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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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Richard Childress Racing names crew chief for No. 21 Xfinity car

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Richard Childress Racing announced Tuesday that Andy Street has been promoted to crew chief for the No. 21 Xfinity car that will feature drivers Myatt Snider, Anthony Alfredo and Kaz Grala this season.

Street has been with RCR for 16 years. He joined the team as a design and test engineer. He served as an engineer in Cup, scoring 10 wins with Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Most recently, Street’s role was as an engineer in the Xfinity Series. His duties included R&D work as a design engineer specializing on chassis and suspension systems.

“Andy is a brilliant design engineer, who has spent a lot of time and effort at RCR over the past 16 years,” said Andy Petree, vice president of competition, in a statement from the team. “When Andy stepped into the Xfinity Series crew chief role in Richmond Raceway last fall, I was very impressed with how he went about the weekend running and leading the race team. He proved he is worthy of this role. He’ll be the perfect complement to both Justin Alexander and Randall Burnett because of his engineering background and having worked with both of these guys on the R&D side of the company.”

John Ray, who drove patriotic big rig at Talladega, dies at 82

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One of Talladega Superspeedway’s most endearing and popular figures has passed away.

John “Johnny” Ray, whose diesel big rig carrying an American flag around the 2.66-mile track has been a fixture during the playing of the National Anthem at NASCAR Cup races for the past two decades, has died at the age of 82, the track announced Monday.

Ray began the tradition behind the wheel of his gold, brown and chrome-colored Peterbilt semi-tractor in 2001, with an oversized American flag flowing in the breeze behind the tractor.

The procession quickly became a significant fan favorite, eliciting loud cheers and applause from fans in the stands each time it passed by on the track’s front stretch.

“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year,” Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, Alabama, said in an interview three years ago. “I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Ray, who started his own trucking company in the early 1970s, and also had a brief NASCAR racing career of his own, ceded driving duties of the big rig several years ago to his late friend, Roger Haynes, and then last year to son Johnny Ray, to continue the tradition.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a media release. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated.

“He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

Funeral arrangements for John Ray are pending, according to the track.

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Ryan Blaney experienced Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ in person

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kobe Bryant didn’t ask normal questions.

Nearly two years after a 20-minute conversation in the back of a Las Vegas steakhouse, that’s what sticks out to Ryan Blaney about the five-time NBA champion.

Blaney reflected on his encounter with Bryant on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

MORE: NASCAR community mourns death of Kobe Bryant

The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”

During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.

“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.

“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”

Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.

“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”

Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.

“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”

Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”

Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.

“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”

Brendan Gaughan to run 4 final Cup races in 2020, including Daytona 500

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Brendan Gaughan will kick off his 23rd and final season of NASCAR racing in the 62nd Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports.

Gaughan – who is using the hashtag #NotGaughanYet to symbolize his final season — will drive the No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona. If he qualifies, it will be his fifth time in the 500 field, with his best finish coming in 2017 when he finished 11th.

The 44-year-old Gaughan is slated to drive four races this season in NASCAR Cup for Beard Motorsports. In addition to the Daytona 500, he’ll also race April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway, August 29 back at Daytona and will make the final start of his racing career on October 4 back at Talladega.

The Las Vegas native has made 12 previous starts for Beard Motorsports, all at either Daytona and Talladega.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” Gaughan said in a media release. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.”

Last April, Gaughan led five laps at Talladega and gave Beard Motorsports its second top-10 finish in the Cup Series, finishing eighth. Gaughan also finished seventh at Daytona for Beard Motorsports in July 2017.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team,” Gaughan said. “(Team owner) Mark Beard Sr., and his entire family are passionate about racing, and NASCAR in particular. We’re all competitive and want to perform, but we’re going to have fun doing it. That’s how we all got started in the sport – because it was fun. And as I wrap up my career, I’m going to make sure it stays fun.”

Gaughan has made 62 prior starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie season in 2004, when he earned his best career finish in the series (fourth at Talladega).

He also has made 219 starts in the Xfinity Series with two wins, and 217 starts in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series with eight wins.

Gaughan’s effort at Daytona will be in a chassis built by Richard Childress Racing and powered by a motor from ECR Engines. He’ll be sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing, South Point Hotel & Casino and City Lights Shine whiskey moonshine.

He begins his quest to qualify for the 40-car field with Daytona 500 qualifying on February 9. His lap will determine his starting spot in the Feb. 13 Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the rest of the field for the Great American Race.

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