Jimmie Johnson looks forward to ‘clean start’ after first winless season

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After a “tough” night to cap off the first winless season of his career, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is looking forward to a “clean start” to his career in 2019.

That clean start is closer after Johnson placed 14th in Sunday’s Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which marked his final race with crew chief Chad Knaus and his last race with sponsor Lowe’s.

Driving a car with the paint scheme his No. 48 sported in his 2002 rookie season, Johnson was unable to recreate some of the magic he and Knaus displayed over the last 17 years.

Johnson started 19th and ran as high as third during green flag pit stops with 30 laps to go. He was 10th on the final restart with 15 laps to go before losing four spots.

“Sad ending to a sweet story,” Knaus told NBCSN.

Johnson and Knaus end their tenure together after 604 starts, 81 wins and 219 top fives.

“You know it’s time for us to move on and have a new project and have new people to work with,” Johnson said. “But (Knaus) is my brother, there is just no way around it. So, not an easy situation. It sure has not been easy, especially the second half of the year.”

Johnson wants to reflect on all he and Knaus accomplished “instead of reflecting on this year and how bad it was because I know that reality, I’ve been living it first-hand.”

Johnson is winless in his last 59 starts.

“In my Cup career that is probably the most difficult year that I have had,” Johnson said. “I can look back at some other years where I had different challenges of not having a sponsor or maybe not having a ride and dealing with adversity there. As far as having a fully funded high-qualify ride, that was… ’18 was by far the toughest. 2015 was pretty tough, but this was still tougher than that. Especially, to work through the decision to go separate ways with Chad that was probably… early in the year, kind of mid-season when we made that decision and working through that scenario wasn’t easy. Just glad to finish with a respectable result today, but we’ve got a lot of work to do as a company.”

When NASCAR returns to Daytona in February, Knaus will be paired with William Byron on the No. 24 next year while Johnson will have Kevin Meendering as his crew chief.

“We will work very close together and I think even on a deeper level than where we have been the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “The last couple of years have been tough. William is a great guy and I’ve been working closely with him and obviously, Chad is going to be working with William. We will all be in there working together without a doubt.”

 

Circuit of the Americas to host Cup for first time in 2021

R. Kevin Butts photo - Courtesy of COTA
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The Cup Series will do more road course racing in 2021 with the addition of the Circuit of the Americas to the schedule, the track announced Wednesday.

The Cup race will be held May 23.

The 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas, has hosted Formula One and IndyCar races, among others since its debut in 2012. The track also has a 2.2-mile, 15-turn short course. Announcements regarding race length, course selection and the full weekend schedule will be made at a later date.

MORE: Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

A NASCAR event has never been held at Circuit of the Americas, but Tony Stewart piloted a Stewart-Haas Racing car there last year in a demonstration run.

COTA is located roughly 220 miles south of Texas Motor Speedway. Speedway Motorsports will be the event’s promoter.

“Our company is proud to have a 60-year history of fabulous firsts in motorsports entertainment, and we are honored to bring America’s premier racing series to one of the world’s most renowned entertainment venues and cities for the very first time,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith in a statement. “I’d like to thank COTA CEO Bobby Epstein as well as NASCAR’s executive leadership for supporting us in an endeavor to do something that we believe will be spectacular for race fans, not only in Texas but around the world. We work and challenge ourselves every day at Speedway Motorsports to create amazing experiences that will last a lifetime, and we know NASCAR at COTA will deliver in 2021.” 

“I’m grateful for Marcus Smith’s vision and determination to make this event possible,” said Circuit of the Americas CEO and Chairman, Bobby Epstein in a statement. “His teams in Charlotte and at Texas Motor Speedway have created a spirit of partnership that will make for a spectacular weekend of fun and competition. Speedway Motorsports, along with the leadership at NASCAR, have a ‘Fans First’ attitude and have responded to everyone who has long desired to see a Cup Series race at COTA. Fans who’ve been here before will witness stock car racing at its finest for the first time, and first-time visitors will be amazed at the views and friendly experience. It will be our pleasure to write another chapter of motorsports history alongside Speedway Motorsports and NASCAR in 2021.” 

The complete 2021 schedule will be announced this afternoon by NASCAR.

Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

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The NASCAR Cup Series will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2021 but will race on the road course for the first time instead of the oval, track officials announced Wednesday.

Cup will race on the road course on Aug. 15. That race will be held a day after the NTT IndyCar Series races on the Indy road course.

“Our first NASCAR-IndyCar weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants involved,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and IndyCar together during this exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

MORE: Atlanta to have two Cup dates in 2021

MORE: Darlington to run Cup races on Mother’s Day, Labor Day weekend in 2021

The Cup Series has raced at Indy since 1994. But as the racing there has been questioned and the sport has made a push for more road course races, NASCAR moved the Xfinity Series to the road course this year as a trial. The event was well received, creating the opportunity to move next year’s Cup race to the road course as well.

“Indy is Indy, no matter if you’re on the road course or you’re on the oval,” Joey Logano said of what a win there would mean. “It doesn’t matter. If you’re on the dirt track, I don’t care, it’s Indy. It’s that big deal to win there. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Cup car, IndyCar or a tricycle, you want to win at that race track.”

Indy’s road course is 2.439 miles and features 14 turns. Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race there after a four-car battle for the lead in the final laps.

The full Cup schedule will be announced Wednesday afternoon. The Xfinity schedule will be announced at a later date. Boles said on a media Zoom he was unsure of the Xfinity plans but talked with Logano about an interest Logano would have in running in a Xfinity race there to get more track time for the Cup race.

 

Darlington Raceway gets second Cup race for 2021

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Darlington Raceway will have two races in 2021, marking the first time since 2004 that the track has been scheduled to hold multiple Cup races in a season. The track announced its schedule Wednesday with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster at the Governor’s mansion.

“Congratulations. Thank you. Hallelujah,” Gov. McMaster said after the dates were announced.

Darlington was scheduled to host one race in 2020 but added two more in NASCAR’s return to racing after the season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

MORE: Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021 for first time since 2010

The track will hold its first Cup race next season on May 9. That is Mother’s Day. It marks only the third time in the last 40 years the series will have run on Mother’s Day. The series last raced on Mother’s Day in 2007 when rain forced the Darlington race to be held that afternoon. The only other time NASCAR raced on Mother’s Day in the last 40 years was 1986 when the All-Star Race was held at Atlanta.

Darlington’s second date will be its Southern 500 event on Sept. 5, Labor Day weekend. That race will again open the  Cup playoffs.

NASCAR will announce the 2021 Cup schedule on Wednesday afternoon.

Darlington hosted two Cup races a season from 1960-2004. It held one Cup race from 2005-19.

The track stated that 2021 schedules for the NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be announced at a later date.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, tweeted that the Darlington races would be run with the low downforce package.

 

 

Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021

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Atlanta Motor Speedway will host two Cup races in 2021, marking the first time since 2010 that the 1.5-mile speedway will have multiple Cup events in the same season.

Atlanta will host Cup races on March 21 and July 11.

The July 11 race will be the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart, moving sponsorship that had been with Kentucky Speedway. Kentucky Speedway will not be on the 2021 schedule. Its date becomes the second Atlanta date. The March race will be known at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

The July race marks the first 400-mile race at Atlanta since 1966.

The track announced its dates Wednesday morning. The full 2021 Cup schedule will be released Wednesday afternoon.

Atlanta Motor Speedway stated on its website that it plans to host fans in its stands and camping areas in socially distanced, limited capacity for each of its Cup races in 2021.

“We’re beyond excited to deliver what our fans have been yearning for: a second weekend of NASCAR action in Atlanta once again,” AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison said in a statement. “Folds of Honor and QuikTrip continue to be phenomenal partners for our spring weekend of racing and we’re thrilled to have Quaker State and Walmart on board this summer as we put together two weekends of entertainment and excitement for race fans.”