Questions and answers about NASCAR’s 2019 rules package

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR revealed the 2019 rules package for Cup on Tuesday.

Here are key points to understand:

Q: What’s different with horsepower?

A: NASCAR will limit horsepower with a tapered spacer for every race but next year’s Daytona 500.

Cars will run 550 horsepower at all tracks 1.33 miles and larger. At tracks less than 1.33 miles, cars will have 750 horsepower.

For a comparison, teams had 400 horsepower in the All-Star Race in May when a similar package (that used a restrictor plate) was tried.

Q: What else is different?

At tracks 1.33 miles and larger, teams will have aero ducts that direct the air from the front of the car through the wheel well. That is done to create a wider wake so it is easier for the trailing car to close and not be impacted by the so-called “dirty air.”

There are some exceptions. Atlanta, Darlington, Pocono and Homestead will not have the aero ducts. They will have brake ducts to help cool the brakes at those tracks.

Q: Any other changes?

Yes. For all tracks, cars will have a larger spoiler. It will be 8 inches tall and 61 inches wide. The top of the spoiler will be clear to help drivers see through that and though the windshield of the car in front.

Also, the splitter will have a 2 inch overhang and 10.5 inch wings at ends (near the tires) underneath the car. That is for all tracks.

The radiator pan will be 37 inches in the front and taper to 31 inches with vertical fences. That also is for all tracks.

These aerodynamic changes are needed to balance the car with the rear.

Q: So what about restrictor plates?

A: Restrictor plates will be used for the 2019 Daytona 500 because work is already underway on those engines. When the checkered flag flies, it will end NASCAR’s restrictor-plate era, which began in 1988 in response to Bobby Allison’s car flying into the catch fence at Talladega in 1987.

Q: What happens to those restrictor plates?

A: NASCAR should make them available for the public to purchase and either display or destroy.

Q: Why is a tapered spacer being used instead of a restrictor plate?

A: Said John Probst, NASCAR Vice President, Innovation and Racing Development, said: “For us, the tapered spacer is a better solution than a plate for multiple reasons. The plate itself being 1/8 of an inch thick. Any little imperfection in the plate itself results in a pretty significant power gain. I remember we used to go speedway testing and test for two days and find two-tenths (of a second). If you get someone with sandpaper on their finger and (scratch the plate) they’d get half a second. Tapered spacers are way less sensitive. It’s more efficient from our side. More efficient from the air flow.”

Q: Why are all these changes being done?

A: Let Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, explain:

“If we said we wanted to develop a new car today based on what we’re running today, we fundamentally believe … what we have today is not the direction where we want to be long-term. … We’re actually going to be able to make some tweaks as we go and develop the next gen car.

“We knew from an engine standpoint that the horsepower we settled on was where we needed to be from a relevancy standpoint long-term to not only be able to talk to our current (manufacturers) about how can we introduce new technology” … but also have conversations with potential new manufacturers.

Q: What stood out when NASCAR addressed these rules?

A: O’Donnell talked repeatedly about how the engine package could help bring in new manufacturers to join Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.

“It’s not just the 2019 decision, this is what we feel is in the best interest of the sport long-time … to have a healthier team ownership, have a healthier relationship with our current (manufacturers) and attract new, potential (manufacturers) and attract new owners and this plays into that. We’ve talked to the engine builders, the reason we went to the horsepower level we’re at, it gives us that option to be more relevant. It gives us that option to look at new technology in the future and our current package doesn’t do that.”

Q: What are other benefits of this package, according to NASCAR?

A: O’Donnell said that with the current package, drivers keep saying they want tires to wear more and lap times to fall off. O’Donnell said that is not possible for Goodyear to do because of the speeds in the corner.

“By being able to back the speeds down, not drastically, but enough, it does give Goodyear the ability to start looking toward that more, which was a key component.”

Q: How long has NASCAR been working on this?

A: O’Donnell said it has been over a two-year process.

Q: So how will driver talent show up more in this package compared to what is being run this season?

A: O’Donnell said: “To this I think they’ll matter even more. You’ve got to really think about different moves and you will the ability to make those passes. Right now, unless I’m missing something in terms of what we’re watching … I don’t see the option as much going into the corner at the speed that we would have in our new package.”

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

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
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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

Photo: Beard Motorsports' Twitter account
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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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UniFirst to sponsor Chase Elliott in three Cup Series races this year

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
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UniFirst will be a sponsor of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet in three Cup Series races this year, Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday.

The company will be on Elliott’s car at Phoenix Raceway (March 8), the All-Star Race (May 16) and the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 27).

A work clothing and uniform supplier, UniFirst has been a Hendrick Motorsports sponsor since 2016. It sponsored William Byron in four races in 2018 and three last year.

UniFirst also will be featured as an associate sponsor for all races in 2020.