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NASCAR vows to do ‘whatever steps we have to’ to address qualifying

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FORT WORTH, Texas — After more complaints from drivers about group qualifying Friday, a NASCAR official said the sanctioning body would do “whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again.”

Confusion, chaos and consternation were the themes of a Cup qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway that ended with Jimmie Johnson on the pole, Clint Bowyer upset and others raising questions about NASCAR’s officiating.

Jay Fabian, Cup managing series director, said series officials would look at all options after making some tweaks earlier this week to the format.

“We’re obviously disappointed with what happened,” Fabian said. “We’re disappointed with what we saw. Nobody deserves to see that. Our fans don’t deserve it. We’re going to take whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again. Pretty much everything is on the table as far as what we’ll do moving forward.”

Fabian explained what he was disappointed with.

“It’s disappointed that they sit out there (on pit road) as long as they do,” he said. “It’s disappointing that they give reasons why they don’t go and then someone goes and they choose to not follow them. A lot of what they say doesn’t add up with their actions on pit road. That’s the disappointing part. When you see someone roll, you would assume that somebody would follow them and they chose not to.”

With the series headed to Bristol and Richmond the next two weeks and then a weekend off for Easter, NASCAR has time to decide what to do. At short tracks, drivers are not waiting to go out in groups because drafting is not as important as it is on bigger tracks. Earlier Friday, Landon Cassill said he went more than three tenths of a second quicker in practice when he was in a draft as opposed to running on the track alone.

Bowyer was furious after he failed to advance from the first round and will start 25th.

“I guess this is a make-up-the-rules-as-we-go event in qualifying,” Bowyer said. “It’s sad. Those people up (in the stands) there paid a lot of money to bring their families here and watch a qualifying sessions and people try to go out and do their best. You’re just sitting around (on pit road) and waiting because you only know your best is good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying.”

What can be done?

“Learn from your mistakes,” Bowyer said. “That’s how you get better. Learn from your mistakes. We already had this failure and here we are doing it again. Come on.”

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola were among those who said they were confused by how NASCAR officiated the cars on pit road. NASCAR stated earlier this week that cars stopped on pit road had to leave a middle lane for others to pass by. But some drivers complained the middle got clogged when many tried to go at once and questioned NASCAR not penalizing anyone.

“I learned some things today,” Almirola said. “I learned that we can clog the middle and that’s OK, and they’re not going to enforce that and they won’t penalize anybody for that, which I thought was going to be pretty strictly enforced, especially this weekend with the new rules rolled out. I’m confused.”

Said Harvick: “You just can’t qualify these cars this way. I love group qualifying, but I just laughed all the way out to the race track.”

Reigning series champion Joey Logano said he’s fine with the format.

“Who said there’s a problem? That’s my opinion,” Logano said. “I think it’s entertaining. There’s a lot to talk about for you guys.  You guys all have microphones out and there’s a lot to talk about, so I think it’s OK. There’s a lot of action and it all happens very, very quick. Maybe the biggest problem is how you show it on TV. That might be really hard to do because there is so much action happening at one time. I don’t see how a camera can get it all, but outside of that I think there’s a lot going on.”

Daniel Suarez will start fourth. He advanced from the second round by running by himself. While the rest of the cars were stopped in two lanes on pit road, Suarez drove between them to cheers of the crowd and advanced without the help of a draft.

“I knew my car was fast enough to make it to the last round,” Suarez said. “I was not surprised (anyone followed him on to the track). They were shutting (their engines off) when I was going. That was the plan.”

Chase Elliot said “there were just more rules to think about. As we create rules, we tend to create complication. I get the end goal of making everybody go, which it did, everybody made a lap. So I guess making the rules was good. Hopefully it was entertaining.”

Greg Zipadelli to serve as Clint Bowyer’s interim crew chief

Greg Zipadelli
Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images
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Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, will serve as the crew chief for Clint Bowyer in Saturday’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway, the team confirmed Monday.

Johnny Klausmeier will miss Saturday’s race, serving a one-race suspension because Bowyer’s car was found to have two lug nuts not safe and secure after last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bowyer enters Saturday’s race at Michigan (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 14th on the playoff grid. The top 16 will advance to the playoffs. Six races remain in the regular season.

Klausmeier will be able to resume his role for Sunday’s Cup race (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Michigan.

Zipadelli, who won Cup titles in 2002 and 2005 with Tony Stewart, will reprise the interim role he played earlier in the season in the Xfinity Series.

Zipadelli served as Chase Briscoe‘s crew chief for four races after crew chief Richard Boswell, the team’s car chief and an engineer were each suspended four races because ballast fell out of his car. Briscoe won three of the four races with Zipadelli as his crew chief.

Team Penske extends contract with Brad Keselowski

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Team Penske announced Monday that New Hampshire winner Brad Keselowski has agreed to a contract extension. Keselowski’s contract was to expire after this season.

A media release from the team did not state the length of the extension for Keselowski, 36. The Associated Press reported that the deal was for one year through the 2021 season.

Keselowski, who won the 2012 Cup title, has been with Team Penske since 2010, winning 31 Cup and 33 Xfinity races during that time.

“We are pleased that Brad will continue to be a part of our organization,” said Roger Penske in a statement. “Brad not only demonstrates talent and skill on the track, but his leadership away from it and his dedication to our partners have had a huge impact in making our organization one of the best in NASCAR. I am proud that we will be able to able to keep the continuity we have with Brad, Ryan (Blaney) and Joey (Logano) and look forward to competing for more wins and championships together.”

MORE: Winners and losers from New Hampshire

Said Keselowski in a statement: I have been racing for Team Penske for the vast majority of my NASCAR career and to continue to represent Roger Penske, our partners and his organization is exactly where I want to be. We’ve accomplished a lot of things together over the years, including winning both the Cup and Xfinity Championships, the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Now, my goal is to win the Daytona 500, another championship and continue to build Team Penske into the best NASCAR team in the garage area.”

Logano is signed to at least 2022. In March, Blaney signed a multiyear extension with Team Penske.

Keselowski’s victory Sunday was his third of the season. He’s scored at least three wins in each of the past five seasons. Keselowski is second  in the points to Kevin Harvick.

GMS Racing, Brett Moffitt to honor Jimmie Johnson with special scheme

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GMS Racing and sponsor Plan B Sales have created a special paint scheme to honor seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on championship weekend in November at Phoenix Raceway.

Brett Moffitt, the 2018 Truck Series champion, will pilot the the specially adorned truck at Phoenix.

“Brett has been a part of the Plan B family and a great ambassador for our company over the years,” said Brent Powell, owner of Plan B Sales in a statement. “Last year we partnered with Brett and GMS for the Phoenix race, but this year is different with it being the season finale and Jimmie’s final (full-time Cup) weekend. It truly is an honor for us to showcase this throwback for Jimmie and hopefully see Brett clinch his second championship in our truck.”

Said Moffitt of Johnson in a statement: “I have looked up to him, leaned on him and had the utmost respect for everything he has done for our sport. This is the coolest paint scheme I’ve had in my career because of how much respect and admiration I have for Jimmie. I’m rooting for him to go out on top, and maybe we’ll both get the chance to celebrate a championship in Phoenix later this year.”

Johnson has announced this will be his final full-time Cup season. He drove a Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar in a July 28 test on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Johnson has expressed a desire to race different vehicles after this season.

 

Cup playoff grid after New Hampshire

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William Byron holds a 15-point lead on rookie Tyler Reddick for the final playoff spot in the Cup playoff grid after last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Six races remain in the regular season.

Byron finished 11th at New Hampshire, one spot behind Reddick, but Byron extended his advantage on Reddick by five points. Byron scored six stage points, while Reddick scored none.

MORE: Could New Hampshire be a sign of things to come in Cup?

MORE: Winners and losers from New Hampshire 

Jimmie Johnson fell to 25 points behind Byron for the final spot in the Cup playoff grid. Johnson overcame a spin after contact with Clint Bowyer to run in the top 10 but lost four spots in the final 20 laps to finish 12th.

“Good fight today guys,” Johnson told his team on the radio after the race. “Overcome a lot of (stuff) again.”

The series heads this weekend to Michigan International Speedway for two races. The Cup Series races there at 4 p.m. ET Saturday and at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. Both races will be on NBCSN.

Ten of the 16 playoff spots have been secured by drivers who have won at least one race this year: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and rookie Cole Custer.

Here is a look at the Cup playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Drivers shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Cup playoff grid.

 

Cup playoff grid New Hampshire