Friday 5: Jeffrey Earnhardt is tired of being ‘bullied’ on the track

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Jeffrey Earnhardt is tired of being “bullied” on the track and says he’s “not going to take shit” from other competitors.

Earnhardt, who has had an indirect role in key moments in recent races, made his comments Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Dialed In” show.

“You don’t want to feel used, and I feel like we have been used here lately,” Earnhardt told host Claire B. Lang. “We’re tired of being the victims. Whether we start making the other people the victims, whatever it takes, but we don’t want to keep feeling like we’re being bullied and we feel like we are right now.”

Earnhardt’s latest frustration is with Daniel Hemric. They raced together into the final chicane of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval. Earnhardt’s car spun after contact from Hemric’s car.

Earnhardt’s car stalled less than 100 yards from the finish line. That allowed Kyle Larson’s wrecked car to pass him and gain the one position he needed to advance to the second round, which begins this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

“I like to think that I race clean and give people room and then they do shit like that, it gets under your skin,” Earnhardt said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the contact from Hemric.

This marked the third time in the last four races that Earnhardt has had an impact on a race.

At Indianapolis, he and Landon Cassill wrecked, setting up the final caution that changed the race’s outcome.

Of that incident, Earnhardt said: “We went into the corner and his story and my story are two different things.”

That caution eliminated Denny Hamlin’s lead and allowed Brad Keselowski to pass Hamlin coming to the white flag and win.

A frustrated Hamlin said afterward: “Just those meaningless cautions at the end by drivers multiple laps down. What they’re doing crashing with three laps to go, I have no idea. It cost us the race.”

Earnhardt did not appreciate Hamlin’s comments.

“The meaningless driver comment was just not smart,” Earnhardt told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It shows a lack of respect for me or anyone else that are back there that are fighting to make a career out of this.”

At Richmond, Earnhardt caused the only caution of the race — other than the two stage breaks — after contact from Matt Kenseth. NASCAR penalized Kenseth for a commitment line violation and speeding entering the pits on Lap 321. His contact with Earnhardt led to a caution at Lap 327.

On the radio after the incident, Kenseth said: “Tell him, my bad. I drug up the splitter and hit. My bad. Tell him I’m sorry about that.”

Earnhardt was frustrated about that incident as well.

“He can say he was on the splitter if he wants … I don’t agree with what he says,” Earnhardt said.

“It does suck. These guys that feel they can pick on us and use us as a crutch to make their day better. Who knows. There have been several races we didn’t fire off that great, I was wishing for a caution. Maybe I’ll start doing the same. Maybe I’ll use them to get a caution so we can come in and work on our car and make it better.”

2. Manufacturer support

Throughout NASCAR’s explanation this week for deciding on a 2019 rules package that includes a tapered spacer to limit engines to 550 horsepower at many big tracks and 750 horsepower at other tracks was how that could help entice more manufacturers to enter the sport.

It’s no secret that NASCAR would like at least another manufacturer at the Cup level.

“It’s not just today,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said about the impact of the new rules package. “It kind of falls into where we want to go with the next Gen car.

“A lot of that is going to be based on new technology in the car and a lot of that is going to be based on efficiencies, potentially for the team owners, (manufacturers), putting an engine in place from a horsepower level that could be more relevant in the future that could attract new (manufacturers), which is key and make the owners that we have in this sport healthier and also attract new owners.”

A new manufacturer or manufacturers could be critical to the sport. Even with the charter system, teams must still rely heavily on sponsorship to fund teams. Additional manufacturers could provide greater financial support for charter teams and potentially balance the competition.

Toyota, which backs five teams, has won 12 of 29 races this season. Ford, which backs more than twice as many teams as Toyota, has won 15 of 29 races. Chevrolet has two wins this season (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500 and Chase Elliott at Watkins Glen).

O’Donnell said that NASCAR is hearing from manufacturers investigating the series.

“Lot more of our calls are being answered, a lot more meetings are taking place with potential new (manufacturers),” he said. “I think where we landed on 2019 sets us up well for the immediate future but long-term as well.”

We’ll find out.

3. Step forward

Chase Briscoe’s victory in last weekend’s Xfinity race at the Charlotte Roval was another key moment for Ford and its driver development program.

Briscoe was the first driver signed to the multi-tiered program Ford announced in January 2017.

Briscoe and Austin Cindric joined Brad Keselowski Racing’s Camping World Truck Series team in 2017. Each won a race.

Cindric is in the Xfinity playoffs this season. Briscoe isn’t because he’s not running the full schedule. Other Ford development drivers are Cole Custer, who also is in the Xfinity playoffs and has one career series win, and Ty Majeski.

“It won’t pay dividends until they actually get to the Cup level because that’s ultimately the goal of what we want to do,” said Mark Rushbrook, Global Director, Ford Performance, of the driver development program. “But we are happy with the start that we’ve had to our development program over the last two years and look forward to continuing to expand that,”

4. Betting at the track

With sports betting legal in Delaware, fans will be able to bet for the first time at a NASCAR track this weekend.

Dover International Speedway will have two kiosks accepting sports bets.

Sunday’s race will have extra gambling options, including bets on driver vs. driver, number of cautions and if the winning car number is an even number or odd number, among other prop bets.

Betting won’t be limited to Saturday’s Xfinity and Sunday’s Cup race. Fans can bet on pro football, baseball, college football, MMA and other sports at the kiosks.

5. Say what?

Consider this: Jimmie Johnson has more wins at Dover (11) than 28 other Cup drivers entered this weekend have in their Cup career.

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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.”