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Tony Stewart on Cup qualifying, team ownership and sprint car racing

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RICHMOND, Va. — Tony Stewart is many things from being a three-time Cup champion to a team owner, NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and a sprint car driver, but for all the things Stewart has done and can do in a car he’s known as much for something else.

His honesty and bluntness. 

When Stewart talks about the issues with Cup qualifying, he’s frank in saying of NASCAR: “They make one bad decision and then they compound it by having to make three more bad decisions to try to make up for the first bad decision they made.”

While he’s been a critic of NASCAR, Stewart also isn’t afraid to applaud series officials but admits what NASCAR does things right it often gets overlooked.

“You make one bad decision and it takes 10 good decision to overcome that one,” he said.

Stewart discussed a variety of topics this weekend at Richmond Raceway. Here’s what he said:

Q: You’ve been outspoken about young drivers with money coming into the sport, but hasn’t that always been the case in racing? Haven’t some people missed moving up because they didn’t have the look or the money?

Tony Stewart: I didn’t have the right look. I still don’t have the right look. I never had paid a dime. … That whole Generational Next thing, you look at the criteria for that, is that how we really want to set our fields? Is that how we want to do this? I think they’ve got to relook at how they do it. I honestly think that’s part of why we’re losing so many people. I heard people (Thursday night) at the dirt races, say ‘I like coming here because there’s not as many rules.’ That’s literally what people were saying. It was that simple to them. It’s hard to argue with that.

I understand why we have the rules we have. The fans are saying there are too many rules. If they can’t follow along, how are they going to follow along?

Q: Too many rules. Is that the issue with Cup qualifying?

Stewart: You already line the cars up on pit road in an organized manner. You have a maximum speed. Have a minimum speed (on pit road). Once that car pulls out of its spot, it has to keep going, plain and simple. You can go anywhere in that speed range you want but once you take off, you’ve got to keep going. How much more simple is it than that?

All NASCAR has to do at that point is look at the screen to make sure you’re not going too fast or too slow. They’re already doing the too fast part, so how hard is it to just add the too slow part? If you go too slow, your lap is not allowed. If you go too fast, your lap is not allowed. It’s pretty damn simple I think. But they keep adding things that make them have to make judgment calls. Why do you constantly keep putting yourself in position to have to make a ball-and-strike call? Put it in the drivers’ and crew chiefs’ and spotters’ hands, not your hands.

Quit making it about it you. Make them have to make the decision. They make one bad decision and then they compound it by having to make three more bad decisions to try to make up for the first bad decision they made.

They just … somebody needs to just grab them by the collar and say, ‘Stop, take a breath and sit down and start over and think about this and rework it.’ Their head is 6 inches forward of their feet and they can’t get their feet to keep catching up to what their heads are doing all the time.”

Q: Is NASCAR doing anything well?

Stewart: There’s a ton of things they’re doing well. It’s like a negative comment takes 10 positive comments to overcome one negative comment. You make one bad decision and it takes 10 good decision to overcome that one. There’s a ton of things they’re doing right. There’s a ton of things they’re working on for the future that they’re also doing things right. There’s so much low-hanging fruit that they could fix.

Q: Such as?

Stewart: There’s a whole list. I’m not going to get through the list. I’ve got to make sure I get my cars through tech.

Q: Car owners talk about containing costs but if I’m a car owner and I have to decide between a driver with money and one maybe more talented but doesn’t have the money, I’ll likely take the one with money.

Stewart: That’s my whole point. That’s the direction our sport is going. That’s screwed up. If that’s where we’re going, we’re in bad shape.

Q: Do you feel like things are being done to help owners contain costs?

Stewart: There’s a lot of things that they’re working on to try to do that. It’s a constant battle, you’re constantly battling technology. Technology is the biggest root of the problem, but you can’t stop technology. You look at these cars, they’ve kept the simple basic car, the basics of the car hasn’t changed for how many years. Things that have changed are safety improvements, which are definitely justified and appreciated. It’s not a linear progression with technology, … it’s virtually impossible for NASCAR and Goodyear and everybody involved, it’s hard for them to get in front of it because you don’t know what’s coming next. … It’s hard to get your arms around all of it. They do a really good job of trying to contain it, trying to get in front of it, but it’s a hard process.

Q: How do you feel Stewart-Haas Racing is doing this year?

Stewart: We’ve been solid. There’s just a couple of things missing that we need to be where we want to be. To come out with a new car this year and be this close out of the box, I feel like we’re pretty happy about that. Obviously, we set our standards pretty high on what we expect. We’re obviously thrashing at the shop to find what is going to make these cars happy and it’s just no different than what happened last year with those guys. We’re working on it. Like I say, it’s a constant evolution. What you did last year isn’t good enough, you’ve got to push it forward and keep fighting. New trick of the week.

Q: How is your sprint car racing going?

Stewart: Better actually. We should have run fourth (Thursday) not sixth. Had a motor problem at the end and got paying attention to the oil pressure gauge, which was on zero instead of watching where I was going. We’re running a lot better. Before last weekend, we had a 4.0 average I think for the 15 races we had run. I’m not sure with a 13th and a sixth how that changes it, but we’re running a lot better and it’s because we’re racing a lot.

You’re running all the time and that’s the only way you’re going to get better with these guys. I’ve actually ran more than a lot of the guys out there. That’s the only way you’re going to get better is running as many shows as they run. They’re good teams and they’re on their game already, so if you’re going to catch up, physically you’re going to have to run that many races to catch up.

Roger Penske was ready for his close-up in popular commercial

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MONTEREY, California – Roger Penske is the only team owner in auto racing history who has 18 “Baby Borg” Trophies in his possession for his team’s record 18 wins in the Indianapolis 500.

Perhaps his next trophy should be an Emmy.

Penske took part in a commercial along with 103rd Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and one of his NASCAR Cup drivers, Ryan Blaney. The commercial was shot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 7 while NASCAR was in town for the Brickyard 400.

The premise of the commercials is a takeoff on the 2006 comedy, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” with Blaney playing the Ricky Bobby role and Pagenaud playing the Jean Girard role.

The commercial was shot by NBC to promote its coverage of the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and concludes with Penske stepping in between the two drivers, demanding them to, “Go out there and win races.”

Penske delivered the line perfectly and in just three takes.

“It took me about five minutes,” Penske told NBCSports.com. “They made it very easy for me. We let the guys do all of the hard work. It was fun for me to do. I saw it, and I didn’t make a fool out of myself.

“I’m ready for the next commercial.”

Penske’s ability to deliver his lines perfectly impressed NBC Sports Group President of Programing Jon Miller.

“I assume he’s got his SAG card,” Miller told NBCSports.com. “He has certainly been in front of the camera enough, and he’s quite an ambassador for the sport, so we were not at all surprised by that.”

NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood was also highly impressed with Penske’s ability to turn into an actor in front of the camera.

“We were thrilled that he agreed to do it,” Flood told NBC Sports.com. “It’s one of those special things and the kind of guy he is to jump on board and make it even bigger because we had a ‘Plan B’ if Roger couldn’t do it, and when we got the confirmation, we knew we had something special that was going to happen.

“Roger Penske did the ad with two of his drivers that we shot at the Brickyard last week that got out there. A lot of fun, a lot of great response to it, and that’s things we couldn’t have done in the past. I think that’s part of us leaning in as NBC in trying to grow all of motorsports, and it’s important that every form of racing gets attention, and that’s what we’re pushing, as you know all too well.”

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, who will take a 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi into Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix, also was complimentary of his team owner.

“Wow, I was impressed,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com. “First of all, how did they get him to do a cameo? That was cool. And he nailed it.

“The pressure on Simon and Blaney to nail it, after Roger does it in only three takes? Wow, the pressure was really on them to deliver their lines.”

Pagenaud thought Penske’s first take was the best.

“It didn’t take long for Roger to deliver his line, he was on top of it,” Pagenaud told NBCSports.com. “NBCSN was very excited about the idea. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles made sure we were able to get into Gasoline Alley early that day. It was the Saturday of the Brickyard 400 and it was early, but Roger was probably up since 2 a.m. I’m sure, so it wasn’t early for him.

“It was good, the script was fun and well done. I forced my French and Blaney being the perfect American NASCAR driver and Roger just being himself was just perfect. It shows personality between NASCAR and INDYCAR. NBC is doing such a great job showing both fans on both sides what is going in and it helps everybody get interested in both sports.”

Penske was asked if that is how he normally talks to his drivers in a prerace situation to fire them up.

“That’s not the normal, daily message, but that’s how it helped those two guys get going,” Penske said. “I think NBC has done a great job in all cases on IndyCar. The continuity of having the same partner has made a huge difference. The talent knows the drivers. They know the situation. Guys like Paul Tracy and the experience of Leigh Diffey and the whole group has done a great job.

“It’s about good racing. We have good teams. Lots of competition, new drivers and date equity. And it’s attracting young people.”

Penske believes the addition of NBC Sports to the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, including the season’s final race on the NBC, has been a big boost to the series.

“Any time you are on network is great,” Penske said. “It’s great for the sponsors, the notoriety for the team and the drivers is very important for all of us as we finish up the season. It’s going to be a great weekend, and I hope we can continue the movement we’ve had and the momentum we’ve had coming up to the last weekend.”

Richmond winners and losers

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WINNERS

Joe Gibbs Racing — It was a 1-2-3-4 finish until Erik Jones’ car failed inspection. Still the team scored a 1-2-3 finish and claimed its fourth consecutive win on a short track with Martin Truex Jr.’s triumph. Don’t forget, the organization also won Friday’s Xfinity race with Christopher Bell.

Ryan Newman His fifth-place finish tied his best result of the year and was his third consecutive top-10 showing. He was encouraged by the team running toward the front and noted: “You take away those four Gibbs cars, we were racing for the win. I know it doesn’t work that way, but if they would have had one bad meeting (incident) we would’ve been in the hunt.” Still, Newman moved into a transfer spot heading into this coming weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Brad KeselowskiHe finished fourth and was the only driver outside of Joe Gibbs Racing to lead Saturday’s race.

Bubba Wallace His 12th-place finish was his third top-15 result in the last five races. He had one top-15 finish in the first 23 races of the season.

Front Row Motorsports — All three of its cars placed 21st or better, the first time the team has accomplished that feat this season. David Ragan was 19th, rookie Matt Tifft placed 20th and Michael McDowell was 21st.

LOSERS

Erik Jones He was feeling good about his fourth-place finish that put him within three points of the final transfer spot to the next round only to later find out that his car was disqualified for failing inspection after the race. Now he’s 45 points out of the final transfer spot and is essentially in a must-win situation. He faces being eliminated from the first round of the playoffs for a second year in a row.

William Byron Got lapped in the final circuits before the end of each stage and also had a pit road speeding penalty. That led to a season-worst 25th-place finish. He holds the final transfer spot to the second round by two points on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman heading to the Roval.

Brad Keselowski bumped up to fourth, but JGR domination still ‘not good news’

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Brad Keselowski ended Saturday’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Richmond Raceway with what he thought was a fifth-place finish.

About an hour later though, Keselowski was moved up one position to fourth place after original fourth-place finisher Erik Jones was disqualified after his car failed post-race inspection.

Still, gaining one extra finishing position didn’t make the 2012 NASCAR Cup champion happy because of Joe Gibbs Racing’s domination in the second race of the playoffs – even with Jones’ DQ.

(How JGR finished is) definitely not good news,” Keselowski said. “We’ve got work to do. (JGR is) really strong and we’re not where we need to be to be able to beat them heads-up, but we threw everything we had at them.

We put down a great qualifying lap, got the first pit stall, had great pit stops and got to the lead, but just didn’t have the raw speed to keep it.”

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. completes Richmond sweep with playoff win

MORE: Results, points after 2nd race of Cup playoffs at Richmond

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Erik Jones’ car for failing inspection

Keselowski tweeted a few hours after the race that he didn’t “take no pleasure & seek no treasure from another man’s loss,” referring to Jones’ DQ.


Even so, Keselowski took some consolation from his overall performance.

We led 80-some laps, so it’s not a bad day but just not nearly fast enough to dominate the race and win,” he said.

Keselowski mistakenly said in a post-race interview that he had joined Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in advancing to the Round of 12 two weeks from now due to his points in the standings.

Yeah, we’re locked into the next round,” Keselowski said. “That feels good. I’m proud of that effort.”

Actually, Keselowski left Richmond two points shy of being locked into the next playoff round. That will have to come next Sunday at Charlotte’s Roval.

There’s still work to do not only for Keselowski’s car, but also those of his teammates — Joey Logano finished 11th and Ryan Blaney 17th — to counter JGR’s domination.

But what exactly has to be done is a question mark, Keselowski said.

Honestly, I don’t know,” Keselowski said. “They’ve got all the secrets so we need to find some more secrets.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Busch sees progress in runner-up finish at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. — After his fiery comments last week led some to be critical of his attitude toward slower drivers, Kyle Busch was calmer after his runner-up performance to Martin Truex Jr. on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Busch led a race-high 202 of 400 laps but lost the lead to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate with 26 laps to go and had to settle for second place.

“We put up a valiant effort,” Busch said.

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Erik Jones’ fourth-place finishing car

While his winless drought starched to 14 races, Busch noted that the performance was a step forward for the No. 18 Toyota team.

“I know we’re capable of it, the team is capable of it,” said Busch, who clinched a spot in the second round with his 54-point night. “Just stupid things have been biting us this year and we put it all together tonight. I didn’t speed on pit road, pit crew did a good job, our car was fast and we made the most of our effort.”

Whether it was Busch hitting the wall (or another car) at Las Vegas, an engine failure at Indianapolis, the pit crew losing the lead at Darlington or a speeding penalty at Watkins Glen (and hitting cars), Busch and the team have been off in recent races despite often having the speed to challenge for wins. In the process, Busch has lost the chance to collect many more playoff points.

He was strong enough Saturday night to win the second stage, giving him his third stage win in the last seven races.

But Busch didn’t have enough at the end to keep Truex behind him.

“We ran OK,” Busch said. “(Truex) could follow closer than I could, and he was better on the long run than I was. Why? Maybe I pushed my tires too hard there at the last stint at the beginning trying to stay ahead of (Denny Hamlin), which gave (Truex) the opportunity to kind of save his stuff and roll around and attack later.”