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NASCAR makes change to uncontrolled tire rule

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NASCAR no longer will use the standard of an “arm’s length” from a crew member to determine if to penalize teams for an uncontrolled tire on pit road, removing that requirement from the rule book after complaints from competitors.

Tires will be considered uncontrolled if they create a safety issue or interfere/impede another competitor’s pit stop.

    • Safety issues include but are not limited to tires rolling into the traffic lane of pit road.
    • Tires may not be bounced or thrown at any time.
    • Tires may be rolled from the outside half of the pit box to the pit wall, providing they do not create a safety issue or interfere/impede another competitor’s pit stop.
    • Once tires are returned to the inside half of the pit box they may not roll back to the outside half of the pit box.
    • Tires, servicing equipment and crew members may not interfere or impede with another team’s pit stop. Tires contacting a vehicle while being carried to the outside half of the pit box may be considered a no call.
    • The penalty for an uncontrolled tire under green flag conditions will be a pass through, and starting at the tail end of the field under caution conditions.

Click here for diagram on what is a penalty and what is not a penalty for a tire on pit road

“After discussions internally and with competitors and teams, NASCAR will adjust how we officiate the uncontrolled tire rule to focus on preventing a safety hazard rather than concentrating on the subjective “arm’s length” criteria,” said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR vice president of officiating and technical inspection, in a statement. “To be clear, tires must still be returned from the outside of the pit box in a controlled manner.

Denny Hamlin was critical of NASCAR’s rule for uncontrolled tires after his team was called for its fifth uncontrolled tire penalty this season at Chicagoland Speedway.

“I don’t know what they can change, but I would like to see a change,” Hamlin said the following week at Daytona when asked about his issues with the rule. “I think rules have to evolve and this is not about us in particular. I made a comment and it has 3,000 likes, 500 retweets, 300 comments, so it touches the fan base. These are people that aren’t Denny fans; they just don’t get it. If they don’t get it at home, then it’s probably not a rule that needs to be in place in the Cup series because you can’t explain it to them.

“It’s hard to explain when a tire is just sitting there that it’s uncontrolled. It’s not moving. It is controlled. I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know how to fix it. They are pretty smart, and I’m sure they can make adjustments to fix it to make it a little more simple. But overall, everyone’s arms are a different length. So, what is an arm’s length? Do they have some kind of technology that says ‘Ok this distance from the tire changer to the tire is more than an arm’s length and they can pull a measuring out and they can measure it?’ I don’t know, but that’s just too much rules. Too many things that can change the ultimate outcome of a race.

“We had earned our spot up front. That’s the crappy part about it. We had earned our position up there. Then, you have to go to the back and in today’s racing, it’s harder than that ever to be able to come back. It’s virtually impossible to be able to come back now, no matter how fast your car is because everyone is running so much wide-open throttle. It changes your race; it changes how you are going to finish. It’s up to us to play by the rules that have been given to us, let’s be clear about that, but we think we are doing that. Sometimes, that judgement call doesn’t go your way and it’s been multiple times this year, that we don’t know what we could have done differently, and we are going to need that explanation so that we don’t do it again.”

In Wednesday’s bulletin to teams, NASCAR also added a rule that states: “When changing all four tires, crew members must change/remove the outside tires first. The penalty for changing/removing the inside tires first will be restarting at the tail end of the field under caution or a pass-through under green.”

That change comes as NASCAR soon heads to road courses. Xfinity and Cup race next week at Watkins Glen International. Cars pit in the opposite direction there as they do on ovals and there have been times when teams changed the inside tires (those closest to the wall) first.

“Additionally, beginning at the Watkins Glen race weekend, we are mandating that outside tires must be changed first during a four-tire stop, to reduce crew members’ exposure to adjacent vehicles departing their pit stalls,” Sawyer said in a statement. “Our commitment to safety remains unchanged, and these rules adjustments will lessen potential danger for crew members.”

John Ray, who drove patriotic big rig at Talladega, dies at 82

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
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One of Talladega Superspeedway’s most endearing and popular figures has passed away.

John “Johnny” Ray, whose diesel big rig carrying an American flag around the 2.66-mile track has been a fixture during the playing of the National Anthem at NASCAR Cup races for the past two decades, has died at the age of 82, the track announced Monday.

Ray began the tradition behind the wheel of his gold, brown and chrome-colored Peterbilt semi-tractor in 2001, with an oversized American flag flowing in the breeze behind the tractor.

The procession quickly became a significant fan favorite, eliciting loud cheers and applause from fans in the stands each time it passed by on the track’s front stretch.

“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year,” Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, Alabama, said in an interview three years ago. “I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Ray, who started his own trucking company in the early 1970s, and also had a brief NASCAR racing career of his own, ceded driving duties of the big rig several years ago to his late friend, Roger Haynes, and then last year to son Johnny Ray, to continue the tradition.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a media release. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated.

“He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

Funeral arrangements for John Ray are pending, according to the track.

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Ryan Blaney experienced Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ in person

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kobe Bryant didn’t ask normal questions.

Nearly two years after a 20-minute conversation in the back of a Las Vegas steakhouse, that’s what sticks out to Ryan Blaney about the five-time NBA champion.

Blaney reflected on his encounter with Bryant on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

MORE: NASCAR community mourns death of Kobe Bryant

The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”

During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.

“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.

“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”

Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.

“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”

Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.

“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”

Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”

Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.

“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”

Brendan Gaughan to run 4 final Cup races in 2020, including Daytona 500

Photo: Beard Motorsports' Twitter account
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Brendan Gaughan will kick off his 23rd and final season of NASCAR racing in the 62nd Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports.

Gaughan – who is using the hashtag #NotGaughanYet to symbolize his final season — will drive the No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona. If he qualifies, it will be his fifth time in the 500 field, with his best finish coming in 2017 when he finished 11th.

The 44-year-old Gaughan is slated to drive four races this season in NASCAR Cup for Beard Motorsports. In addition to the Daytona 500, he’ll also race April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway, August 29 back at Daytona and will make the final start of his racing career on October 4 back at Talladega.

The Las Vegas native has made 12 previous starts for Beard Motorsports, all at either Daytona and Talladega.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” Gaughan said in a media release. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.”

Last April, Gaughan led five laps at Talladega and gave Beard Motorsports its second top-10 finish in the Cup Series, finishing eighth. Gaughan also finished seventh at Daytona for Beard Motorsports in July 2017.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team,” Gaughan said. “(Team owner) Mark Beard Sr., and his entire family are passionate about racing, and NASCAR in particular. We’re all competitive and want to perform, but we’re going to have fun doing it. That’s how we all got started in the sport – because it was fun. And as I wrap up my career, I’m going to make sure it stays fun.”

Gaughan has made 62 prior starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie season in 2004, when he earned his best career finish in the series (fourth at Talladega).

He also has made 219 starts in the Xfinity Series with two wins, and 217 starts in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series with eight wins.

Gaughan’s effort at Daytona will be in a chassis built by Richard Childress Racing and powered by a motor from ECR Engines. He’ll be sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing, South Point Hotel & Casino and City Lights Shine whiskey moonshine.

He begins his quest to qualify for the 40-car field with Daytona 500 qualifying on February 9. His lap will determine his starting spot in the Feb. 13 Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the rest of the field for the Great American Race.

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UniFirst to sponsor Chase Elliott in three Cup Series races this year

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
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UniFirst will be a sponsor of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet in three Cup Series races this year, Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday.

The company will be on Elliott’s car at Phoenix Raceway (March 8), the All-Star Race (May 16) and the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 27).

A work clothing and uniform supplier, UniFirst has been a Hendrick Motorsports sponsor since 2016. It sponsored William Byron in four races in 2018 and three last year.

UniFirst also will be featured as an associate sponsor for all races in 2020.