Chevrolet teams make plans to work together at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It was a sight not seen before. At least in the Chevrolet camp.

About 10 Chevrolet cars ran together in Friday’s final Cup practice at Talladega Superspeedway, a sign that Chevrolet wants its teams to work more closely together after some partnered with Toyotas during the Daytona 500.

To reaffirm the message, Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, met with Chevrolet drivers Saturday.

“The benefit of working together is too great versus the penalty of not working together,” Campbell told NBC Sports.

“We have to work together as a team but also be adaptive. That’s what we’re trying to balance.”

Talladega pole-sitter Austin Dillon said “we’re just unified as a group now.”

While Chevrolet teams work on projects together off the track, they haven’t always been so cooperative on the track, whether it was because of philosophy or disparity in performance. That contributed to Chevrolet’s decline at Daytona and Talladega — the manufacturer has won one of the last 15 races at those tracks.

Toyota originated the strategy of cars within the same manufacturer working together and dominated the 2016 Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin won, leading a 1-2-3 Toyota finish. Fords began working together and dominated last year’s playoff race at Talladega —  its seventh consecutive at NASCAR’s longest track. Aric Almirola won and Ford cars led nearly 95% of the race.

To combat Ford’s strength, Toyota and the Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports worked together in the Daytona 500. During the second stage, a six-car train of Toyotas and Hendrick cars controlled the pace. Crashes later in the race lessened the maneuver’s effectiveness but a strategy against the Fords had been created.

That particular pairing of Chevrolet and Toyota teams, though, will not be repeated.

“I think some of the other Chevys probably griped about the Hendrick guys working with us,” Hamlin said.

There have been multiple meetings about Chevrolet teams about working together since February.

“They’re laying the law down,” Bubba Wallace told NBC Sports.

The result was 10 Chevrolets went on track together Friday in practice. They ran about 15 laps, came to pit road together and exited together to simulate a green-flag pit stop.

That could be critical Sunday. Teams have found this weekend that the more cars in a line, the faster it goes. Last fall, Stewart-Haas Racing’s four cars ran single-file and pulled away from the pack. That’s not expected to happen Sunday with rule changes that include teams having another 100 horsepower to 550 and the larger rear spoiler (with the wicker added to the spoiler Friday).

“At tracks like this, numbers win,” Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports. “So the more organized we can be, and if we can ever get more quality cars, more quality Chevrolets working together, we can hopefully have that upper hand in those rare situations of pitting under green.”

When Almirola saw the Chevrolets run together in practice Friday, he said “it’s about time.

“What’s that old saying … fool me once, shame on you,. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, that’s not going to happen. They’ve been fooled a lot of times by the manufactures teaming up and working together.

“To see that, it speaks volumes of what we did at Ford years ago to organize our race teams to get together and make sure that we work together to put a blue oval out front and that’s what this kind of racing has turned into. I think they’ve finally taken notice.”

Kyle Larson said everything has gone well with the teams working together so far.

“We’ve been pretty disciplined about it,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes in the race. Hopefully we can do what those other teams have done, but even better. I’m excited to work together and hopefully we’ll learn throughout it and tweak on it in the future and get even better.”

That’s a challenge Dillon noted. Toyota and Ford teams know how to work together during the race. This will be Chevrolet’s first attempt at going all in.

“These guys have been working at it for a couple of races now, and they’ve kind of done a good job of perfecting how to get to the front and work together,” Dillon said. “We’ve got a young group of Chevy drivers, a little less experience. We, as a group, I feel like have done a good job over the weekend.”

If Chevrolet cars do work together Sunday, it could impact the Toyota teams. Toyota has the fewest cars in the 39-car field with seven — that includes two part-time teams.

“I knew it was coming,” Hamlin said of losing the partnership with Hendrick Motorsports. “I’m friends with a couple of (Chevrolet drivers), so I knew about meetings that have been going on for the last month or so. I knew that we were going to kind of be on our own.”

But this edict by Chevrolet doesn’t mean a Chevy driver can’t work with another manufacturer during the race. It will happen. The pack will get jumbled. But the point is to work together when one can.

“Chevy is a huge part of our success,” Daniel Hemric told NBC Sports. “Whether we have it or not, they’ve given us all a route to have it. At the end of the day, one of us needs to be in victory lane. That’s why we’ve got to come together to make that happen.”

If they can’t Sunday, it will mark the first time since 1971 that Chevrolet has not won in the first 10 races of a season.

“The focus is on winning,” Campbell told NBC Sports. “Also, we want to see as many Chevys finish well with the stage points and at the end of the race. It’s a long season. Our goal is to get as many Chevy drivers in the playoffs, whether it is through wins or points or both.

“Cleary, the goal is to get some wins on the board. The one benefit of having our key partners is we continue to learn from one another how to gain more speed and improve the performance.”

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Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

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Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”

Alex Bowman fastest in final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Alex Bowman completed a sweep of Friday’s Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway by posting the top speed in final practice. He was also fastest in first practice.

Bowman’s top speed was 176.626 mph. He recorded 32 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (176.186 mph), Bubba Wallace (176.177), Kurt Busch (175.816) and Christopher Bell (175.695).

Bowman also had the best 10-lap average at 175.317 mph.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps with 47.

The only incident in the session was defending race winner Kyle Busch brushing the wall in Turn 3 after his car got away from him on the bumps in the corner. Repairs were made to the car and Busch returned to the track with 17 minutes left in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

 

Alex Bowman tops field in opening Cup practice at Auto Club

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Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap in opening Cup practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Bowman ran a top lap of 179.439 mph.

Bowman was followed by Kyle Larson (177.703 mph), Tyler Reddick (177.607), Kurt Busch (177.375) and Matt DiBenedetto (176.609).

Click here for full practice report

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET today. Qualifying will be Saturday.

Xfinity practice report at Auto Club Speedway

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Harrison Burton was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recorded 22 laps and posted a top speed of 174.474 mph in the 25-minute session.

The top five was completed by Noah Gragson (173.779 mph), Austin Cindric (173.775), Chase Briscoe (173.578) and Brandon Jones (173.578).

Burton also had the best 10-lap average at 170.422 mph.

Gragson recorded the most laps in the session with 25.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Noah Gragson led the way for the Xfinity Series in the opening practice session that saw more than half the 50-minute period under caution at Auto Club Speedway

Gragson ran a top lap of 177.139 mph. He was followed by Austin Cindric (176.022), Daniel Hemric (175.400), Brandon Jones (175.366) and Harrison Burton (175.187).

Click here for full practice report

Alex Labbe brought out the caution when an oil line came loose and he put oil down on the track. The cleanup took about 20 minutes.

Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution late in the session with smoke coming from the car and then a small fire in the right front of the car.