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Ryan: Disband the Drivers Council? Here’s why the timing seems right

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – The new boss from the old guard, a central figure in one of the season’s biggest stories, was there.

The proposed 2019 rules, a persistent flashpoint for stoking controversy and debate this year, were on the agenda.

The forum was set for an open dialogue about the myriad challenges facing NASCAR and how to address them.

But when the 10 members of the Drivers Council met at Michigan International Speedway last Friday, there was an extremely notable absence.

After winning Sunday at the 2-mile oval, Kevin Harvick copped to watching football and playing video games with his son, Keelan, two nights earlier while critical discussions on instrumental issues were taking place a few hundred yards away.

“I had no interest,” said Harvick, who attributed it to there being “so many politics and things happening” in NASCAR now.

Here’s a weighty topic that maybe would pique his interest.

Should the Drivers Council be disbanded?

If one of the most strongly opinionated and outspoken veterans of the Cup Series sees so little usefulness and utility in meeting with NASCAR brass and his peers to hammer out the hard choices shaping the industry’s direction, how can the group be taken seriously?

If attendance isn’t compulsory for perhaps the most important meeting of the season, particularly with new interim CEO Jim France in attendance, how can anyone say with a straight face that these meetings aren’t a waste of everyone’s time?

After being created three years ago amid the hoopla of new rules packages and a collective approach to “fixing” the racing, the Drivers Council feels to be an idea whose time has run its course, particularly with last week’s change in the sanctioning body’s leadership.

Though he has a much more low-key style than his older brother and father did when they ran NASCAR from 1948-2003, Jim France will bring more of their method of governance. When he stepped into a similar role nearly 20 years ago (for a few months while Bill France Jr. battled cancer), his consigliere was Mike Helton, who also was at France’s side this past weekend at Michigan.

Helton wields enormous respect within NASCAR because he is the most tangible and visible link to the iron-fisted rule of Bill France Jr., who likely would have scoffed at the attempts of embracing consensus-building over the past three years with drivers, tracks and teams.

That era of widespread “collaboration,” a well-intentioned concept with earnest objectives but flawed execution, needs to mercifully end.

Dumping the Drivers Council would be an effectively symbolic way of conveying that message while also ending the charade of its efficacy.

This also goes for similar gatherings between racetrack leadership and NASCAR. At least one high-profile track president skips those meetings on the regular, too, for the same reason as Harvick – a lack of discernible productivity.

A fair point can be made that Harvick’s truancy Friday has much to do with his style. When the 2014 champion goes into title-contending mode, he mostly shuts off the outside world a la LeBron James’ abstention from social media during the NBA playoffs.

But being put off by “politics” – which Harvick clarified at Ford’s Mustang unveiling last Thursday was related to the debate over the 2019 rules – reinforces that star drivers hardly possess the dispositions for navigating the inherent messiness of plotting long-range courses for rules and strategy. Those “politics” will be pervasive in any meeting about such big-picture topics in NASCAR.

Racing demands that drivers are wired selfishly – and justifiably so.

There is no incentive for worrying about the greater good when trying to beat a few dozen other highly competitive opponents every Sunday. And drivers’ views understandably will forever be compromised in evaluating rules that could help or hinder their performances depending on wide-ranging circumstances.

According to those who attended Friday’s Drivers Council meeting, there was a predictably discordant tone about next season (revolving around proposals of whether to use the “drafting package” from the All-Star Race in anywhere from a handful of 2019 races to more than a dozen). Every piece of drivers’ feedback will be tainted to some degree by the vested interests in their own results.

This isn’t to suggest they should be dissuaded from having opinions or expressing them.

Harvick has his own forums – notably, his weekly SiriusXM Satellite Radio show in which he regularly leverages a national platform to champion his ideas for change whether it’s overhauling stages on road courses or building a better schedule. He has been deliberate weighing in on major topics there every Tuesday.

He undoubtedly believes his public voice carries as much or more weight than behind the closed doors of the Drivers Council.

There’s nothing much more that needs to be said there.


Michigan’s results again underscored the importance of having an in-house Optical Scanning Station to mimic NASCAR’s inspection process at the track, and how some teams greatly benefited from preseason decisions to make six-figure investments in the elaborate systems of high-definition cameras and computer scans (it’s been estimated the cost of an OSS is at least $300,000).

Among the first teams to have an OSS were Stewart-Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing, which accordingly have accounted for 19 of 23 wins this season.

“I don’t see how you can race without it, to be honest with you,” crew chief Rodney Childers said about the OSS after his team’s series-leading seventh victory.

NASCAR allows teams to access an OSS at its R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, but the logistics and time required of schlepping cars there precludes it as an efficient option. An OSS is needed to help optimize cars at multiple junctures during the building process, making it a necessity for more than just powerhouse teams. During a NASCAR on NBC Podcast episode in April, Front Row Motorsports general manager Jerry Freeze said his team was considering an OSS for next season.

Hendrick Motorsports took delivery on its OSS in May, and its results notably have improved over the past month – enough to catch the eye of Kyle Larson, whose Chip Ganassi Racing team still lacks its own OSS.

“(Hendrick has) finally been able to learn where they can push the limits on things,” Larson said. “So, it sounds like maybe we have (an OSS) coming, so I’m really excited about that. Hopefully we can get it up and running before the playoffs start.”

With no top fives or laps led in the last six races for Larson (who started and finished 17th at Michigan), it can’t come soon enough.


Larson’s fade since finishing second at Chicagoland Speedway has cast serious doubt on which Chevrolet team (if any) has the best chance of emerging as a playoff threat.

After winning at Watkins Glen International with Chase Elliott and posting career-best finishes by Alex Bowman and William Byron at Pocono Raceway, Hendrick seemed to experience a backslide at Michigan, where only Elliott (ninth) finished in the top 15.

Meanwhile, Richard Childress Racing had two of the top three finishing Chevys in Austin Dillon (who finished fourth after running second to Harvick for much of the final 50 laps) and Ryan Newman (13th despite a spin after starting sixth).

It would be reductive to proclaim RCR as the lead Chevy team off one race. But Elliott said Friday he viewed Michigan “as kind of a gauge where we stack up” for the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the other 1.5-mile tracks (Kansas Speedway in the second round and Texas Motor Speedway in the third) that are coming up.


Larson’s admission he was keeping his mouth shut about moonlighting in the Knoxville Nationals was a reminder that his family’s love of dirt racing rubs some the wrong way. In January, he said the Chili Bowl was bigger than the Daytona 500, and his father, Mike, made a similar comparison about Knoxville last week.

Larson and his family shouldn’t have to apologize for embracing their roots, particularly at a time when NASCAR is emphasizing the importance of short-track racing at regional tracks. As the self-proclaimed “last true racer,” Larson admirably has tried to build a bridge between NASCAR and dirt racing. It’s unlikely to bring many crossover fans to NASCAR, but good relationships certainly help more than poisonous sniping between series.

There’s some hope that resistance could diminish under new management. Jim France has a known fondness for sports cars (helping guide IMSA’s current structure) and motorcycle racing. He presumably understands that racing’s biggest challenge is relevance across the board, and it helps if everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction.


If sports cars and the 24 Hours of Le Mans really are in the long-term future for Kurt Busch, then either his current home of Stewart-Haas Racing or Chip Ganassi Racing would make sensible options as the 2004 champion mulls his future.

Busch has emphasized (particularly in this NASCAR on NBC Podcast episode) that his Ford ties are critical in pursuing sports cars. Stewart-Haas Racing has been Ford’s lead team this season in NASCAR. Ganassi fields Chevrolets in the Cup Series but races Fords in IMSA’s GT class (two years ago, the team delivered Ford’s first win in 50 years in the 24 Hours of Le Mans).

If the aim is the best NASCAR fit for Busch, though, it’s Richard Childress Racing that would seem the most logical. RCR has made a run at the 2004 series champion before, and Busch often has said he has worked best with old-school crew chiefs – whose philosophies are embodied by RCR (starting at the top).

If Gene Haas is to be believed that 2019 likely will be Busch’s last season in Cup, it would be a good fit for the team, too. RCR could use a driver with Busch’s talent to benchmark its cars, and if the plan is for Ty Dillon eventually to join his older brother at RCR, Busch would be a first-class stopgap.


While Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated drivers Ryan Preece and Christopher Bell deservedly are popping up in conversations about future Cup rides, there’s another Toyota driver who should be on radar screens – the 2015 Cup Series rookie of the year Brett Moffitt.

Moffitt just turned 26, and his four victories in the Camping World Truck Series with underfunded Hattori Racing have proved he deserves another shot at NASCAR’s premier series. The Grimes, Iowa, native made 45 Cup starts between 2014-17 and had a best finish of eighth with Michael Waltrip Racing in March 2015 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”