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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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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”

Pocono race weekend to be held without fans

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Pocono Raceway officials on Friday announced that all races scheduled for its tentative upcoming race weekend on June 27-28 will be held without fans in the stands.

The track made the decision not to admit fans based upon guidelines issued by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Following the guidance on sporting events in Pennsylvania issued by Governor Tom Wolf, it is with sadness to announce the 2020 NASCAR events at Pocono Raceway will be held without fans in attendance,” the track said in a media release. “This decision, made in coordination with NASCAR and our state officials, was not made lightly.”

All race dates are tentative, per the track statement.

“The exact dates of our 2020 races is being finalized and will be announced by NASCAR at a later date,” the track said in a media release.

NASCAR has not announced confirmed dates on the schedule past the June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. However, NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell tweeted this afternoon that NASCAR is “hoping to put out next portion next week – not a full schedule yet though.”

For now, the tentative weekend schedule at Pocono includes the first-ever NASCAR Cup doubleheader with a 130-lap/325-mile race on June 27 and a 140-lap/350-mile race on June 28.

Click here to read the full statement from Pocono Raceway.

Also slated are a 60-lap/150-mile Truck race on June 27, which would precede the first Cup race that weekend, and a 90-lap/225-mile Xfinity Series race on June 28, which would precede the second Cup race.

“Our Raceway family shares in your disappointment and will certainly miss your passion, laughs, cheers, and smiles as the green flag drops in the Pocono Mountains,” the track said.

Ticket holders have the option to either receive a refund or account credit for the value of their tickets, track officials said.