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

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Two decades later, that delightful complaining has been replaced by impenetrable complication.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

NASCAR America: Scan All from Michigan International Speedway

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It was another Cup race and another win for Kevin Harvick Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver scored his series leading seventh win of the season after sweeping each stage.

Relive the race with the latest edition of Scan All from NASCAR America.

Here are some highlights.

Watch the above video for more.

PRN reporter Wendy Venturini to return at Bristol, still recovering from injuries

Wendy Venturini
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Wendy Venturini will return to her duties at the Performance Racing Network this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, almost two months after being struck by a car while running in Novato, California.

Venturini made the announcement in a surprise appearance Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.”

She had been in California to be a pit reporter for PRN’s radio broadcast of the Cup race at Sonoma Raceway.

Among the injuries Venturini suffered in the incident were a skull fracture and a concussion.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Venturini said of the upcoming race weekend. “It’s been a long two months and I’m not 100 percent, but I’m getting closer and closer and this is step back into real life and real world stuff. So I think it will help in my recovery.”

Venturini is still wearing a knee brace.

“I’m still pretty slow these days, but it’s good,” Venturini said. “I will have a brace on at the race track in a controlled circumstance. I can take it off at night, at home. … It’s healing. My LCL is healing, my brain is healing, my skull is healing. Everything’s taking progress.”

Venturini became the first female to serve as a co-anchor for a NASCAR Cup race in September 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. She also has served as a booth analyst for PRN broadcasts this season.

Venturini became the first female broadcaster to call an entire race on a national level during the July 2007 Cup race at Sonoma Raceway for DirecTV. She also has reported on NASCAR for Speed Channel and Fox Sports 1.

GMS Racing reveals Bill Elliott’s Road America scheme

Daniel McFadin
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two weeks ago GMS Racing shocked the NASCAR community when it announced Bill Elliott would drive its No. 23 Chevrolet in the Aug. 25 Xfinity race at Road America.

The Hall of Famer’s unexpected return to NASCAR competition became a little bit more real Tuesday when he and GMS Racing unveiled his throwback paint scheme for the race at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Photo: Daniel McFadin

The paint scheme is inspired by the No. 11 Budweiser Ford that Elliott drove to his win in the 1994 Southern 500 while racing for Junior Johnson. That win would be his last until November 2001 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Elliott’s trophy and the checkered flag from the 1994 win were also on hand. The inspiration for the scheme is also on display in the Hall of Fame’s lobby.

“I’m trying to figure out which one threw me under the bus here for this dang thing,” Elliott joked after the reveal, which was done with GMS Racing President Mike Beam, who was a crew chief for Elliott throughout the 90s, including in his 1994 win.

“They just said, ‘Hey, you’re going to do it.’ I’m in the car,” Elliott said. His son Chase Elliott has made four starts in the No. 23 this season and will compete in Friday’s Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While Bill Elliott hasn’t competed in NASCAR since the July 2012 Cup race at Daytona, the 62-year-old isn’t rusty by any means.

He’s kept busy recently by competing in vintage races, like the SVRA “Indy Legends” Charity Pro-Am in June. He also competed in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli at Road Atlanta in March.

“It’s not this league of racing, I’ll put it that way,” Elliott said. “It’s still competition. Everything you do as you look at it is competition.”

The 44-time Cup winner has no expectations for his first race at Road America

“I feel pretty good in the cars,” Elliott said. “This will be the whole fun of it, ‘How does this all work?'”

He’s been aided by his son. Chase Elliott shared his notes from his most recent race at Road America, when he drove for JR Motorsports in 2015. He placed fourth in both his starts on the road course.

The notes are welcome, but they are also a stark difference between generations in the approach to race preparation.

“I never took notes,” Bill Elliott said with a laugh. “It’s pretty neat to have at least a rough idea of what you got and what you’re looking forward to. But on the flip side, the aero package has changed from that era.”

Elliott, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015, was asked a simple question at one point.

Why do it?

“How do you know if you don’t try?” Elliott asked. “Whether you lose, win or draw, you always try to do things extra at the end of the day. I think from this standpoint, just go out and have a good time with it …

“There’s a lot of deserving guys that could be in this thing. They want me to do it, I’ll do my best.”

Photo: Daniel McFadin

GMS Racing also unveiled the throwback paint scheme Spencer Gallagher will have in the Sept. 1 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway.

Gallagher will sport the scheme Davey Allison drove in ARCA in 1985.

The race will be Gallagher’s third Xfinity start since being reinstated from an indefinite suspension that began in April after he violated NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.

“This is definitely the most special thing I’ve gotten to do since I started driving race cars,” Gallagher said. “Getting to run the livery of none other than Davey Allison, one of the most pivotal drivers of his generation, 19 wins, Hall of Fame inductee, winner of the Daytona 500 … There’s no other way to describe it. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever had on the car.”

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Scan All, Bristol preview

NBCSN
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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to turn the page to this weekend’s racing in Bristol.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty in Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton joins them from Burton’s garage.

On today’s show:

  • We will re-live all the sights and sounds of Kevin Harvick‘s dominant victory to re-affirm the “Big 3’s” grip on the 2018 season with today’s edition of Scan All: Michigan.
  • We’ll make the turn from the Irish Hills to Thunder Valley as we begin to preview Saturday’s Night Race at Bristol. Our panel of experts will talk about Kyle Busch‘s recent mastery of the World’s Fastest Half-Mile. Plus, we’ll examine several drivers seeking their first victory of 2018 and a highly coveted ticket to the Playoffs.
  • And, our own Kyle Petty will hop into the iRacing Simulator for some hot laps in Thunder Valley. How will he handle Bristol’s high banks, along with some distractions that we will throw his way?

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.