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Kevin Harvick says key NASCAR change might be one many are overlooking

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While the focus has been on NASCAR’s landmark decision to disqualify cars, including the winner, for failing postrace inspection, Kevin Harvick said it is what NASCAR will do all race weekend that is as important.

Harvick also discussed if he’ll do anything different this year with burnouts and how aggressive he believes his team should be with these new rules.

Harvick told NBC Sports on Tuesday morning that he liked what NASCAR will do all weekend in the garage.

“As you look at the whole process, it’s really not about postrace in my opinion,” he said. “I think it really starts in prerace and making sure that the officials and the teams are on the same page as to how things are interpreted.”

NASCAR announced Monday that during a three-day race weekend, a car that fails prerace inspection twice will start at the rear of the field, have a crew member ejected and lose 15 minutes of practice at the next event.

Should a car fail inspection before the race three times, the team also will have to serve a pass-through penalty at the start of the race and lose an additional 15 minutes of practice the next weekend.

Should a car fail inspection four times before the race, it will be classified an L1 penalty. Minimum penalty options would be a reduction of 10-40 owner and driver points, and/or suspension of a crew chief or team member for one to three races and/or a fine between $25,000 – $75,000.

NASCAR also stated Monday that it plans to have officials dedicated to each national series garage. NASCAR plans to have 12 officials dedicated to the Cup garage, 10 dedicated to the Xfinity garage and eight dedicated to the Truck garage. Other officials will move from one series garage to another to support those dedicated officials.

Harvick said such a change will help NASCAR try to keep up with teams.

“What happens in today’s world in every practice, somebody has got a group of pictures that come from every car throughout practice,” he said. “Everybody has got people back in the shop watching videos and analyzing them and listening to radios. So as soon as the teams find a weakness that NASCAR is doing, they exploit it pretty quickly. The teams are very good at analyzing things and sometimes much quicker than NASCAR is at figuring things out because there are just so many more of us.

“I like the fact that there are specific officials for each garage because each garage is different. I think a lot of times there were just so much going on for the guys and the gals in the garage inspecting the cars, that they just got worn out. There were so many things that were going on. In order to keep it under control, you have to keep it under control from the first week. You have to be able to police the things you did the first week on the 25th week and not have those trends keep growing.”

Another key area is how will NASCAR officiate burnouts by the winner? Exuberant burnouts have led to tires blowing and damaging the car. If that happens, will that prevent a car from passing inspection after the race and lead to its disqualification? It’s a tricky issue for NASCAR.

“We’re in show business,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. “Fans like burnouts. It’s a hard decision to make, and I don’t think we’ve actually landed on whether or not we’re going to say they can’t do that. But let’s just say that, at the very least, if there are habitual offenders of that, that’s not going to be OK.”

Harvick, who won eight races in 2018, is among those who have blown tires in past victory celebrations but he toned it down last year.

“We chose as a group to not have tires blow out,” Harvick told NBC Sports. “There were a couple of races where we didn’t do burnouts at all. Really that was out of respect to NASCAR asking just to help deliver a better message by not having everything blown out of the back of the car so they could inspect it.”

Even though he was more careful on burnouts, Harvick admits that a team can’t always be that way. After his team was penalized at Texas in the playoffs, Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR show that “if you’re going to be one of the good teams, you’re going to have to push the limits. You’re going to have to be on the verge of getting trouble.”

Has his philosophy changed after NASCAR’s decision to disqualify cars that fail postrace inspection?

“You have to push to right up to where it is and sometimes it’s going to be questionable and sometimes it’s going to be too far and sometimes it’s going to result in positives,” Harvick said. “You have to be aggressive but you also have to be smart.

“I think there are a lot of areas that you can still work in, but right now, from a car standpoint, we’re just guessing on what we need because we don’t really know what we’re going to be battling as far as what happens when they drop the green flag at Atlanta (with the new rules package). We have no idea what’s going to happen, how we’re going to race or whether we’re fast or slow. There’s a lot of things to work on and obviously the inspection policy is going to be different.”

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Michael Annett earns first Xfinity win in season opener at Daytona

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Michael Annett won Saturday’s Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway to earn his first career Xfinity victory in his 230th start.

The JR Motorsports driver led the final 45 laps and beat teammate Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones, Ryan Sieg and Austin Cindric.

Annett, 32, had never led more than 16 laps in a season before Saturday.

“It just means so much,” Annett said. “It’s been two really tough years in this series for me, just not getting the results I wanted to. Last year was really tough, we even missed the playoffs. I put a ton of work into myself and my race craft … everything this offseason to make myself to not have any question of if I was here and ready to go win a championship.”

He previously won at Daytona in the ARCA Menards Series in 2008. In that race, Allgaier also finished second.

“I couldn’t beat him then and I couldn’t do it today,” Allgaier told FS1. “We tried really hard there at the end. … To see Michael get his first win, he’s tried so hard and to see the effort and time that he’s put into it, especially this offseason, it’s really, really cool.”

The win is the fourth for JR Motorsports in the last six season openers at Daytona (Regan Smith, 2014; Chase Elliott, 2016; Tyler Reddick, 2018 and Annett today).

Annett and Allgaier also delivered JRM its fourth 1-2 finish in the race.

The victory by the No. 1 team is also the first for Annett’s crew chief, Travis Mack.

“(Annett’s) been working at this a long time,” JRM co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “He had such a rough patch there with his career. I think it took a while for his approach to racing to change. He had to learn how to race in good equipment. It’s a different mentality and a different approach.

“He’s certainly not the same guy that we hired … a lot of that has to do with the team around him, specifically with Travis Mack.”

Mack, a former car chief for Earnhardt in the Cup Series, was the crew chief for Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 car in Cup last season before he was let go after 15 races. He led Annett’s team over the last 13 races of the Xfinity season.

“I thought immediately when that happened that we needed to pair him with Michael if Travis was interested in that opportunity,” Earnhardt said. “Travis’ assertiveness and personality would drive Michael and sort of like a fire under Michael.”

A year after it had nine non-stage cautions, the 120-lap race was slowed only twice outside of stage breaks for a debris caution and a one-car spin.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Haley

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ross Chastain

WHAT’S NEXT: Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on Feb. 23 on Fox Sports 1.

Check back for more.

Sam Bass, famed paint scheme and race program designer, dies

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Sam Bass, the artist known for designing many iconic NASCAR paint schemes and race programs, died Saturday.

His wife Denise confirmed Bass’ passing on Twitter. He was 57.

Bass, who designed Jeff Gordon’s striking “Rainbow Warriors” paint scheme, had spent the last few years looking for a new kidney. That was a result of a sepsis infection that originated in a blister on his left foot in 2005 and led to a below-the-knee amputation in 2008. Bass also had Type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 29.

Bass was inspired to become a NASCAR artist when he was 7 after attending his first race at Southside Speedway in suburban Richmond, Virginia.

“I was so amazed that night not only by the excitement and watching those cars run around and beat and bang on each other, but also the color – how all the cars were painted so many different colors,” Bass told NBC Sports in 2017. “I was like, ‘How cool is this?’ I couldn’t wait to get home to pull out my markers.”

The first car Bass designed was Bobby Allison’s Miller High Life car in 1988. That car went on to win the Daytona 500.

He went on to design the first Cup schemes for Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Bass first designed a race program for the 1985 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He designed programs for it and other Speedway Motorsports, Inc. tracks through 2018.

Marcus Smith, the CEO and President of SMI, issued the following statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are with Denise and her family today. Sam Bass has been a significant part of NASCAR’s history. He poured his heart, soul and talent into producing souvenir program covers at many speedways including Charlotte for more than 30 years. His work provided our fans a keepsake to treasure, and that was so appropriate, because Sam was always such a fan of our sport and he was such a treasure to the entire NASCAR family. His body of work will be a legacy that lives forever. We will miss Sam’s smile and positivity.”

NASCAR issued the following statement.

“Though he may have never turned a lap or a wrench, few captured the essence of our sport through his work more than Sam Bass. He was a consistent presence in the NASCAR garage, and his ever-present smile and endearing personality welcomed all. Though we have lost a member of the NASCAR family, his legend will continue in his art – all of which illustrated the greatness of our sport and the talent of a true friend.”

Michael McDowell leads final Daytona 500 practice

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Front Row Motorsport’s Michael McDowell was fastest in the final practice session for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

McDowell and his No. 34 Ford recorded nine laps and a top speed of 191.440 mph.

The top five was completed by Ty Dillon (191.432 mph), pole-sitter William Byron (191.339), Alex Bowman (191.278) and Daniel Hemric (190.921).

Only 20 cars made at least one lap in the session.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps in the session with 16 and was 11th on the speed chart at 189.741 mph.

Of four drivers to make a 10-lap run, Bowman had the best average at 190.334 mph.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

Jeffrey Earnhardt honors grandfather Dale Earnhardt with helmet design

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Xfinity Series driver Jeffrey Earnhardt is honoring the “GOAT” in his family with a helmet he’s debuting this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

The “GOAT” – or “Greatest of All-Time” – is his grandfather, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt.

The helmet, which you can see below, bears an image of the seven-time Cup champion riding a horse while shirtless and wearing a cowboy hat.

Next to the image is the text, “Just a goat on his horse!”

Earnhardt will have the helmet today as he starts on the front row of the Xfinity Series season opener (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1). Earnhardt finished 15th.

It is the first of nine Xfinity races he’ll start for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

MORE: Jeffrey Earnhardt ready for challenge of winning in Xfinity