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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’s weekend schedule for Auto Club Speedway

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NASCAR’s West Coast swing continues this weekend with a visit to the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Cup and Xfinity Series teams will be in action, with the weekend capped off by Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

For Friday, wunderground.com forecasts partly cloudy skies, a high of 81 degrees and no chance of rain.

For the start of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, the forecast is for sunny skies and a high of 70 degrees.

On Sunday, the forecast for the start of the Cup race is cloudy skies, a high of 54 and a 39% of rain.

Here’s the full weekend schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, Feb. 28

Noon – 10 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

1 – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (FS1)

4:05 – 4:55 – Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network)

5:02 – 5:27 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

5:35 – 6:25 p.m. – Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

Saturday, Feb. 29

10 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

1:05 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; one car/single lap (FS1)

2:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief introductions

2:35 p.m. – Cup qualifying; one car/single lap (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

4 p.m. – Production Alliance Group 300; 150 laps/300 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 1

11:30 a.m. – Cup garage opens

1:30 p.m. – Driver-crew chief meeting

2:50 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

3:30 p.m. – Auto Club 400; 200 laps/400 miles (Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Myatt Snider: It’s ‘game on’ if conflict with Noah Gragson continues

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The spat between Xfinity Series drivers Myatt Snider and Noah Gragson may not necessarily be over.

The pair tangled in Sunday night’s Xfinity Series race in Las Vegas. Gragson made contact with Snider’s car, sending it into a spin.

Snider discussed the incident Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” and where things stand between the two drivers.

“It, to me, just seemed like some impatience on Noah’s part,” Snider said of the incident. “I had gotten into a rut and was trying to figure out how to make the car faster but at that point in time, I didn’t. So he was running me down and he actually had a run on me going to the frontstretch.

“So I was, ‘Okay, he’s going to go by me.’ Then I felt a little yoink in the left rear quarter and around I was going. It’s kind of unfortunate it had to go down that way, that’s not racing to me. But I’m a big believer in karma and what goes around, comes around. We’ll be performing at our best over these next couple of weeks and I’m not worried about it.”

Snider also told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he hasn’t texted or talked to Gragson since Sunday, but Snider said he’s ready if the spat continues.

“I’m the kind of guy that believes in racing people how you’re raced,” Snider said. “I’m not going to take any kind of stuff like that. If (Gragson) wants to send that kind of message early, then game on.”

On Tuesday, here’s how Gragson explained what happened on “Sirius Speedway” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“It was just some hard racing between the two of us and we got into each other, so I think we both can look forward to the next couple of races and stay out of each other’s ways,” Gragson said. “I think we’re both at fault. It was a long race, none of us were going to give and we’re going to go on to California and run as good as possible and do as good as we can.”

Much has been made about the TV replays of Gragson and Snider meeting after the race to talk about the incident. Gragson tried to give Snider a fist bump only to have Snider walk away without fist bumping him.

“I told (Myatt) let’s play rock, paper, scissors,” Gragson quipped in part on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I went with rock and he still hasn’t gotten back to me if he wants scissors, paper or rock.”

Gragson won the season opener at Daytona and finished fourth at Las Vegas for JR Motorsports. Snider, who won the pole at Daytona, finished 33rd at Daytona and 16th at Las Vegas for Richard Childress Racing. Snider will race this weekend at Auto Club Speedway for RSS Racing.

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Ryan Newman gets standing ovation in visit to Roush Fenway Racing

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Exactly 10 months to the day when the country will celebrate Thanksgiving, the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization gave thanks and a warm welcome to driver Ryan Newman, who visited the team’s shop Wednesday.

Newman, who was involved in a horrific crash coming to the finish line of the Daytona 500 just nine days earlier, received a standing ovation from his colleagues and posed for a number of photos.

While there is still no timetable for Newman’s return behind the wheel of his No. 6 RFR Ford Mustang — Ross Chastain is scheduled to drive the car until Newman comes back — Wednesday’s appearance was yet another positive move in that direction.

“Just a good day,” RFR president Steve Newmark tweeted about Newman’s visit.

Newman said in a prior statement he suffered an undisclosed head injury in the crash but did not suffer any broken bones or internal injuries.

Tuesday he took part in one of his favorite pastimes:

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Hendrick focused on Jimmie Johnson’s success, not successor

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Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski. Ryan Blaney. Erik Jones.

No, we’re not talking about this week’s fantasy racing picks, but those four drivers have been among drivers mentioned most often when it comes time for Hendrick Motorsports to name a replacement for Jimmie Johnson, who will retire after this season.

Yet even though filling Johnson’s spot is important, it’s not as much a priority right now as it is for the entire organization to learn more about the nuances of the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, according to HMS vice president of competition Jeff Andrews.

“We don’t have a timetable for that, to be honest with you,” Andrews said of naming a replacement for Johnson on Wednesday “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Our focus has been getting better race cars under Jimmie Johnson and getting better race cars for (crew chief) Cliff Daniels and his race team to work with on the weekend.

“The focus right now immediately for the 48 is to get a win, get that car in the playoffs, get multiple wins through the season and then get Jimmie Johnson to Phoenix at the end of the year to battle for that championship.”

Andrews admits the vibe around Hendrick Motorsports’ campus is markedly different this year, knowing it’s Johnson’s final season in the No. 48.

“I think the sense is pride here within Hendrick Motorsports, to just have been associated with someone like Jimmie,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “For those of us who have been here really throughout his career, we’re just incredibly proud that he chose to drive for Hendrick Motorsports throughout his whole career.

“But we’re also proud of all his accomplishments and what he’s done for this company. I think we would have an awful hard time of ever paying him back for all that. Our goal this year is giving him everything he needs for a multiple win season and to get to Phoenix. We owe him that at the least.”

The Hendrick organization has struggled in adapting to the new Chevrolet Camaro body style this year. In the season-opening Daytona 500, Chase Elliott (finished seventh) was the only HMS driver in the top 15.

Things were a bit better this past Sunday at Las Vegas. Johnson was the highest-finishing HMS driver (fifth), while Alex Bowman was 13th. But there was considerable sense of accomplishment overall for Chevrolet as a whole, with six of its Camaros in the top 10 (as opposed to only two Chevys in the top 10 at Daytona).

That leaves Andrews, the competition department at HMS and Chevrolet officials as a whole feeling optimistic as the series heads for the third race of the season this weekend at the two-mile track in Fontana, California.

“From a barometer perspective, we’re feeling good about where we’ve been,” Andrews said. “We haven’t had that finish, that win that we’re looking for, but certainly we’ve started off the year with some good speed in our cars.

“The one thing that all of our drivers were commenting on is we had more speed in our cars and just had a better platform in our cars and a better ability to run multiple lines on the racetrack, which is something we haven’t in recent years.”

Admittedly, it’s been a tough road for Hendrick drivers over the last three seasons. Since Johnson’s seventh Cup championship in 2016, no HMS driver has reached the Championship 4 round since.

Also during that time frame, only two drivers have finished in the top-10 overall in the last three seasons (Chase Elliott, fifth in 2017, sixth in 2018 and 10th in 2019; and Johnson, 10th in 2017).

These next five races, particularly the last two of that stretch at Homestead-Miami and Texas, will help give Andrews and his staff a better handle on where their adjustment to the Camaro goes from there.

“We know it’s a long season and have a long ways to go with this,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “We need to get through three or four more races.

“I think we’ve targeted as a company a better understanding of where we’re at after the Homestead/Texas timeframe to get some types of tracks and learn with this new car.

“Steep learning curve with the new car and we’ve got to act quick. We have just a year to work with this before we get to another generation of race cars. … We’re looking forward to going back to the track this weekend in Fontana and see where we go with it.”

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