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Long: What NASCAR does with qualifying isn’t the biggest question

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FONTANA, Calif. — So what next?

What is NASCAR to do to fix a “mockery” of qualifying – a series executive’s comment — after all 12 Cup drivers in the final round waited too long to get on track Friday and failed to complete a lap before time expired?

The suggestions flow. Go back to single-car qualifying. Heat races. Make cars that don’t complete a lap in the final round start at the rear. Have group qualifying for two rounds but make the final round single-car qualifying. Send cars out at timed intervals.

Before NASCAR can set a course, other questions must be asked.

The first question is what’s more important for NASCAR? Is this about entertainment or competition?

Entertainment is critical to a sport that seeks to rebuild its fan base. Close racing, drama and excitement can energize a fans attract new ones.

The past three weeks of Cup qualifying has been appointment viewing. There was the unknown of what would happen at Las Vegas with the rules package, the fight between Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell at ISM Raceway and then what would happen Friday at Auto Club Speedway. When is the last time there has been so much interest in qualifying for three consecutive races?

But is that interest based on too many gimmicks?

When NASCAR announced its rule changes in early February, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer told the media: “Our core goal in everything we do is to deliver the best possible racing for our fans.”

O’Donnell also said that day that “the stars of NASCAR have always been the drivers and the cars. We want to make sure that is the emphasis in any rules package we put forth.”

But there appears to be a limit. In discussing the group qualifying model in that same meeting, Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said: “One thing that we realize and everybody in this room realizes is that we’re in show business.”

After Friday’s episode in the last round of qualifying, Miller said that while changes will be made to the format, “we really don’t want to go back to single-car qualifying. There may not be another way. We want to exhaust every possibility before we do that because that’s not as fun, not as intriguing of a show as the group situation.”

Drivers and teams are frustrated. They feel they have less control in the group qualifying format. Some would suggest that there’s too much randomness to how the starting lineup is set. It’s more about getting the right draft at tracks 1.5 miles and larger than having a car with the most speed on its own.

“I told you all back in Vegas that I am still a big fan of single-car qualifying,” Ryan Newman, told NBC Sports after being among those who failed to complete a lap in the final round Friday. “That is all I need to say, really. That is the way qualifying should be.”

Said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch: “The last car has the biggest advantage and you’re a buffoon to go out and be the first car.”

Beyond the entertainment/competition question, other questions must be asked: What is the role of the sanctioning body? Should it be about penalizing infractions or creating opportunities for competitors to excel?

At Las Vegas, David Ragan started sixth for Front Row Motorsports. The organization had two top-10 starts last year (Bristol and Daytona) but none at a 1.5-mile track. The group qualifying format helped created an opportunity for that organization to attain a strong starting spot.

Without such chances might that team have qualified as high? Is it fair to do away with such opportunities for that and other teams?

“It’s hard to control every single thing in our sport,” Ragan told NBC Sports. “There needs to be a little bit of randomness. That makes things creative.”

But Ragan also noted that “we need to keep the integrity of the sport.”

So should NASCAR create a rule — another rule to anger those who say the rule book has too many entries — that penalizes teams for not completing a lap in the final round and make them start at the back? Or is there another way to deal with this situation before teams arrive in Texas in two weeks?

Those are among the questions NASCAR must answer before deciding what changes to make to qualifying.

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Kaulig Racing hauler involved in accident on way to Kansas Speedway

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Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday night the hauler for its No. 10 team was involved in an accident on the way to Kansas Speedway for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.

Team president Chris Rice said in a statement released on social media that Kaulig’s two drivers for the hauler were alert and had been transported to a hospital for evaluation.

According to 13 WLOS, the accident occurred around 5 p.m. ET, and a state trooper said the truck’s driver and passenger were taken to Mission Hospital by ambulance with serious but non-life threatening injuries.

According to told Fox Carolina, the North Carolina Highway Patrol said the hauler was traveling westbound on I-40 in McDowell County when it went off the right side of the road near mile marker 93. It went through a guard rail and down an embankment before stopping in the woods.

Rice said the team still planned to field two cars in Saturday’s race.

Ross Chastain is entered in the No. 10 Chevrolet this weekend for his fifth start of the year with the team. Chastain was announced Tuesday as the full-time driver of the car next season.

Kaulig also will field the No. 11 Chevy of Justin Haley in Saturday’s race.

Silly Season scorecard: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finds new home in JTG Daugherty Racing

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was without a 2020 Cup ride for less than 25 days.

Only a few weeks after Roush Fenway Racing announced it was parting ways with Stenhouse in favor of Chris Buescher, Stenhouse has landed in Buescher’s old ride at JTG Daugherty Racing in a multi-year deal.

Stenhouse will have Ryan Preece as a teammate in his first full-time year with a new team in a decade.

Here are where things stand with Silly Season:

OPEN RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

JTG Daugherty Racing: It was announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Reece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher.

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Clint Bowyer His contract expires after this season with the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team. Take it whatever way you want but Bowyer stated Sept. 20 that he did a commercial shoot in September with Kevin Harvick for next season.

Kurt Busch His contract expires after this season. Car owner Chip Ganassi has suggested in media reports that a deal will be done. Busch declined to discuss much about his contract status before the Sept. 29 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, stating: “We haven’t really started talks. I felt like it was good to get the playoffs underway and go as far as we could comfortably. Man, there’s a lot going on and we’ll see how things play out. Again, it’s all about all the stars lining up with Chevrolet, Monster Energy, myself, Chip. For me, I feel like things haven’t progressed because of the focus on the playoffs.”

Daniel Suarez He has said that both he and the team have an option on his contract for next year. He has remained confident that he will return to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 41 car.

Xfinity Series

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet.

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET with Jimmie Johnson

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Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is the guest of honor on this week’s episode of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths, which airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Johnson joins Marty Snider and Kyle Petty. Together they’ll discuss this week’s storylines and take fan phone calls.

You can call in at 844-NASCAR-NBC or reach out on Twitter via #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Tanner Gray to make Truck Series debut at Martinsville

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Former NHRA Pro Stock champion Tanner Gray will make his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut in the Oct. 26 race at Martinsville Speedway, DGR-Crosley announced Wednesday.

Gray, 20, will drive the No. 15 Toyota in the final three Truck Series races of the season.

This is Gray’s first season in NASCAR competition after also racing in super late models.

Gray competed full-time in the K&N Pro Series East this season for DGR-Crosley, where he earned one win, six top fives and nine top-10 finishes. He also claimed one pole on his way to finishing third in the point standings. He made three starts in the K&N West Series and earned two poles and three top fives.

MORE: Tanner Gray embracing NASCAR after drag racing career

“I’m excited to make the step up to the Truck Series,” Gray said in a press release. “I think it’s going to be challenging, but I’m ready to take the next step with my DGR-Crosley guys. We’ve been preparing for this all season, and I think the best way to learn is to go out and do it. Between testing and spending time in the Toyota simulator, I think I have a good feel for Martinsville and will be able to adapt quickly. We will have three practice sessions to get acclimated and get the truck where it needs to be. We just need to keep our nose clean in the race and have a solid day on pit road.”

Gray’s K&N team will make the transition to the Truck Series with him for the remainder of the season. Seth Smith will serve as crew chief duties while veteran Eddie D’Hondt will be his spotter.

“I’m really looking forward to Tanner’s Truck debut after the building season that he’s had,” Smith said in a press release. “He’s learned a lot from where he started at the beginning of the season to where he’s at now. We tested at Martinsville and I feel like we had a really successful test session.”