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Long: Will Roval open door to Cup race on street course?

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With NASCAR President Steve Phelps saying that “everything is in play” in regards to the sport’s future combined with the successful debut of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval this past weekend, now is the time to think bigger.

Along with the notion of midweek races, doubleheaders and a race on a dirt track for Cup, the thought of a street course race shouldn’t be too far-fetched.

The Roval, as close to a street course as any road course with its walls and minimal run-off space, showed that NASCAR drivers and cars could handle running on a tight circuit. And do it two-wide and even three-wide in at times.

Now, the sport should look to take that racing to the people and compete on the streets of a city.

“I think if somebody wanted to do that and put that on, it would be very interesting,” said car owner Roger Penske, who brought the Detroit Grand Prix to the streets of Belle Isle.

Justin Marks, a road racer who competed in this weekend’s Xfinity and Cup races at the Roval, is all for a NASCAR street course event because of what it could mean to the sport.

“I’m a huge believer you have to take your product to the people,” Marks said. “In 2012, I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix as a competitor in the Pirelli World Challenge Series and I remember spending the weekend at that race there looking around at 100,000 people and thinking that 90,000 of these people aren’t racing fans. They’re here because it’s a great cultural event.

“I think that the days of people driving 500 miles from their home to spend four days at a race track camping are numbered.”

Marks admitted there would be challenges to do a Cup street race but “I think it could be a hell of a show if they did it, especially if they went to a market like Detroit or LA or South Florida or if they managed to pull something off in Nashville or Austin or something like that, great cultural hubs and great markets.

Former IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani, who has run select Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series along with competing full-time in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, said Toronto could be a good place for NASCAR to run. IndyCar runs on a street circuit there.

“I would not give up (on) a track like this because it would be tough to reproduce the atmosphere, the event downtown, the feeling,” Tagliani said. “I think it’s worth to have an event like this in our country.”

The challenges or racing on a street course, though, wouldn’t be only for teams and competitors.

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., and the creator of the Roval for Charlotte, raises questions about a street race.

“For a driver, it’s not really a problem, but hosting the race is a big problem with street courses, they’re incredibly expensive to put on,” Smith said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “They’re temporary so you have no benefit to amortize expense over the years.

“Street courses just tend to fail. I’m not a fan of street courses for that purpose. It’s interesting, but they’re just incredibly expensive and bad business models. Things that are good for NASCAR overall need to also be good for the business of the sport.”

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The Detroit Grand Prix and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which oversees Belle Isle, reached an agreement in August to continue the event there for three more years. The deal includes an option to extend the length two more years.

As part of the agreement, the Grand Prix will increase its annual total contribution to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for hosting the event on Belle Isle from $200,000 to $450,000 each year.

Among the series, the Grand Prix hosts are the IndyCar Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series.

Now could be a good time to consider at a street course option. NASCAR is looking to revamp its schedule beginning with the 2021 season. NASCAR’s five-year contracts with tracks expire after the 2020 season.

“There are a lot of things in play,” Phelps said. “We would rule out nothing at this particular point. We need to make sure that we have all the input, all the information necessary to make an informed decision that will allow us to get to what that 2020 schedule will look like.”


Jimmie Johnson was two turns from advancing to the second round of the playoffs. He was safe, running second and needed only to finish to keep his hopes alive for a record eighth Cup championship.

Instead, Johnson went for the win, locked his brakes, spun and took out leader Martin Truex Jr., allowing Ryan Blaney to win.

Johnson crossed the line eighth to finish in a three-way tie for the final two transfer positions. Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola grabbed those spots over Johnson because they each had a better finish than him in the first round.

Johnson’s title hopes are over.

But he made the right decision to go for the win.

A seven-time champion who was on a 51-race winless drought showed how much winning means to him when he risked it all to be victorious. This isn’t an aging athlete mailing it in.

Frankly, Johnson would have made the playoffs had Jeffrey Earnhardt not spun after contact from Daniel Hemric and stalled less than 100 yards from the finish. With Earnhardt unable to cross the line, Larson chugged by after blowing a tire and hitting the wall twice in the final third of a mile to gain the spot — and the extra point that forged the three-way tie with Johnson and Almirola.

Yes, Johnson was greedy. Yes, it would have been easier to back off but what if he had finished second? 

Just as no one could have imagined Larson, driving a battered and broken vehicle, would pass a car stopped so close to the finish line to knock Johnson out of the playoff, who is to say Johnson might not have needed those playoff points with a win to get to the third round?


While it’s easy to say Jimmie Johnson’s move at the end of the Roval cost him a chance to advance in the playoffs but he had opportunities to get that one extra point throughout the playoffs and couldn’t.

Looking back at the end of the first two stages at Las Vegas and Richmond, one can see the opportunities lost earlier in the first round.

At Las Vegas, Johnson scored no points in the first stage. In the second stage, he was sixth with five laps to go. He gained two spots, collecting two additional points.

But at Richmond, he was 11th with eight laps left in the first stage and could not get into the top 10 to score any points. In the second stage, he was eighth with eight laps to go and couldn’t gain another spot.

Meanwhile, Larson found himself in a desperate situation at the end of the Roval race because of what happened in the first two stages at Las Vegas and Richmond.

The biggest blow to Larson was that 10 laps from the end of stage 1 at Las Vegas, he had to give up third place and pit for a right front tire issue. Had he finished third in that segment, he would have had eight more points and would not have been in a three-way tie for the final two transfer spots.

Aric Almirola can look back at a move at Las Vegas with helping create that tie after the Roval race. Almirola was 10th with five laps to go in the first stage. He passed Clint Bowyer before the end to finish the stage ninth and gain an extra point. If Almirola doesn’t get that spot, he’s not tied with Johnson and is eliminated.

Every point matters.


Saturday’s Xfinity race lasted 1 hour, 32 minutes, 35 seconds. It was the shortest Xfinity race on a road course since June 1991 at Watkins Glen. That race lasted 1 hour, 36 minutes, 5 seconds.

Excluding the Dash4Cash races that had been shortened when those were paired with heat races, last weekend’s event was the shortest Xfinity race since Darlington in September 2015. That race lasted 1 hour, 25 minutes, 14 seconds.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that the sanctioning body would increase the number of laps for the race next year. It was 55 laps this year.

The question is what should be the proper length of a race? The Xfinity Series has had one race last three hours (season opener at Daytona) and seven races last more than 2 hours, 20 minutes. The series has had five races (other than the Roval) last less than two hours. The shortest race had been Michigan (1 hour, 45 minutes) before the Roval.

So what should be the proper length of a race? Does it matter if a race lasts barely 90 minutes?

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Natalie Decker recovering from gallbladder surgery

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Natalie Decker, a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver, is recovering after undergoing surgery to have her gallbladder removed.

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Decker, who raced for DGR-Crosley in 2019, posted on Instagram Wednesday about what led to the surgery, including problems with her gallbladder the kept her from taking arthritis medication.

“Hi everyone now that I have had the surgery to remove my gallbladder I will share the whole story!” Decker said. “I have been not being able to eat much food and have been in so much pain every time I eat we went through lots of testing like upper endoscopy and gallbladder function test! They finally figured it out and my gallbladder wasn’t functioning right! I had to get my gallbladder removed before I could go back on my Arthritis medication. I’m so thankful everything went very well!”

Decker, 22, made 19 starts in 2019. Her best finish was 13th in the spring Las Vegas race.

John Hunter Nemechek joins Front Row Motorsports’ 2020 driver lineup

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John Hunter Nemechek will join Michael McDowell as a full-time driver at Front Row Motorsports for the 2020 Cup season, the team announced Thursday, confirming it will retract to two cars.

Nemechek will drive the No. 38 Ford, taking over the seat held by David Ragan before his retirement. He will work with crew chief Seth Barbour.

McDowell will continue to drive the No. 34 Ford.

Nemechek competed in the final three Cup races of 2019, substituting for Matt Tifft in the No. 36 Ford following his seizure at Martinsville Speedway in October. Tifft parted ways with the team in order to focus on his health.

Nemechek, the son of Joe Nemechek, joins a rookie class that includes Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Brennan Poole.

“I’m thrilled for the opportunity to drive for Bob Jenkins and Front Row Motorsports,” Nemechek said in a press release. “Having driven the last three races with this team in 2019, I feel like we already have a foundation to start the 2020 season. I’m looking forward to continuing to build FRM.”

Nemechek, 22, competed full-time in the Xfinity Series in 2019 driving for GMS Racing. He finished seventh in the standings after earning six top fives and 19 top-10 finishes. He has six Truck Series wins in 99 starts since 2013.

McDowell returns for his third full-time season with Front Row.

“As an organization, we have made a lot of strides with the help of all our partners of our program,” McDowell said in the press release. “I’m ready to build on that momentum with (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer). and the rest of our team. We’ve always had steady growth and I think we’re going to continue to see that next season.”

Said team owner Bob Jenkins: “We are looking to the future with a young talent like John Hunter Nemechek. John Hunter impressed us at the end of last season, he comes from a racing family, and he’s a winning driver. We believe that we can grow with him in the years to come.”

 

Nashville Fairgrounds in negotiations with new race promoter

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While the city of Nashville reviews a new proposal from Speedway Motorsports, Inc, the Nashville Fairgrounds have entered negotiations with a potential track promoter for Fairground Speedway’s 2020 season, The Tennessean reported Wednesday.

The newspaper reported that the Fairgrounds is negotiating with Track Enterprises to promote at least three races at short track.

The development comes a month after the Fair Board voted to terminate its contract with Formosa Productions over outstanding debt.

Fairgrounds spokesperson Holly McCall told The Tennessean that it was approached by Track Enterprises’ Bob Sargent about being involved in races on the short track next year.

Sargent has a history with the track, having promoted ARCA races there for roughly five years, according to The Tennessean.

Speedway Motorsports, which had previously struck a deal with Formosa Productions looking to bring NASCAR racing back to the track, had announced a $60 million renovation proposal in May.

A spokesperson for Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who was elected in September, told The Tennessean it was reviewing a new proposal from SMI.

McCall told The Tennessean the Fairgrounds had not yet received a new plan from SMI.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor Cooper during NASCAR’s Champion’s Week in Nashville. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

 

Martin Truex Jr. on Cole Pearn’s departure, what he seeks in next crew chief

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. got a phone call from Cole Pearn on Sunday and Truex quickly had a very bad feeling about it.

“When he started talking it was in the back of my mind that, ‘This is not good. I feel like something big is about to come,'” Truex recalled. “Sure enough, it was surprising.”

Pearn had called to tell Truex what everyone else would learn the next day: after five years together, he was resigning as his crew chief and leaving NASCAR.

Truex discussed the end of Pearn’s tenure and what he wants from his next crew chief during a break from giving out Christmas toys to patients at Levine Children’s Hospital.

“Thought I could get a couple more years out of him, to be honest,” Truex said before admitting he completely understood Pearn’s reasons for getting out of NASCAR while seemingly at the top of his game: a long season that keeps him from seeing his family.

“I understand the grind, I understand just how hard he has to work to produce a level of competition that he does,” Truex said. “I’ve seen it first hand, his hours and what’s he’s willing to do. I don’t know that there’s anyone in the garage willing to put as much work into racing as he did.”

He continued: “It’s time for him to move into doing something else. His kids are growing up too fast and he doesn’t get to see them that much. It was big decision for him and I know … he feels somewhat like he let all us down. I told him, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do what’s best for your family, we all understand and all our guys will understand, we’ll go on and try to the best with someone else filling his role.'”

When it comes to figuring who will take over as crew chief on the No. 19 Toyota, Truex said, “We’ve got a few guys in mind. I feel like we’re narrowing it down. We should know something in the next couple of days for sure.”

Whoever takes over will follow in the wake of a crew chief who worked with Truex to produce 24 wins in five seasons, four appearances in the Championship 4 and the 2017 Cup title.

How did half a decade of success with Pearn change what Truex wants from a crew chief?

“Honestly, that’s a good question,” Truex said. “Obviously, I need to find somebody that has his demeanor, a guy that approaches racing the way he does, because it’s kind of what works for me. I feel like we approach racing the same way, Cole and I did. Our attitudes and just the way we thought about things was so similar. We could almost finish each other’s sentences.

“It’s so weird, we’re so different people outside of racing. In racing, that’s just the way we grew up. Our dads racing and racing go-karts and moving up through the ranks ourselves. We just did things a lot the same and we had similar beliefs in the way we did things. Just kind of the same thought process.”

Truex believes he and Pearn “approached a lot of things together more so than me being a rookie and him being a veteran like it was when I first started.

“No question, he was really good at getting the most out of me and I’ll need somebody to do that,” Truex said. “I’m not the most outspoken guy and so I need sometimes somebody to pull that information out of me, especially when it comes to the cars and building the cars. When they’re not good enough, how do you make them better? He was really good at that. I feel good about the guys we’re talking to and we’ve got a few options there and hopefully it’ll work out.”