Transcript: What NASCAR said about the All-Star Race

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After Kevin Harvick’s victory in the Monster Energy All-Star Race on Saturday night, the focus turned to what NASCAR will do next with the rules package that was used in the race and created closer competition.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief racing development officer, met with the media after the race and talked about the event, what NASCAR saw and what’s next. Here’s what he said:

STEVE O’DONNELL:  From an eye test, we were certainly pleased with what we saw.  I think you’ll hear drivers say directionally there’s some things we can look at.  We agree.  But would certainly say we’ve got to take time to digest what we saw, look at a lot of facts, see where we go from here.

THE MODERATOR:  We’ll open it right up for questions.

Q.  You obviously said there is some tinkering that needs to be done.  What kind of things are you looking at?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I think it’s really premature.  We just got off the racetrack.  It’s even going through the stats.  We haven’t had a chance to look through a lot.

I can throw one out.  We had zero lead changes at the loops last year.  I think we had 38.  That’s more than the last four years.  Pretty good data when you look at that.

You also look at being able to approach the leader, what are some of those challenges we may want to look at.  Certainly from first to tenth throughout the night, much closer.  At the end of the day the best teams and the best drivers are going to go out there and win.  We also saw that tonight.

Q.  Where do you go from here?  What would be the timeline if you wanted to integrate any of these concepts into the 2019 package?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Good question.  I think one of the things in getting to tonight and talking to the industry was we knew going in that we had a lot of data through what Eric did and a lot of CFT data.  Especially with the OEMs, a lot of things to work on.  Didn’t want to push too much with what we do because we didn’t know what we would see on track.

I would say now, directionally you do like some of the things you see, now you’ve got to get together with the industry, debrief like we always do with the race teams, the drivers, certainly listen to the tracks and the fans, then the OEMs, talk about how do we continue to look at this and look at it in a smart way, look at it in an efficient way.

Can’t really put a timetable on it other than we know we have some meetings set up that we’re contingent upon what we saw tonight.  Those will take place, then we’ll try to put a timeline together to look towards 2019.

Q.  For fans who watched tonight’s race and liked it maybe better than a normal mile and a half, would want to know why this can’t be implemented sooner, what would you tell them?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Well, I probably would wait to see that, first of all.  We just got done with the race.

I answered that with Bob.  We have a process in place.  Talk to the industry about what we wanted to do to see if even directionally this was right.  You don’t want to assume that what you put on track is going to be a home run.  We certainly hoped it would be, but there’s certainly some things that you look at that you could tweak if you went this route.

For us, we’ve got to take the time, be smart about this, really look at it, see where we can go from here.  But I think it’s fair to say that this is something we absolutely want to look at.

Q.  Talked to Martin Truex Jr., he said it was very racy.  He liked it, had some ideas obviously.  For you up in the box, you could see it like the rest of the fans, were y’all high-fiving, thinking we’re moving in the right direction here?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  That’s a good question.  I think no, we’re not high-fiving because we got to control ourselves up in the booth.  I think you judge it by the fans.  I think you look down the last 10 laps, everybody is standing up.  Marcus has a suite next to us.  I can say that last year’s All-Star Race was fairly silent.  Don’t know if everybody stood or everybody was even still there, but it was packed.  We heard screaming in the suite next to us.

People were enthused.  I think the one thing, you saw Kevin Harvick go out there and win, and he certainly dominated this year, but you didn’t know who was going to win that race in turn three.  You saw drivers out there competing.  You saw three lead changes in one lap at the end of the third stage.

A lot of drama built in.  For us in race control, I think you look at it and you certainly saw things every lap that you wanted to watch a number of spots on the racetrack.

Q.  Joey Logano mentioned earlier that this is naturally more exciting with everything that’s on the line and no points.  How do you kind of adjust how you view the excitement in this race compared to what you would see if you incorporated this package in an actual points race?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I think if you asked Joey Sunday night at the Coke 600 if he’s going to race just as hard, he is.  We have the best race drivers in the world that are going to go out there and go after it every lap.

This race package, it’s important for people to know, we saw a lot of things even coming into this about this being a superspeedway package.  That’s not the intent.  The intent for us was to really look at taking the best of our short tracks, taking the best of the superspeedways, trying to find that balance where you could bring the cars closer together.  You were not going to see, we didn’t expect to see, pack racing.  We expected the best cars would still win, but we thought they would be running close together.  We saw that tonight.  That was the goal of this.  The goal will be to continue to look at how we can continue to dial that in.

Q.  I understand what you’re saying about lead changes at the loops.  Harvick led the final 10.  It seemed like once the leader got up front, he was harder to catch.  Would that be something you would look to address?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Yeah, no, we’d absolutely look to address that.  You always want to see that.  I think Kyle Busch won the All-Star Race last year by 1.1, 1.2 seconds.  Tenth place was 1.5.  There’s a big difference there.  I think you knew on Lap 7 that Kyle Busch had won the All-Star Race.  I think we all knew that last year.

It was different this year.  But still certainly something when you look at this package, very similar to Indy last year, when you looked at the ability for someone to get up to the leader, then that stall, that is something we want to look at.

I’d go back also to looking at our guys with Eric and the crew.  This was a package really meant for the Indianapolises of the world, Michigans.  We wanted to try this at Charlotte to see what we could learn.  I think that’s part of what we would look at for sure.

Q.  Is it fair to say this package could be used again this season?  Is that in play?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I would never say never, but our intent is we’ve talked coming into this, was to try this here, then really take a deep dive into how do we make this the best package possible for 2019 if we liked what we saw.  Again, it’s still very early.  You all watched the race, we just watched the race as well, so we have to digest a lot of information and see where we go from there.

Q.  I think it’s fair to say bringing this to a mile and a half track compared to Indianapolis, being so flat, this package would behave differently.  Did it behave how you anticipated it coming in here or were there some things you may have been surprised by tonight?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Again, still fairly early.  I asked Eric in our really quick five-minute debrief, I think you’d say yes.  One of the things we looked at even prior to coming here was the wheel force data from the car.  Eric went out and looked at that.  It was almost an exact match for us coming in.  We felt like we were on the right track.  We felt like we’d see what we saw tonight.

I think the question mark was, can you potentially draft, if you got behind the leader, what would happen, could somebody really get away.  We saw a mix of that tonight.  I think it was stage two or maybe even in the open where a bunch of cars got loose but were able to get back up and close to the front.

A lot of things to look at throughout the field.  Could you move from back to front?  What could you do when you were out front?  So we’ll look at all those.  Each track has different characteristics, for sure.  I’d applaud the team for getting us here and really seeing I think the results we hoped we would see on track.

Q.  I saw the Truck race earlier this year in Vegas.  Did that spark some ideas about bringing that pack or closer racing to this track?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  That’s a great question.  I think if you look back to where we were 2013, 2014, we were more of a high downforce package, had a lot of discussions in the garage area about the racing, what we could do.  We chose to go all really low downforce at that point.  That mixture produced some good racing, but some challenges as well.

When we looked at that, one of the things was the speeds at which the cars were going.  If you look at Charlotte, Atlanta, higher speeds usually make it tougher to pass.  There’s usually one groove.

I think the angle we all looked at, certainly at least what I hear from our fan base is, I love the Trucks, Trucks are great.  I don’t really hear anybody talk about the speeds of the Trucks.  They say it’s great racing.  That was the goal tonight, too, is to put on a great race, but also be able to showcase the best drivers.  I think it did accomplish that still early.

But Kevin Harvick winning for us is by no means a negative.  It’s the best team right now.  He went out there and proved it.

Q.  If there is a big buzz off of this race and people did leave excited about what they saw and you want them to come back next week for the Coca-Cola 600 but they’re not going to see the same thing, does that hamstring NASCAR and the track?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I think it’s a fair question, but I’d also say that we’re proud of the race product that we have on track each and every week.  We always look to improve it.  One of the ways that you improve it and you do it in a smart way is to work collectively with the industry to make sure that you have all your bases covered.

The last thing for us to do would be to roll something out with a number of unanswered questions.  That would be the case if we did that.  We’ve got a lot of work to do.  We’ve got a lot of work to do on the garage area to make sure we’re on the right track.  We feel we are.  I want to make sure the OEMs are comfortable with where we’re going, the direction, so we continue to have that fair playing field across the board.

I would say certainly the direction that we saw tonight is one we would like to pursue, but you need to have continuing conversations.  Again, go back and really analyze everything that we saw.  It’s a one hour eye test for us.  We haven’t gotten into all the data as of yet.

Q.  When you woke up this morning, what was your mixture of excitement and nervousness for today, the significance of what you were trying to do today?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  A lot of prayers this morning probably.

You know, a lot of anticipation for the race because I knew how much work went into it, especially from our team.  So was certainly cautiously optimistic, but you never know, all kinds of things to look at.

Really just wanted to see it play out.  Knew that either way we would have a direction from this.  We would know that this is something we want to continue to pursue or we would also know that we collectively tried something and it’s not a direction we want to go.

I think all in all, was excited beginning of the race, honestly was excited throughout the race.  I thought every lap had something to watch out there on the track.

Q.  How many packages do you feel you can have in the sense of if you want to go this route, how many races would you want to use it, or are you looking for something you feel like you can use on short tracks, intermediate tracks, everything but Daytona and Talladega?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  Great question.  I think that’s one of the things when we analyze this.  We did a lot of work over the offseason, Bill, Gene, crew, with the engine builders, to look at how could we be more efficient with the engines.  This was not part of that.  When you look at this race, one of the challenges was are we going to create an entirely new engine package.  That is not the intent at all.

If we were to pursue this route, that’s one of the things we’d want to look at, is how do you keep potentially a restricted engine package, then just one other, not go to three different engine packages.  Very similar to the rules for the racecars, what they look like.  You want to be as efficient as you can, but also put on the best racing possible.  That’s something we’ve got to look at and make sure we can limit the number of packages, but certainly make it so that it’s the best racing possible for the race fans.

Q.  When you have these conversations in the future about this race package, what is going to be in terms of how should it put it?  The conversations that will be had in terms of what could work for a Charlotte and Michigan, then thinking what could be something similar that may work for Richmond or Bristol or Martinsville, or even one of the road courses?

STEVE O’DONNELL:  I would say it’s fairly simple when you think about all that.  I think the team owners, the tracks and everyone would say the same thing.  If Marcus Smith’s phone is ringing, I got to get to that race, I haven’t been in a while, that’s a good sign.  If NBC and FOX are calling saying that business is good, ratings are good, that’s a good sign.  If you’re seeing more sponsorship inquiries to the race teams, that’s a good sign.  That all comes from race fans speaking up.

If this is something the fans liked, hopefully we’ll hear that.  We’d continue in that direction.  But that’s ultimately how you dial in.  If it’s 36 different packages or if it’s three, you want to end up on the right one.

We believe we can keep it simple with the number of race packages we put together.  We want to be as efficient as possible.  Ultimately it’s about the fans and putting on the best race we can.

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2019 Cup Series paint schemes

Chip Ganassi Racing
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We’re less than a month away from the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.

That means teams are slowly starting to reveal the cars Cup Series drivers will be race throughout the season.

Here’s a look at paint schemes that have been confirmed so far. This post will continue to be updated.

No. 00 – Landon Cassill

No. 1 – Kurt Busch

 

No. 3 – Austin Dillon

Dillon’s Daytona 500 car celebrating Richard Childress Racing’s 50th anniversary.

Lionel Racing

 

No. 4 – Kevin Harvick

 

Stewart-Haas Racing
Hunt Brothers Pizza Twitter

No. 6 – Ryan Newman

Roush Fenway Racing

No. 8 – Daniel Hemric

The car Hemric will race in the Daytona 500 honoring Richard Childress Racing’s 50th anniversary.

RCR
RCR
RCR

No. 9 – Chase Elliott

Hendrick Motorsports

No. 10 – Aric Almirola

 

No. 14 – Clint Bowyer

Stewart Haas Racing
Stewart-Haas Racing

 

No. 17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

Roush Fenway Racing

 

Sunny D Racing

No. 18 – Kyle Busch

Lionel Racing

No. 19 – Martin Truex Jr. 

Martin Truex Jr. Twitter

No. 24 – William Byron

Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports

No. 32 – Corey LaJoie

Go Fas Racing

No. 40 – Jamie McMurray

McMurray is scheduled to make one start so far in 2019 as part of a partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing and Spire Motorsports.

No. 42 – Kyle Larson

Chip Ganassi Racing

No. 43 – Bubba Wallace

No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson

Hendrick Motorsports

No. 88 – Alex Bowman

Hendrick Motorsports

 

Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports

No. 95 – Matt DiBenedetto

Leavine Family Racing

‘How can we be upset?’: Ross Chastain discusses losing Ganassi ride, hopeful future

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Ross Chastain received word of the events “out west,” he knew the loss of his full-time Xfinity Series ride with Chip Ganassi Racing was “inevitable.”

The events were the Dec. 18 dual raids by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in California on the headquarters of DC Solar, Ganassi’s primary Xfinity sponsor, and the home of the company’s CEO, Jeff Carpoff.

Seventeen days later, Ganassi made it official. The biggest opportunity of Chastain’s NASCAR career was gone roughly two months after it had been announced because of a lack of sponsorship.

Chastain, who turned 26 in December, made his first public appearance in a month on Friday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There, he announced plans to compete part time for Niece Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, beginning with the season opener at Daytona.

“Early on there was a couple of dark days following everything that went down. I’m not going to shy away from it,” Chastain told reporters before later clarifying himself. “It wasn’t dark, that’s probably going to come across wrong when you write it down now that I think about that. I don’t want people to get the wrong impression, but it was a big deal.

“(The Carpoffs) did a lot for me. They changed my life. I’ll forever be thankful for them and Chip (Ganassi) and Felix (Sabates) … and everybody involved with CGR and all the people in the office, they still stand behind me. I’m still tied to them. I’m still working for them.”

Chastain said he hasn’t been in contact with the Carpoffs since the FBI raids.

“Chip and (Chief Operating Officer) Doug Duchardt, they tried everything they could to keep that deal going,” Chastain said. “Talked to Chip back and forth throughout the process … it was going to affect so many people and so many mechanics and crew guys on that, including me.

“He knew that, and it affected him. He was the ultimate loser here in Charlotte for it. Nobody wanted it to happen, man. We think we know what we could accomplish or what we were going to shoot for and the cards that were laying out on the table of what we could do in 2019, but it’s just not how it was intended to happen.”

While he won’t be driving the No. 42 for CGR in 2019, he’s still under contract with the team and said Ganassi himself calls “every now and then to make sure I’m doing OK.”

So what did Chastain do during a holiday season where his career was upended through no fault of his own?

He went home.

Chastain spent Christmas and New Years clearing his head on his family’s watermelon farm in Alva, Florida.

“Spent a lot of time at the farm on a tractor,” Chastain said. “Leaving my phone in the truck. Get on the tractor and a couple of days of that will make you appreciate the life I do get to live, and I knew I wasn’t done racing. I was just going to change my schedule for this year. Family was really good.  It kind of made us all even closer.”

The time was also spent reflecting on everything that has transpired in the last half-year.

“If you would have told me six months ago, right, that I was going to drive for Chip Ganassi, I was going to win a race (at Las Vegas), I was going to finish second in a race (at Richmond) and I was going to crash – for the win – in a race (at Darlington) with a very high-profile driver (Kevin Harvick) and he was going to say a bunch of bad things about me and I was going to come back the next race in that car and win? I would have told you you were crazy. …

“We talked through all that and realized ‘Man, what we would have given six months ago to have all this happen,'” Chastain said. “‘How can we be upset?'”

While Chastain had been silent, including on social media, since the day before the raids, other NASCAR drivers have been in touch with him. That includes Elliott Sadler, who tweeted about Chastain on Jan. 7 after talking with him.

“Elliott has probably been the biggest one through all this,” Chastain said. “I don’t get along with many drivers. Me and him connect on a lot of things. … He was just like, ‘Yeah, it’s terrible, but you’re going to get through it. You have a future,’ and that’s what he kept saying.

“He said he’s been here long enough to see it. It’s going to work out. You’ve just got to believe. I was already back on track, digging on this year when I talked to Elliott, and he sent that tweet out. His biggest thing was ‘Just believe. Know it’s going to work out. I’ve seen this before. Nobody could see this coming. You didn’t do anything wrong.’ It’s head down and dig.

“He’s been really instrumental in staying on me to make sure I’m doing that.”

When it comes to who Chastain will dig deep for in races this year, Chastain said there are restrictions Ganassi has on whom he can compete for that are still being worked out.

His deal with Niece Motorsports, who he made three starts for last year, was not a result of the Ganassi closure and had been in the works for months. He’ll share the No. 45 Chevrolet with Reid Wilson.

In addition to his truck ride, Chastain plans to compete full time in Cup with Premium Motorsports in the No. 15 Chevrolet while declaring for points in the Xfinity Series.

That way he can compete in any Xfinity and Truck races in the playoffs, when all Cup drivers are banned from competition in those series.

Chastain did not reveal who he has “handshakes galore” with in the Xfinity Series, but he plans to compete in all three points races at Daytona in February. He does anticipate racing at some point this season with JD Motorsports, the Xfinity team he raced full time for from 2015-2017 and all but three races in 2018.

“However many races we end up at, we’ll be great,” Chastain said. “I’m getting to run, getting paid to drive in NASCAR and that was my dream growing up.”

Despite having multiple opportunities to race this season, the question was raised whether last year’s feel-good story has been set back in a way that could harm his hopes of marketing himself for a top-tier ride after 2019.

“People are going to think what they want to think if it set me back or not,” Chastain said. “We’re writing our own story for how this is going to work out.”

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Chad Knaus admits he’ll likely think he’s still with Jimmie Johnson’s team when season begins

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For perhaps the first few races of the 2019 Cup season, Chad Knaus may need a road map of both the garage area and pit road as a reminder he’s no longer with Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, but rather in his new role as crew chief of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team with driver William Byron.

“Look, I had 18 years of working on that 48 car, so I guarantee I’m going to walk into the wrong transporter,” Knaus said Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “At some point, I’m probably going to key up the radio and start to say ‘Jimmie,’ by accident.”

He then added with a laugh: “I may look at the 48 as it rolls down the front straightaway periodically and get confused, but hell, I’m getting old, so I get confused anyhow. So, that’s just going to be part of life.”

After 17 seasons with Jimmie Johnson, Knaus will be on the pit box of the No. 24 and with driver William Byron in 2019.

Knaus admits regularly referring to Johnson, with whom he won a NASCAR record-tying seven championships and 83 races in 612 starts together, is a hard habit to break..

“As we’re going through and setting rosters and doing our car lineups and what not, I’ve caught myself no less than at least 1,500 times, saying ‘On the 48, we want this,’” Knaus said. “It’s definitely a reality.

“But quite frankly, it’s a good thing. I’ve always been a 24 guy at heart, always. All the really productive years of my career began when I came to Hendrick Motorsports and began working with Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham back in 1993.

“To be able to wear that badge again is really exciting to me. It’s really kind of a homecoming for me. I’ve always had that passion for the 24 and always been a fan of that. So I’m excited to be back and be a part of it.”

As for working with Byron, Knaus admits it will be an interesting change, with Knaus being more of an old-school crew chief, while Byron is more of a new-age race car driver.

“The ability is there (but) it’s definitely different,” he said. “When you get yourselves into positions of a guy like myself or Ray (Evernham) … in the contemporary term of mechanical engineer, being very good at algebra, algorithms, material properties and things of that nature, you have to dig in deeper.

“The days that have come in by old school racer knowledge to really make things happen have kind of passed us to a degree. But, and the big but is, that isn’t necessarily what makes a good crew chief nowadays. What does make a good crew chief nowadays is to be able to come up with is good practical racer knowledge and convey that to the people that can make things happen.

“That’s kind of how I’ve started to approach things over the last couple years and it’s starting to show fruit from my perspective. So yeah, there are things you can do. The one thing that has remained consistent is we’re trying to get from the start/finish line back to the start/finish line as fast as you possibly can. That is a fundamental problem in our sport. And if you can do that, faster than anybody else, you’re going to be successful.”

While Knaus admits he’ll miss working with Johnson, the challenge of working with Byron has reinvigorated him.

“It’s definitely lit a fire back in me that I wouldn’t say died, but maybe helps transforms me into a more aggressive approach, which is definitely what we need,” Knaus said.

As for Daytona, Knaus can see Johnson win his third 500 — and a lot more with new crew chief Kevin Meendering.

Knaus says it would be “awesome” if Johnson can win a third Daytona 500, but also has high goals for Byron, as well.

“Jimmie Johnson’s going to go out there and win races with Kevin Meendering, period, 100 percent,” Knaus said. “Is he going to win the Daytona 500? I sure as heck hope so. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

“I love Jimmie like a brother. I hadn’t seen him since the end of last season. We saw each other at the shop two days ago and we gave each other a big old hug. My goal and our goal at Hendrick Motorsports is to have four teams that are capable of going out there and battling for wins and are in a position to battle for championships every single race and every single year. I feel that William has the ability to do that.”

While he’s not putting any pressure on Byron, Knaus definitely has Johnson-like goals for his young driver.

“The goal is to win the Daytona 500 and sit on the pole and win the 150 and we’re the fastest in practice and led every lap,” Knaus said. “That’s the goal. But the reality is it’s going to take a little time.”

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Jamie McMurray to race in Daytona 500 with Spire Motorsports

Spire Motorsports
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Spire Motorsports announced Friday that 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray will drive the No. 40 car in this year’s Daytona 500.

The Chevrolet Camaro will have branding from Bass Pro Shops, McDonald’s and Cessna, which have all had an affiliation with McMurray. The effort will be done in partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The Daytona 500 is the one race that every NASCAR driver would want to win,” McMurray said in a statement from the team. “For the rest of your life you get to be introduced or recognized as a Daytona 500 champion. I’m excited to have the opportunity to potentially be a two-time winner of the race and it would mean so much to celebrate one more win with all of the great partners that have been with me for so many years.”

Spire Motorsports is a new entry to the Cup Series this year. Spire Sports + Entertainment executives Jeff Dickerson and TJ Puchyr purchased the charter from Furniture Row Racing after last season. The team will field the No. 77 the rest of the season but is using the No. 40 for this race. That’s the car number McMurray drove at the beginning of his Cup career in 2002. The charter ensures McMurray a starting spot in the 500.

The team also announced that Joe Garone, who was President of Furniture Row Racing, will have that same role for this team, which will be based in Mooresville, North Carolina.

McMurray completed his 16th season last year. Kurt Busch is taking over the No. 1 ride McMurray had the past nine seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing. McMurray has seven career Cup victories. McMurray is one of three drivers to have won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season, joining Dale Jarrett (1996) and Jimmie Johnson (2006). McMurray accomplished the feat in 2010.

McMurray will be a Fox Sports analyst this year and have a role at Chip Ganassi Racing.