With three tracks in the playoffs that never hosted playoff races before and conversation surrounding a dramatically new aero package for next year, it seems that change is in the air for NASCAR.
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, fans used the hashtag #WednesDale on social media to see just how far those changes could go.
Their questions began a conversation between Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan about how NASCAR could alter their summertime calendar to consolidate the schedule without lessening the number of races run.
The panelists were uniform in their desire to see most tracks host only one NASCAR Cup race per year.
“I hate to say this Jason, but … I wouldn’t want any of the tracks to get a second date,” Nate Ryan said.
“I don’t really want to run anywhere twice,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined in.
“I like Daytona a couple of times, but I’d like to see everyone go to one … and let’s consolidate and make it special,” Petty said.
Taking away the second dates would create opportunities for new tracks to join the senior series – opening up new markets in the process. But there is also an opportunity to make the schedule more compact.
The answer for Earnhardt, Petty and Ryan is mid-week races.
“We don’t have to shorten the amount of races; let’s shorten the time of the season,” Earnhardt said. “Run on some Wednesdays. Do even some doubleheaders and stuff like that. … But I think they should go to all the racetracks once and then add Iowa, Nashville Fairgrounds – places like that.”
“Brad Keselowski has talked about this,” Ryan said. “That dead of summer period, June, July when NASCAR could really own some Wednesdays.”
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — When the champagne bottles were passed out to Joey Logano’s team after he won the Cup championship Sunday night, Ray Gallahan found a place to sit at the back of the stage to watch his teammates spray each other.
“I’m not a heavy drinker, and I don’t like being too sticky,” Gallahan told NBC Sports. “I usually bow out for the champagne part.’’
The celebration was poignant for Gallahan, who served his final race as Logano’s fueler Sunday. The 35-year-old Gallahan will move into a role as an assistant pit coach for Team Penske.
“That crumbled me up pretty hard because I was supposed to be the guy that didn’t mess up,” Gallahan said.
The team returned to the championship race in 2016. Logano’s title hopes faded when he went to pass Carl Edwards on a late restart and Edwards blocked, leading to contact that eliminated Edwards and damaged Logano’s car.
Sunday, Logano’s pit crew gained him two spots on the final pit stop, allowing him to restart third and charge to the win. It was pretty much the same unit that had been there in 2014 and ’16.
Front tire changer Thomas Hatcher, rear tire changer Zachary Price and tire carrier Dylan Dowell had been on the team since 2014. The only new member was jackman Graham Stoddard, who had been teammate Ryan Blaney’s jackman but moved to Logano’s team after Blaney was eliminated in the playoffs at Kansas.
That four of the five pit crew members remained since 2014 is a remarkable achievement in an era where changes to pit crews can be common. This unit excelled late in the playoffs, playing a key role in helping Logano win at Martinsville, and having a strong performance in the championship race.
“I think the longer you are together, the more you learn what to expect from the other guy, so it actually makes you faster,” Dowell told NBC Sports.
Having experienced the lows of the title race — and missing the playoffs last year — it allowed the team to appreciate its accomplishment.
“It definitely made it sweeter,” Hatcher told NBC Sports. “It definitely made it sweeter.”
“This is 51 years for us,” the 77-year-old Shepherd told NBC Sports at Homestead-Miami Speedway, “and I’ve started on my next. If I can get it in, I’ll only be 127 (years old). We’ll see where we land.”
Isn’t it time for retirement?
“Nah,” Shepherd said as he sat on the pit wall. “I’m just a servant. I might not be able to help myself but I can help other people with what we’re doing. Our charity is 32 years old. … We’ll go as long as the Lord wants me to go.”
Shepherd understands that change will come at some point.
“We definitely would be better with a younger driver and build it around him,” Shepherd said. “We’ll see where it goes. We haven’t quit yet.”
Crew chief Luke Lambert told NBC Sports he’s signed a new deal with Richard Childress Racing and will serve as rookie Daniel Hemric’s crew chief on the No. 31 car next season.
It will make the first time Lambert has worked with a young driver. He’s previously worked with veteran drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman. Lambert had been with Newman the past five seasons. Newman moves to Roush Fenway Racing for 2019.
“It will be different in ways,” Lambert said of working with a rookie. “I’ve been around situations with young drivers a lot so I’m very familiar with what sort of things need to be done differently. Ultimately, it’s going to be about learning each other and what he needs different to be successful and for me to help figure out ways to provide that for him.”
Miami win gives Team Penske victories on all active Cup tracks
Logano capped the season off with Penske’s second Cup title after Keselowski won it in 2012.
But Logano also delivered Penske its first victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 43 starts.
Combined with Keselowski’s Brickyard win and Ryan Blaney‘s triumph in the inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval, Team Penske is now the only organization with wins on every active track on the Cup schedule.
Team Penske finished the year with 111 wins in Cup points races since 1972. 103 of those have come on the 24 tracks that currently make up the schedule.
At defunct tracks, the organization has wins at Rockingham (three), Riverside (two), North Wilkesboro (two) and Ontario (one).
Here’s a look at the tracks the other major Cup organizations have yet to win at.
Kentucky Speedway is notable, as a Chevrolet team has yet to win in eight races on the 1.5-mile track.
Hendrick Motorsports (252 Cup wins) – Winless at Kentucky and Charlotte Roval
Joe Gibbs Racing (157 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval
Roush Fenway Racing (137 Cup wins) – Winless at Indianapolis, Charlotte Roval, Chicagoland and Kentucky
Richard Childress Racing (108 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval, Kentucky, Miami and Las Vegas
Wood Brothers Racing (99 Cup wins) – Winless at Phoenix, Sonoma, Kentucky, Charlotte Roval, Auto Club Speedway, Chicago, Texas, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Kansas, Miami and Indianapolis.
Stewart-Haas Racing (51 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval and Kentucky
Chip Ganassi Racing (16 Cup wins) – Winless at Pocono, Phoenix, Martinsville, Bristol, Charlotte Roval, Chicago, Dover, Texas, Miami, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Atlanta
NASCAR America: An emotional end to 2018 for Martin Truex Jr.
Last year’s championship was a fairy tale for a team located in Denver, Colorado – far from NASCAR’s epicenter in North Carolina.
This season was much different. Furniture Row Racing found out midseason that its primary sponsor would not return after this year, which caused car owner Barney Visser to decide to shut down the team after the final race.
With that looming closure came the inevitable questions of if the No. 78 team would lose focus.
Then came late-race incidents at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville when Truex was knocked out of the lead on the final corner by Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano respectively.
“They just didn’t have that short run speed to beat the 22 (of Logano at Miami), but they put up a heck of a fight,” NASCAR America analyst Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of the show. “They did all of this under the cloud of knowing that that organization was shutting down at the end of this last race.”
Under NASCAR’s current playoff format winning the most races means a lot. It doesn’t win the championship, however, unless one of those victories comes in the season finale.
After the race in Miami, Kevin Harvick was not ready to call his season a failure. He won eight times during the year, tying him for the lead with Kyle Busch. But he was noticeably disappointed by coming up two positions short of claiming his second Cup. Harvick finished behind the 2018 champion Joey Logano and last year’s champion Martin Truex Jr.
“When I look at the 4 team through the whole weekend, they just seemed a little bit off,” Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “You look at qualifying, it didn’t go well. And then Saturday practice, they had a short run to start off the first practice because he wasn’t happy with the car. He wasn’t able to find the feel in the car. It just seemed like they were searching a little bit.”
Harvick started the race strong, moving up to the lead on Lap 43 after starting 12th. He won the first stage. When the field pitted, the team did not make any significant changes to the car and Harvick was never quite the same.
Jeff Burton said that indicates the team failed to adjust to the changing characteristics of the track.
“In this kind of race when it all comes down to one race and you just get off that little bit at the wrong time, there’s no time to recover,” Burton said.