Drivers curious how 2019 rules package will race

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DOVER, Del. — Drivers are taking a wait-and-see approach about how the racing will be with the 2019 rules package.

NASCAR announced this week a high-downforce package for next year compared to what is run this year. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said the changes will put “racing less on the wind tunnel and more on the track.”

Teams will have a larger spoiler and front splitter. There also will be aero ducts for many races. Tapered spacers will restrict engines to 550 horsepower at tracks 1.33 miles and larger and 750 horsepower at tracks shorter than 1.33 miles.

“I don’t know what next year will look like, ultimately,” Jimmie Johnson said Friday at Dover International Speedway. “That’s something we’re all going to have to learn together as a group. I think there’s been a couple of great races that have shown that package puts on a great show. And I think we’d be naive to think that it’s just going to be awesome everywhere, but there’s a big attempt being made to improve the quality of racing and I support making our sport stronger.”

Kyle Larson ran with the 2019 rules package for part of Wednesday’s Goodyear tire test at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix.

The acceleration obviously wasn’t the same as the ’18 package just because you have the bigger blade and stuff on the back,” Larson said. “A lot more drag. So, acceleration wasn’t quite as much. It was pretty crazy how far you could run in the corner and then also how quick you could pick the gas up.

“I don’t know what it’s going to do for the racing at a track like that, but I feel like if we go there with a hard tire like kind of what we were testing on or what it seemed like Goodyear liked, I felt like that would be hard to race. But they still have time to tweak on it and hopefully bring a tire that will match that aero package and hopefully put on a decent race.”

Kyle Busch says it will be “interesting to see what happens.

“What R&D and development work goes into that. We saw a taste of it at the All-Star Race. We kind of saw everyone bunched together. There was a struggle at the end of the race where guys were able to pass the leader once the leader was out there. That was just one instance. I think there’s certain race tracks it will bode really well at and it will be a positive. There’s probably some others where it might not be that way. We’ll have to give it a wait and see mentality, and find out as we go.”

Busch has not been in favor of the package before. Asked if his mentality toward the package has changed, Busch said: “Sure. We don’t want to see the cars go slower as race car drivers. That is not what we all want to sign up for. But in the instance of going out there and wanting to put out a better show, we’re all for that. And trying to do what’s best for the industry, and collaborating together.”

Blaney is encouraged by the package with the extra horsepower. Teams had only 400 horsepower in the All-Star Race.

“I thought the All-Star package was too slow, so it’s nice they added some horsepower back to the mile-and-a-halves, and then staying the same at the short tracks and road courses, so that’s nice, but we’ll see,” Blaney said. “I thought the All-Star package had some bright spots in it, and I thought they could make some improvements to some things and I think they did that. 

“I feel like the racing will be better than we even saw it at the All-Star Race because the teams can have more time with the cars and understand them more and NASCAR can test them and all sorts of things, so we’ll just see how it goes. I think it’s going to be fine.”

Joey Logano says “there’s a lot of unknowns” about how the package will run next year.

The All-Star Race was a lot of fun, but obviously that’s an All-Star Race, so I think we need to have a little asterisk next to it and say it was the All-Star Race and everyone is racing for all-or-nothing and have that attitude,” he said. “But I think at the same time this package, at a lot of race tracks I think it will be better and at some race tracks it may be similar to where we’re at, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Asked if there’s a case where there can be too many changes, Logano said:

“You make change, and not every change is good, but you learn from every change. If you just sit still, you never make any progress forward. You don’t learn what’s wrong, you don’t learn what’s right, you’re just there. I give the industry credit. I think it’s more than just NASCAR, I give the industry credit for working together and willing to make some changes. Am I up here saying that this is going to work?  No, I’m not saying that. I don’t know if it will. It may not. It may be great, but we will learn from this decision one way or the other, and I think as a society we need to be open to do that, not just in our sport, but in life. It’s a good thing for us. It’s healthy.”

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Joey Gase joins MBM Motorsports in Xfinity, Cup

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MBM Motorsports announced Wednesday it has signed Joey Gase to compete for the team in the Xfinity and Cup Series this season.

Gase will compete full-time in Xfinity driving the No. 35 Toyota. He will race part-time in Cup in the No. 66 Toyota, beginning with an attempt to make the Daytona 500. MBM does not have a charter for the No. 66, meaning he must qualify for the race if there are more than 40 cars entered.

Gase has 208 Xfinity starts and has competed full-time since 2014. Last year he drove for Go Green Racing and finished 20th in the standings.

He also has 30 Cup starts since 2014.

“I am very excited and thankful for the opportunity Carl (Long) and MBM Motorsports is giving me this year,” Gase said in a press release. “Every offseason is stressful when you don’t know what your plans for the following season will be. This offseason by far has been the most stressful of my career with some unforeseen things happening. One evening I was sitting in my office trying to figure out what my next move should be and then out of the blue Carl gave me a call and we talked for about two hours over the phone and now here we are. MBM Motorsports has grown and improved their program a lot over the last two years, especially the end of last season. I am very excited to be a part of that growth in 2019.”

Eternal Fan, Donate Life, Medline, Agri Supply, Pro Master and Page Construction will be among the partners supporting Gase this season.

“Having an experienced driver in Joey Gase to start our season is a huge blessing,” MBM team owner Carl Long said in the press release. “He has worked hard to bring sponsorship to MBM. Today’s driver has to be gifted in handling a car and promotions. Lucky for us Joey is one of the best in all of NASCAR at doing both. Look for us to turn heads this year!”

 

Ryan Truex to drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing at Daytona

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Ryan Truex will attempt to make the Daytona 500 driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, the team announced Wednesday.

The team does not have a charter for the No. 71 Chevrolet.

“I am very thankful to TBR and Tommy Baldwin for this opportunity and can’t wait to get to Daytona and back in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car,” Ryan Truex said in a statement from the team. “The pressure is on to make it into the race, but Tommy is a true racer, and I know he will put everything into the car to give us a great shot.”

“I’m excited to have Ryan back in a Tommy Baldwin Racing car,” team owner Tommy Baldwin said in a statement. “We had success at Daytona in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, in the past. I’ve known the Truex family a very long time, and it’s special that we’ll be able to compete in the Daytona 500 together, and hopefully more races as the year goes on. We are still in search of a primary sponsor that we’re hoping to put together in time to give TBR a great run this year!”

Truex, the younger brother of Martin Truex Jr., last ran in Cup in 2014 when he competed in 23 races for BK Racing. Truex ran for Kaulig Racing last year in the Xfinity Series, finishing 12th in the points. Truex drove for Hattori Racing in 2017 in the Truck Series, placing ninth in points.

Five can’t-miss NASCAR Cup races in 2019 beyond Daytona 500

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We’re 32 days out from the biggest NASCAR event of the season in the Daytona 500, a race of such importance that needs no explanation.

But what else is there to look forward to?

There are 35 other Cup points races this season and they’re not all created equal.

Here are five races to pay closer attention to this season.

– Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on Feb. 24 on Fox)

The second Cup race of the season will probably have its biggest spotlight in recent memory when the 1.5-mile track is the first to host the 2019 rules package.

Derived from the 2018 All-Star Race package, it includes a tapered spacer and is intended to provide closer racing. Cars will run 550 horsepower at all tracks 1.33 miles and larger, which includes Atlanta. At tracks less than 1.33 miles, cars will have 750 horsepower.

Combine the hopeful intent behind the package and a rough track surface that’s being kept in place by the “most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C.,” and you have no excuse to not tune in and see what happens.

Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET on June 30 on NBCSN)

The race that marks the start of NBC’s portion of the NASCAR schedule set an incredible precedent in 2018. The 1.5-mile track debuted in its new spot on the schedule with Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch’s dramatic last-lap battle and Busch’s win.

Was it a result of the drivers involved? The hot Chicagoland surface? Lapped traffic?

Yes.

Can it be topped?

We can only hope.

Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on Aug. 4 on NBCSN)

From the green flag last year, the Cup race on the New York road course was a barn burner, ending with a duel between Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. that resulted in Elliott’s first Cup win as Truex ran out of gas.

Races on the road course have had increasingly memorable finishes over the last seven years (beginning in 2012 with Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose). WGI shows no sign of providing a snoozer in the near future, especially as long as pit strategy is involved.

Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 29 on NBC)

The final lap of last season’s inaugural Cup race on the Charlotte Roval  had enough drama for three races on the new road course.

From Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson‘s contact in the final turn giving Ryan Blaney the win; Kyle Larson hitting the wall twice and passing a stalled car at the checkered flag to advance in the playoffs; and Aric Almirola passing enough cars to advance himself.

Do teams have the oval-road course hybrid figured out after one year? It’ll be fun to watch that question answered.

First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Oct. 27 on NBCSN)

We’re starting to run out of fingers to use to list memorable events in Martinsville’s recent history of hosting a playoff race.

You could argue it started with Dale Earnhardt Jr. banging doors with Tony Stewart to win his only Martinsville clock in 2014.

Since then?

We’ve seen Matt Kenseth’s retaliation against Joey Logano in 2015, which resulted in Jeff Gordon’s final Cup win.

Two years later, Denny Hamlin wrecked Elliott from the lead near the end of regulation. Kyle Busch then won in overtime as Martinsville’s version of “The Big One” unfolded. Afterward, an angry Elliott confronted Hamlin on the track as fans filled the air with cheers and boos.

Last year Truex and Logano provided a thrilling battle over the last six laps. Logano performed the bump-and-run on Truex in the final turn to win the battle in the “damn war” (which Logano also won in Miami).

 

New NASCAR Cup team owners invest in minor league hockey team

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You might say that the newest NASCAR Cup team owner is now in a Rush.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which recently purchased the Cup charter of former NASCAR championship team Furniture Row Racing, has branched out, taking a minority ownership share in the Rapid City (South Dakota) Rush of the 27-team East Coast Hockey League.

Spire co-founders Jeff Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr will become active minority partners in the Rush, hoping to bring the team back to past prominence.

“We aren’t going to be saviors here,” Spire co-founder Jeff Dickerson said in a press conference at the team’s Rushmore Plaza Civic Center home. “There’s no magic bullet. It’s going to take all of us to create the culture that builds excitement and value. The city loves the Rush and we hope to get it back to where it was.”

Rush majority owner, Rapid City businessman Scott Mueller, sees better days ahead for his club.

“The biggest thing is (Spire’s) sports industry knowledge,” Mueller said, according to the Rapid City Journal. “It’s about putting people in seats, selling advertising and they have a lot of knowledge on that. (Dickerson) sees so many venues, and I think he’s going to be involved in changes that are needed.

“We’ve taken some steps in the last few months. These are great days for us, and we’re really excited about our future.”

The Rush is mired in sixth place in the ECHL’s seven-team Mountain Division.

In addition to purchasing Furniture Row Racing’s charter, Spire represents several race car drivers including NASCAR’s Kyle Larson, Landon Cassill, Ross Chastain, Justin Haley, Todd Gilliland, Garrett Smithley and Vinnie Miller and IndyCar’s James Hinchcliffe.

Spire isn’t the only NASCAR Cup team owner involved in other sports. Roush Fenway Racing’s co-owner John Henry owns Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox and the Liverpool Football Club of soccer’s Premier League, while Chip Ganassi previously was a minority owner in MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates. Felix Sabates, who also holds a minority ownership stake in Chip Ganassi Racing, is also a minority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

“We have been looking for several years to find something in minor league sports and see if what we do in motorsports translates to this space,” Puchyr said, according to The Journal. “Our due diligence indicates that it does.”

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