Photo: Dustin Long

Inside look at Richard Petty Motorsports’ Bristol game plan

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dustin Long is spending this week with Richard Petty Motorsports to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at how a team prepares for a race. He will be with the team at the shop and at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Watch for his stories beginning today and running through Sunday.

WELCOME, N.C. — Tuesday’s competition meeting could have been held anywhere at Richard Petty Motorsports and often is.

Sometimes it is held in crew chief Drew Blickensderfer’s cozy office where a picture of Richard Petty and Dale Inman from Martinsville in 1971 watches over the room.

Cars on the shop floor at Richard Petty Motorsports. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Sometimes the meeting can be held on the shop floor where some of the team’s 12 cars are in various stages of dress, including the car — still in its primer black — that Bubba Wallace will race Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Tuesday, the meeting took place in a conference room in the front of the 20,000-square foot building that sits on the Richard Childress Racing complex.

Outside the room along a narrow hallway is a picture of a young Petty from about 60 years ago. NASCAR’s Elvis stands with his right hand in his back pocket and left hand leaning on the hood of a No. 43 convertible that Inman, who walks by, says is from Darlington in the late 1950s. Petty wears a white open-face helmet and the driver’s uniform of the day, a striped button down shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows, jeans and boots.

Just a few feet from that picture, Wallace — the future of RPM — leans back in a leather office chair in his uniform of the day, a blue Air Force T-shirt, dark jeans and sneakers. Blickensderfer sits across from Wallace in the conference room. Engineer Derek Stamets is to the right of Blickensderfer, who looks over notes on his laptop.

Sometimes there are a few more who sit in on the meeting but not many for this single-car team, which has 12 people working on the cars at the track and nine who solely work on the cars at the shop.

This is a pivotal time for Richard Petty Motorsports. While it has had sponsorship from World Wide Technology, STP, Click n’ Close and the U.S. Air Force, among others, the team does not have a primary sponsor for seven of the remaining 13 Cup races, including this weekend at Bristol. For those races, the car will be adorned in the team’s Petty blue and Day Glo orange with the logos of Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage, companies operated by team owners Andrew Murstein and Petty.

Mechanic Joey Forgette (left), car chief Jason Sheets and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer talk as they stand over the car Bubba Wallace will drive at Bristol this weekend. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Trying to compete against teams with bigger budgets is not easy — Wallace has an average finish of 22.6 this year. But Bristol can be an equalizer because success at the high-banked short track is not as reliant on aerodynamics and dollar signs.

Wallace drove to the front and led six laps — the first laps the 24-year-old rookie had led as a Cup driver — at Bristol in April. A blistered left front tire relegated Wallace to 16th that day, but that doesn’t dampen the anticipation in the shop for this weekend. A similar run, without the tire blistering, would be a great way to showcase the team to potential sponsors it will have as guests Saturday night at the track.

So it is with that at stake the team’s weekly competition meeting takes place.

Blickensderfer gives Wallace a flash drive at the start of the meeting for his homework.

“That’s got (Kyle Larson’s) in-car (video),” Blickensderfer says. “I got that for you, at the end of the day when we had the struggle with the left front tire, we were never really able to get to the top (groove). Those guys could so I thought was worth watching.

“Yep,” Wallace said, nodding.

“That’s got qualifying on it, just to review what everybody did.”

Blickensderfer tells Wallace they will stick with their base setup from the spring race but will try three or four things to try to “tighten entry and … help that left front tire. We’ll try those in practice and see if we can figure out things.”

The blistered left front tire ruined a performance that could have rivaled Wallace’s runner-up finish in the Daytona 500, a result that left Petty smiling broadly and the now 81-year-old hustling through the crowd to bear hug his driver.

Knowing how close he had come to such a strong finish at Bristol, Wallace said he was “absolutely devastated, dejected, defeated” in a video he posted on Twitter shortly after that race.

Wallace was 12th on Lap 256 in the spring, climbed to sixth by lap 273 and worked his way to second on Lap 368 when he passed Kyle Busch. Wallace passed Brad Keselowski for the lead on Lap 375, holding it until Busch, who went on to win, got back by him six laps later.

Wallace soon fell back. As the left front tire blistered, it kept Wallace from running the bottom line because the car wouldn’t turn as well. By the time the caution came out on Lap 471, Wallace had fallen outside the top 10 and was no longer a factor for the win.

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer and Bubba Wallace discuss their game plan for this weekend’s race at Bristol. (Photo: Dustin Long)

It was with that in mind that Wallace asked Blickensderfer what happened to the tire that day.

“Do you think the setup was the cause of the left front?” Wallace asks.

“I don’t think so,” Blickensderfer says. “I don’t know if it’s chicken or egg. I don’t know if the left front got worn because of the (traction compound was put down in the corners of the track) differently than it should have. There were other teams that had a similar left front issue. Us and (Keselowski) were running in the top five and 40 laps later we were getting lapped.

“It could have been brake related. Did we have something go on where you had to dial more front brake in because you were loose in?

“Yeah,” Wallace says.

“Then all of a sudden when tires wear, you locked up the left front one time.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“It takes some tread off and then from then on it gets worse.”

“Yep.”

“Or did the tread start coming up, which caused it to lock up more.”

“Gotcha.”

Blickensderfer notes that tire was worn in the center. Had it been worn on the inside edge or outside edge, it would have been a sign of a camber issue. Also, Blickensderfer says they had run further earlier in the race without an issue.

Blickensderfer also tells Wallace that they’ll have a 15-minute penalty at the end of the first practice Friday morning because they went through inspection twice before last weekend’s race at Michigan. The plan is to do a couple of mock qualifying runs in Friday’s morning session. Wallace was 16th in the first round of qualifying and 20th in the second round there in the spring. Wallace’s car had been loose in the corner in the first round and “really loose in” Blickensderfer notes in the second round.

“We’ll make sure to give you a couple of mock runs, especially on older tires to see if that loose in gets worse as it goes,” Blickensderfer says.

“OK,” Wallace says.

They discuss more about the race, go back to qualifying with Blickensderfer noting other videos he’s placed on the flash drive of drivers for Wallace to study, mention the weather and how that could impact their plans and make final notes. They end for lunch but the discussions won’t stop. The search for speed doesn’t take breaks.

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Raphael Lessard to drive full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2020

Kyle Busch Motorsports
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Canadian driver Raphael Lessard will compete full-time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the 2020 season, the team announced Thursday.

The 18-year-old native of St. Joseph de Beauce, Quebec, will drive the No. 4 Toyota Tundra for KBM and will also compete for Truck Series Rookie of the Year honors.

Lessard has competed in five Truck races this season, three for KBM and two for DGR-Crosley Racing, with two top-10 finishes including a best showing of ninth at Iowa. He has an average starting position of 10.4 and an average finish of 11.1.

Also this year, Lessard posted two top-five and three top-10 finishes in three ARCA Menards Series starts and one win, one top-five and two top-10 finish in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in Canada. His win came at his home track, Autodrome Chaudiere in Vallee-Jonction, Quebec, on June 29 when he led a race-high 153 laps.

“I’ve been working really hard the last few years to put myself in position to drive full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series — so this opportunity is a dream come true,” Lessard said in a media release. “Being able to drive for such a great organization in one of NASCAR’s top three series is going to be awesome and I’m going to work hard on and off the race track to learn as much as I can to get better every race.”

Added team owner and NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Busch, who will be bidding for his second career Cup championship this Sunday in Miami, “We’ve watched Raphael grow as both a driver and a person since joining our Super Late Model program in 2018 and we’re looking forward to being a part of his continued progression as he graduates to a full-time role in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series next year.”

Lessard won two events in KBM’s No. 51 Super Late Model in 2018; the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and the Red Bud 400 ARCA/CRA Super Series race at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway.

In 16 starts for KBM across the CARS Super Late Model Tour, the Southern Super Series and the ARCA/CRA Super Series, Lessard posted two wins, three poles, seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes last season.

“Similar to Erik Jones and Christopher Bell before him, Raphael joined our Super Late Model program and immediately won some big races,” Busch added. “Then, when given a part-time Truck Series schedule, they all proved capable of running up front and earned the right to compete full time. Erik and Christopher went on to win races and a championship in trucks, now Raphael has the opportunity to continue to follow their blueprint.”

Sponsor and crew chief announcements for Lessard as well as announcements on the rest of the KBM driver lineup for 2020 will be made at a later date.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Previewing championship races

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will preview the championship races this weekend from Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Krista Voda will be joined by Marty Snider, Parker Kligerman and Nate Ryan. Snider and Ryan will be reporting from  NASCAR’s Championship 4 Media Day.

We’ll also have interviews with all four NASCAR Cup Championship 4 drivers: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch 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.

NBC Sports, NASCAR to launch ‘TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold’

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Press release

STAMFORD, Conn. and DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2019) – NASCAR® and NBC Sports have teamed up to launch TrackPassTM on NBC Sports Gold, a new streaming product representing NASCAR’s most significant undertaking in the direct-to-consumer space.

Set to launch in early December, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold builds off the foundation set by FansChoice.tv and immediately becomes the most robust live and on-demand motorsports content offering in the domestic digital marketplace.

TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will bring fans more exclusive live motorsports events and an extensive library of archived documentaries and films. The platform will offer exclusive live viewing of a multitude of motorsports, including American Flat Track, select ARCA Menards Series™ events (including ARCA Menards Series East and ARCA Menards Series West), NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour™, and tentpole grassroots racing events, as well as NASCAR Cup Series™ and NASCAR Xfinity Series™ practice and qualifying sessions (NBC Sports’ half of the schedule only).

International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) enthusiasts are also covered, as TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will feature live and archived content from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and IMSA Prototype Challenge. Live NASCAR national series races (NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series™) will not be offered on the platform.

“The launch of TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold is a significant step forward in both our commitment to grassroots racing and the evolution of our direct-to-consumer strategy,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR president. “By partnering with NBC Sports, we can deliver more high-quality content to fans who have passionately followed their favorite racing series via FansChoice.tv, while increasing product availability and reliability.”

“Our partnership with NASCAR on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold is a win for racing fans across the U.S., from four-wide action at superspeedways to two wheels sliding across dirt tracks,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President, Production, NBC and NBCSN. “TrackPass will deliver unprecedented, exclusive live coverage of a wide variety of diehard racing fans’ favorite series – from IMSA, ARCA and American Flat Track, to grassroots racing at iconic local tracks like Bowman-Gray Stadium and Myrtle Beach Speedway. TrackPass is a must-have for passionate race fans.”

Fans can access all the content on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold for $4.99/month or $44.99/year. Lowerpriced, series-specific subpackages for IMSA, AFT and NASCAR Roots content will also be available. Both the IMSA and NASCAR Roots (which includes ARCA, Whelen Modified Tour, tentpole grassroots events and select NASCAR practice and qualifying sessions) packages are $2.99/month or $19.99/year. The American Flat Track package will have a $1.99/month or $10.99/year introductory rate for 2020. Existing FansChoice.tv registered users will receive an introductory free trial to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

While FansChoice.tv was a web-based platform, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold allows users to cast streamed content on a connected device via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app, letting fans to experience racing action on their preferred hardware, including big-screen environments. Upon launch, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will be available on desktop web browsers via the NBC Sports app on iOS and Android phones and tablets, Apple TV (Gen 4), Roku, Amazon Fire TV, AndroidTV, Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex and Chromecast devices connected via HDMI.

Click here for additional information on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

In the meantime, catch the crowning of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion from Homestead-Miami Speedway this Sunday, November 17, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC or click here to stream the race live.

JJ Yeley to drive full-time in Cup in 2020 for Rick Ware Racing

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Rick Ware Racing announced Thursday that it will field three full-time cars in the 2020 NASCAR Cup season.

The team revealed that veteran driver J.J. Yeley will be one of its three full-time drivers. The other two drivers will be announced at a later date, the team said.

“I can’t thank Rick and Lisa Ware enough for the opportunity to be back behind the wheel of a NASCAR Cup Series car full-time next year,” Yeley said in a media release. “They are a family owned team, who continues to grow and build new relationships with sponsors, and expand their efforts in NASCAR. Over the past couple weeks, we’ve accumulated some pretty solid finishes and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in 2020.”

Yeley has made 14 starts for RWR this season with an average start of 35.9 and an average finish of 29.2. His best finish was 12th in the summer race at Daytona.

Yeley has made 290 career Cup starts, with a best finish of second at Charlotte in May 2007 for Joe Gibbs Racing. He also has made 328 Xfinity Series starts (0 wins, 15 top five finishes) and 35 Truck Series starts (0 wins, 2 top 10 finishes).

“I am excited to have JJ Yeley on board with the Rick Ware Racing organization for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season,” team owner Rick Ware said in a media release. “JJ is a great asset to any team, and has a proven track record for bringing home solid finishes for RWR. I look forward to having him on board, as we continue to grow this team.”

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