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Why Las Vegas test is so important

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While nearly two dozen Cup and Xfinity teams will take part in this week’s two-day test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, at least one new driver-crew chief combination is putting its significance into perspective, particularly due to the new rules package that will mark the first time teams experience the new aerodynamic and horsepower elements.

“It’s almost at the very top (of all-time tests), obviously, because this is our one chance to work on communication and the new package, and we have some new players in the shop too, engineering-wise,” Matt McCall, crew chief for Kurt Busch at Chip Ganassi Racing, told a media gathering earlier this week.

“We’ve got a lot of different stuff we need to communicate on, not just between me and Kurt, but also the team and Kurt,” McCall added. “So, it’s pretty high up there, for sure.”

Busch, who won the 2004 Cup championship, is looking forward to the test at his hometown track and to work on car-to-team on-track communication. Busch owns LVMS’ speed record of 196.328 mph (set in 2016), but given the new package’s horsepower limitations, it’s unlikely he’ll come close to that speed in the test.

“For me, it’s just to get behind the wheel and to feel the Chevrolet and feel the drivetrain and to go through a few setup changes,” Busch said. “I think the most important thing is radio communication and how we want to mock-up certain pit stop sequences for changes as we’re out on-track and just having that banter back and forth so when we roll into Daytona, we’re best prepared.

“That’s a big reason why Chip Ganassi Racing is having the No. 1 car go do this test is to work the bugs out of it and just work those sequences into how we’re going to go attack things in Daytona.”

Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials are also touting the significance of the test on Thursday and Friday, issuing a media release with this headline: “Elite drivers ready for one of the most important tests in NASCAR history.”

The data teams collect from the test will go a long way towards adapting early in the season to 1.5-mile tracks such as Atlanta Motor Speedway and LVMS, which host the second and third races of 2019 – Feb. 24 and March 3, respectively – after the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.

In addition to Busch and McCall, the Las Vegas test will also be the first on-track interaction between several other driver/crew chief combinations including Jimmie Johnson and new crew chief Kevin Meendering, Chad Knaus and William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan Newman and Scott Graves at Roush Fenway Racing.

The test will be open to fans with free admission. Also, NASCAR.com will be streaming parts of the test.

Here’s the list of drivers and teams that will be taking part in the Las Vegas test:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
0 Landon Cassill, Starcom Racing, Chevrolet
1 Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet
2 Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford
3 Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet
6 Ryan Newman, Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
13 Ty Dillon, Germain Racing, Chevrolet
14 Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford
18 Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
21 Paul Menard, Wood Brothers Racing, Ford
43 Bubba Wallace, Richard Petty Motorsports, Chevrolet
47 Ryan Preece, JTG Racing, Chevrolet
48 Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
51 Cody Ware, Rick Ware Racing, Chevrolet
95 Matt DiBenedetto, Leavine Family Racing, Toyota
Chevrolet W
heel Force car Ross Chastain, Chevrolet Racing
Ford W
heel Force car David Ragan, Ford Motor Company
Toyota W
heel Force car Drew Herring, Toyota Racing Development

NASCAR Xfinity Series
8 Zane Smith, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet
9 Noah Gragson, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet
18 Riley Herbst, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
98 Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford

Event schedule (all times Eastern Time):
Thursday, Jan. 31

11 a.m.–Practice begins; LVMS gates, grandstands and pit road (via infield tunnel) open to the public
2 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
3-4 p.m.–Driver’s lunch break, driver group interviews in media center
6 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
8 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
10 p.m.–Track secure

Friday, Feb. 1
11 a.m.–Practice begins; LVMS gates, grandstands and pit road (via infield tunnel) open to the public
Noon –Drafting practice on track
2 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
3 p.m. –Track secure

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Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

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For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.