At Dover, the highest finisher was Jimmie Johnson in ninth, and Alex Bowman drove the only Camaro to lead laps (26 of 400).

It might be a case where the struggles are less about the new model and more about the teams running it. Aside from Chase Elliott, lead Chevy team Hendrick Motorsports struggled in 2017, and the four-car team still seems to be finding its footing this year with a less experienced lineup.

The departure of Stewart-Haas Racing, which is side by side with Team Penske for top Ford team, also might be hurting Chevrolet more than a year later.


A sidelight to the Chevrolet struggles is that it also has hampered the development of the 2018 youth brigade with Elliott, Larson, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace and Austin Dillon (who made his feelings known Sunday night) trying to excel in the Camaro.

On Wednesday’s NASCAR America, analyst Dale Jarrett made that point (along with evaluating whether Ryan Blaney has reached “success” yet) and also noted that the hype around the marketing of the young drivers (editor’s note: plead guilty) would have been better balanced with a focus on the older set.

That’s good advice for the future and also good context for Kevin Harvick’s incessantly delightful jabs at the next generation.


One positive of this week’s midweek penalties?

Well, it did steer the discussion away from a topic that no one in Charlotte or Daytona Beach wanted to highlight.

That said, Harvick’s comments Tuesday night about a potential NASCAR sale were notable, and it will be interesting to see what else is said this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”

Alex Bowman fastest in final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alex Bowman completed a sweep of Friday’s Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway by posting the top speed in final practice. He was also fastest in first practice.

Bowman’s top speed was 176.626 mph. He recorded 32 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (176.186 mph), Bubba Wallace (176.177), Kurt Busch (175.816) and Christopher Bell (175.695).

Bowman also had the best 10-lap average at 175.317 mph.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps with 47.

The only incident in the session was defending race winner Kyle Busch brushing the wall in Turn 3 after his car got away from him on the bumps in the corner. Repairs were made to the car and Busch returned to the track with 17 minutes left in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

 

Alex Bowman tops field in opening Cup practice at Auto Club

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap in opening Cup practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Bowman ran a top lap of 179.439 mph.

Bowman was followed by Kyle Larson (177.703 mph), Tyler Reddick (177.607), Kurt Busch (177.375) and Matt DiBenedetto (176.609).

Click here for full practice report

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET today. Qualifying will be Saturday.

Xfinity practice report at Auto Club Speedway

Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Harrison Burton was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recorded 22 laps and posted a top speed of 174.474 mph in the 25-minute session.

The top five was completed by Noah Gragson (173.779 mph), Austin Cindric (173.775), Chase Briscoe (173.578) and Brandon Jones (173.578).

Burton also had the best 10-lap average at 170.422 mph.

Gragson recorded the most laps in the session with 25.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Noah Gragson led the way for the Xfinity Series in the opening practice session that saw more than half the 50-minute period under caution at Auto Club Speedway

Gragson ran a top lap of 177.139 mph. He was followed by Austin Cindric (176.022), Daniel Hemric (175.400), Brandon Jones (175.366) and Harrison Burton (175.187).

Click here for full practice report

Alex Labbe brought out the caution when an oil line came loose and he put oil down on the track. The cleanup took about 20 minutes.

Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution late in the session with smoke coming from the car and then a small fire in the right front of the car.