Bump and Run: Is inverting the starting lineup a good idea?

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The starting lineup for the second Pocono Cup race on the doubleheader weekend there next year will be set by inverting the lead-lap finishers from the first race. What do you think of that decision?

Dustin Long: I’m fine with it. The distance for the second race will be long enough (350 miles) that those in the back will have a chance to work up to the front. Hey, it’s not like this is has never been done in racing. Short tracks around the country invert their starting fields in features. I’m all for new ideas in NASCAR and seeing if they work.

Daniel McFadin: I’m completely fine with it. Since teams will be using the same cars in both races, it helps ensure we don’t see similar versions of the same race play out over the course of the two days. Also, it may give teams that don’t see the front of the pack hardly ever at least some time in the spotlight. Had this been done this year, Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez would have started on the front row in a hypothetical second race.

Jerry Bonkowski: While I like the idea in theory, in practice it could be suspect. What happens if a driver in the first race has no chance of winning and decides late in the race to slow down and falls in terms of positions – yet stays on the lead lap – to give himself a better start in the Sunday race? Fans, media and other teams could have a problem with that. It will be interesting to see how this experiment works, especially if we see more doubleheader weekends at other tracks in the future.

Nate Ryan: It’s a good twist, though it might need some tweaking (as Jerry notes above).

 

Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement Monday that it was changing crew chiefs on Jimmie Johnson’s team marks only the second time since 2010 that the organization has made an in-season crew chief change. What do you think of the move?

Dustin Long: Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are not just about making the playoffs. They are about winning championships. Who would consider this group a championship contender at this moment? There’s your answer on the need to make the change at this point of the season.

Daniel McFadin: My first reaction upon reading Cliff Daniels’ bio and his history with the No. 48 team was why wasn’t he the first choice to replace Chad Knaus? It seems to me it would have allowed for a much smoother transition into the post-Knaus era for Johnson. It’s fascinating that a seven-time Cup champion is now paired with the youngest crew chief in the series, the opposite of the pairing between Knaus and William Byron, who is the youngest full-time Cup driver.

Jerry Bonkowski: Something had to be done, otherwise Johnson will not make the playoffs. And there’s no guarantee that a new crew chief will accomplish just that. When I first heard of the crew chief change, my first thought was Chad Knaus was coming back with Jimmie. If anyone could get Johnson into the playoffs, it’s Knaus. But I’ll be optimistic that Cliff Daniels will be up to the task and hope for the best.

Nate Ryan: The timing is curious — a road course race in the midst of a playoff points battle hardly seems the optimum place for a crew chief’s Cup debut — but the reasoning is simple. As he strongly hinted after New Hampshire, Johnson had reached the performance ceiling with the leadership of his current team after 21 races.

 

The Cup series is up to eight different winners in the last eight races. Will the streak continue this weekend at Watkins Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)?

Dustin Long: Streak continues. Even though the top four in points have won during this stretch, there are enough drivers who can win at the Glen. Throw in some clever strategy and that could open the opportunities to a few others.

Daniel McFadin: My gut feeling is we’ll see the streak end, but Erik Jones is on a hot streak now and he finished fifth at the Glen last year. If it does continue, it’ll be through him.

Jerry Bonkowski: I thought for sure the streak would end at Pocono, but it didn’t. Because Watkins Glen is more of an equalizing race than most races on conventional ovals, I think it’s likely we could see a ninth consecutive different winner. But that will likely be the final race for this streak before it’s broken the following week at Michigan.

Nate Ryan: Between Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano, there will be too many strong contenders to keep the string alive. Brad Keselowski will have a fighting chance, though.

‘Snowball effect’ led Bob Leavine to sell Cup team

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Seeing the “snowball effect” of a lack of sponsorship, cost for additional cars next year and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy, car owner Bob Leavine said Tuesday that it was clear that he needed to sell Leavine Family Racing.

The team announced Tuesday that it has been sold. The buyer has not been revealed.

Leavine said Tuesday that the team had 11 races available for sponsorship on rookie Christopher Bell‘s car before the coronavirus pandemic suspended the sport in March for 10 weeks. The team’s biggest sponsor, Leavine noted, was his construction company, which also has been impacted by the economic downturn brought on by the virus.

“We haven’t really sold anything and probably won’t sell anything going forward this year,” Leavine said Tuesday of sponsorship.

Leavine also cited a business model that he has been critical of, including the charter system.

Leavine Family Racing was not granted a charter but merged with Circle Sport Racing, which had a charter, for the 2016 season. The partnership ended after that season. Leavine Family Racing bought Tommy Baldwin Racing’s charter in Nov. 2016.

We definitely did not get out of our charter what we put into our charter,” said Leavine, who has not publicly revealed what was paid for the charter. “So, from our standpoint, it is very difficult to say that it was a great investment. It just allowed us to run full time for the five years after we bought it. That’s the best thing I can say for the charter system.”

Leavine Family Racing made its NASCAR debut in 2011. Christopher Bell joined the team prior to this season. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Another challenge was NASCAR’s move to push back the debut of the Next Gen car from 2021 to 2022. Leavine Family Racing has an affiliation with Joe Gibbs Racing this season for chassis and support but Leavine said the plan was not to continue that next year.

“We had a whole lot of things banking on the Next Gen coming in,” Leavine said. “Our deal with JGR, our affiliation required us to do certain things. We were looking forward to being a standalone team with one or two cars. So, the pandemic, and sponsorship and how it affected (his construction business), our major sponsor, and then having to come back and buy all the cars again for next year, because we had planned on not needing cars next year.

“It was a snowball effect on multiple things. We saw no way out. We could not afford the affiliation, and what we did this year, next year. That’s what we banked on. Okay, we will do this one year, run good, get our charter value up, and we had a plan. That plan came tumbling down with the pandemic. Then you take a bad business model; it doesn’t work for us.”

Leavine said he lobbied NASCAR and owners in the spring for particular changes, which he did not reveal. When those ideas were rejected, Leavine said he was “very disappointed in what came out of that meeting. I knew that was probably going to be the straw that broke our back. I had to start looking for how best do we protect our team. How best do we keep people employed. A lot of things went into that decision.”

Leavine Family Racing has competed in NASCAR since 2011, making its debut with David Starr at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9. The organization didn’t run a full schedule until 2016 with Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon splitting the ride. Others who have driven for the team include Kasey Kahne, Regan SmithMatt DiBenedetto and Bell.

I really gave it all I had for the 10 years and the last five primarily when we went full-time, and I committed, and I thought we could make a difference and be a good team,” Leavine said. “A responsible and respected team in NASCAR. To walk away and not have completed that, I’ve never had to do that before and give up on anything. But I could not let it destroy our business – a 41-year old business – in Texas during these times, so you have to protect something and that’s a profitable organization.”

NASCAR entry lists for Michigan, Road America

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The NASCAR entry lists are out for this weekend’s racing at Michigan International Speedway and Road America.

Cup and Truck teams will compete this weekend at Michigan. Cup teams will race Saturday and Sunday.

Xfinity teams will race Saturday at Road America.

Here are the preliminary NASCAR entry lists 

Cup – Firekeepers Casino 400 (4 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-nine cars are entered.

Joey Gase will be in the No. 7 for Tommy Baldwin Racing.

JJ Yeley will drive the No. 27 for Rick Ware Racing.

James Davison will be in the No. 51 for Petty Ware Racing.

Click here for Saturday Cup race entry list

 

Cup – Consumers  Energy 400 (4:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

Thirty-nine cars are entered.

Josh Bilicki will be in the No. 7 for Tommy Baldwin Racing. That is the only change from the Saturday entry list.

Click here for Sunday Cup entry list

 

Xfinity – Henry 180 (Noon ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-seven cars are entered.

Among the drivers entered:

Mike Wallace, who made his first series start since 2015 last month in the road course race at Indianapolis, is back in the No. 0 car for JD Motorsports this weekend.

Andy Lally, a road racing expert and the 2011 Cup rookie of the year, will be in the No. 02 Our Motorsports car.

RC Enerson will make his NASCAR debut in the No. 07 SS Green Light Racing ride.

Jesse Iwuji will make his series debut in the No. 13 Motorsports Business Management car.

AJ Allmendinger will be in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Truck – Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series 200 (6 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

Forty trucks are entered.

Cup rookie John Hunter Nemechek is entered in the No. 8 truck for NEMCO Motorsports.

David Gravel, the 2019 Knoxville Nationals winner, makes his Truck Series debut in the No. 24 ride for GMS Racing.

Brennan Poole is entered in the No. 30 On Point Motorsports truck.

Jeb Burton is entered in the No. 44 Niece Motorsports ride.

Parker Kligerman is entered in the No. 75 Henderson Motorsports truck.

Chip Ganassi Racing makes crew chief change

Chip Ganassi Racing
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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Chip Ganassi Racing announced Tuesday that engineer Phil Surgen will be the crew chief for Matt Kenseth‘s team for the rest of the season. Surgen has been with the team since 2016.

Surgen replaces Chad Johnston, who had been the crew chief for the No. 42 team since 2016. The team’s statement did not address Johnston’s status.

Chip Ganassi Racing hired Kenseth in late April to take over the ride after the team fired Kyle Larson. Kenseth finished 10th in his debut with the team in May at Darlington but has had one top-10 finish since, a runner-up showing at Indianapolis last month. Kenseth finished 37th last weekend at New Hampshire after causing three cautions.

Chase Elliott likes NASCAR’s path in ‘simplifying things’

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Chase Elliott says he thinks the changes NASCAR has made this season have been good because the sport is “simplifying things.”

Elliott made his comments Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” with hosts John Roberts and Chocolate Myers. Elliott discussed that and his season, among other topics on the show.

MORE: Leavine Family Racing announces it has been sold

NASCAR was the first major sport to return in May from a COVID-19 break and has made several changes. There will be no practice and qualifying before nearly all races. Crew rosters have been cut. Weeknight races have been held, along with weekend doubleheaders. The schedule has been altered.

Elliott was asked about the changes NASCAR has made this year.

“I think we’re on a path right now that is really what NASCAR needs,” he said. “I see a lot of it. To me, we’re simplifying things, which is something that I think needed to be done for a long time. I think as NASCAR grew, I think it kind of overgrew it’s shoe size a little bit over the years and we overcomplicated things.”

One of the changes Elliott said that has been good is the limited number of crew members at the track.

“Yes, that can be more work, but I think what it has done is allow more crew members and myself included, I think everybody has an extra job or two, and I think what that has done is brought us closer together and brought more of that short track mentality of a small group of people that are more diverse going to the racetrack each week,” he said. “It brings you closer together because you have to work closer together to make sure everything is done and done at the level you want it to be.

“I just don’t see the need of practicing three hours every weekend. I think that is just ridiculous and way too much. I mean, heck, I think a lot of guys, Chocolate you’ve probably seen this, you go back to where you started (with the setup in practice) half the time anyways, more than half the time.

“Show up, you’re giving your best stab at what you have the most confidence in when you get to the racetrack on a Friday for practice anyways, so why not go ahead and start the event and see what you have? There is no better practice than a race and you don’t get your report card until the race is over anyway. Let’s just give our best effort in what we believe is fast and if it’s not, we see it right then and there and we can go to work on trying to improve.

“I’ve only heard one person complain about less practice, but I have a pretty strong feeling if they had won a few races by now they wouldn’t be saying less practice either. I think for the most part, it’s been a big time solid.”

Elliott enters this weekend’s Cup doubleheader at Michigan International Speedway (4 p.m. ET Saturday and 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), fifth in the points.

Chase Elliott after his victory in the NASCAR All-Star Race on July 15 at Bristol. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Things haven’t been smooth for Elliott in the last month even with his All-Star Race victory at Bristol. In the five points races since July, he’s finished between ninth and 23rd. Michigan could be a good place for a doubleheader weekend for Elliott. He’s been a runner-up there three times and and has finished in the top 10 in seven of his eight Cup starts at the track.

“I definitely think there is room for improvement, for sure,” said Elliott, who placed ninth last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I think we fired off the year awesome, and I think the results showed that across the board. We were running better as a group and battling for a win like we expect and like we want to do as a company, as a manufacturer, as individual teams.

“As always, time goes on and people improve and if you get behind that curve just a little bit, it is hard to catch up. I think for us, we’ve just got to really put our focus on that areas that we talk about in our meeting and the things we struggle with the most and places like (New Hampshire) are one of them.

“It wasn’t one of those things that that wasn’t a new thing for us (Sunday). We put a lot of emphasis in trying to do better and went with a handful of different mindsets (Sunday) setup wise and this and that. Unfortunately, just didn’t really seem to be any improvement. Sometimes you have to step back and look at things from a more general perspective and look at general big trends and what is off in certain areas. I think you can dive sometimes too deep into the fine details and get lost in that.

“I think fine details are great when the big stuff is right. I just think as a group we’re off a little bit and you’re not talking much. A tenth (of a second) or two would be the difference between running ninth or 10th and battling up in the top five. When you are working that small window it is hard to not focus on the fine details, but I’m a believer in a lot of times in looking back in the general trends can sometimes help you get in the right direction, too.”