Josef Newgarden’s run sparks more IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader talk

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CONCORD, N.C. – There are still many issues to resolve (namely, scheduling, track conditions, tire compounds are among myriad logistical challenges) about the viability of an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader race weekend.

But as Josef Newgarden’s Dallara-Chevrolet whizzed around the 17-turn, road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway under the watchful eyes of stars and executives from both NASCAR and IndyCar, there was no doubt about the infectious buzz for a marriage between the two biggest series in American motorsports.

That was evident from the smiles on the faces of Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, who sent their Team Penske compatriot off from the pits and then greeted him in victory lane.

“We need to have a doubleheader, man!” Newgarden exclaimed to Blaney and Logano shortly before making the first laps in an Indy car at the track in more than 20 years. “And we need to do the ride swap.”

After watching his teammate turn six blazing laps, Logano was ready to trade in the keys from his No. 22 Ford for a test drive.

Josef Newgarden talks with NASCAR teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney (photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images).

“You’re grabbing another gear, we’re hitting the brakes your first lap on the frontstretch,” Logano told Newgarden with a bemused laugh.

“The NASCAR guys, I love they’re interested in us, and we’re interested in them,” Newgarden, who clinched his second NTT championship five days earlier, told NBCSN’s Rutledge Wood. “You can tell we’re just racers. They love our race cars. I love theirs. The only thing that would have made me more excited would have been if I would have been able to get in one of their cars today.

IndyCar president Jay Frye, who was on hand as an observer along with Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles, was highly encouraged by the enthusiasm.

“It was spectacular,” Frye said. “All the Cup guys were out watching the big board, obviously there’s interest from (the news media), from us. What’s next for all of us is something we’re working on, and it’s great we certainly felt welcome and wanted here. This is a great facility. So who knows? Lots of things are possible.”

Newgarden’s biggest concern was about how the tire compounds would mix (IndyCar uses Firestone; NASCAR is on Goodyear), but that turned out fine, as did the track’s banking and transitions that caused a “heavy” wheel because Indy cars have no power steering

“It was getting better each run,” Newgarden said. “It felt pretty good.”

He said his fast laps were in the 67-second range, or about 14 seconds faster than William Byron’s pole speed (80.9 seconds) 30 minutes earlier – which was exactly the spread that had been predicted by Team Penske simulation software (according to Blaney).

Mindful of Team Penske president Tim Cindric’s playful yet stern warnings (“I told Josef we’re not going to get a trophy for what happens today. That million dollars for winning the championship won’t go far in replacing this thing. Have fun, but it’s on you.”), Newgarden said he took it easy in the Dallara-Chevrolet that Simon Pagenaud finished fourth with last Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway, leaving “another second or two” on the track.

With a setup optimized for qualifying, it’s conceivable that he could have lapped in the 1-minute range and left his Cup teammates fully in the dust – though showing up NASCAR was far from the goal for Newgarden, who bent over backward being magnanimous toward his stock-car counterparts.

The two-time IndyCar champion talked multiple times about his dream of running a Cup car (practically begging Cindric for the opportunity during a news conference) and effusively praised the reception he received from NASCAR fans, noting that it likely would have been different during the Cold War the series engaged in through much of the 1990s and 2000s.

“I think everyone was really supportive of what we’re doing,” Newgarden said. “There just seems to be a  lot more movement to racing fans being racing fans again. I love that because I’m a huge NASCAR fan myself.

“It doesn’t matter that I grew up racing open-wheel cars. I still appreciate top-level racing, and these guys are the best at what they do. They feel the same way about us. This whole discussion that’s emerging about trying to promote racing as a whole is a really great thing. I love it. I’m so interested in what they do all year, and I think it’s the same from their side, so the more we can do together in the future the better.”

How soon that will happen was the big question lingering over Friday’s exhibition, which Clint Bowyer referred to on NASCAR America as “the first test session for IndyCar on our Roval. Why wouldn’t we bring those guys to race with our sport? I think it’s a great idea.”

The chatter around an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader began to reach a fever pitch in May when NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr., Newgarden and many others expressed interest (in an NBCSports.com story) about bringing the series together.

Executives from NBC Sports Group, which broadcasts the Indianapolis 500 and full IndyCar schedule and the final 20 races of NASCAR’s Cup season, also has expressed interest in the concept. NBC Sports recently cross-promoted the series in a humorous commercial with Roger Penske, Blaney and Pageanud.

“That was a lot of fun and a lot of great response to it, and that’s things we couldn’t have done in the past,” NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said last Friday in a news conference at Laguna Seca Raceway. “I think that’s part of us leaning in at 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.”

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles has vacillated publicly on the idea. Asked by NBC Sports last week if IndyCar was moving toward a doubleheader weekend, Miles said it was unlikely before 2022.

“It was said that there was momentum in May. In my view there was more discussion in May, more talk about it, more smoke than fire. So I think the folks at NASCAR know that we think it’s a good idea. I think as far as I can tell, they think it’s a good idea.

“So we’ll see if it can be pulled together. But it’s something that we think, if it gets more people watching motorsports, it’s well worth working on.”

However, at least one person with direct knowledge of the talks (but not authorized to discuss them publicly) told NBCSports.com that a 2021 doubleheader hadn’t been ruled out.

Friday’s exhibition run was described by Newgarden as a “gift” from sponsor ShellPennzoil (“the coolest thing all week” during his championship celebration), which also has a strong business relationship with Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Track general manager Greg Walter described his contact with IndyCar officials about a race as preliminary, “first date”-level conversations. Walter was encouraged by Newgarden’s results.

There probably would need to be changes made with Indy cars (such as removing the “turtle” curbs that cause massive damage to Cup cars as a penalty for veering off course), but Walter said Charlotte is exploring IndyCar and other series (such as IMSA, support sports cars circuits and Formula E) for its Roval layout.

“We’re open to any form of racing if it makes sense,” Walter told NBCSports.com. “So if it physically and financially makes sense, and from a fan following if it makes sense, we’re open to it. NASCAR has been our focus and continues to be our focus, but we always ask is there something else out there that fits as well.”

Frye, who has boundless contacts in NASCAR from many years as a team and sponsor executive, said Newgarden’s car “looked very natural out there, looked good. The lap times were within reason of what everyone thought it would be. So, who knows?

“There really aren’t any hurdles (to a doubleheader), necessarily. It’s just schedules. Timing, how that all works. Obviously our season ended last week. That’s something we could look at down the road, how it could fit.”

Frye also stressed that the Roval wouldn’t be the only option for a doubleheader.

Richmond, Texas and Indianapolis are other tracks that are raced by both IndyCar and NASCAR, and Newgarden certainly seems open to trying any of them.

“I think it would be really cool for the fans without a doubt,” Newgarden said. “Why would you not want to have that doubled up on a weekend? They’re just both great championships.

“I respect these guys so much, and I love keeping in touch with what they’re doing, so having a little closer access to them and vice versa for us, I think it would be a win-win for everybody.”

Today’s Cup race at Kansas: Start time, lineup and more

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The playoff field will be whittled to eight drivers today at Kansas Speedway, where the second-round cutoff race of the 2019 Cup playoffs will occur over 400 miles.

Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney are locked into the third round, and Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick seem strong bets to advance. Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano (plus 18 points in the final transfer spot) also have a cushion on the cutoff.

That puts Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer and William Byron in virtual must-win situations to advance to the third round.

Here is the information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Actor Jensen Ackles will give the command to start engines at 2:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:48 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage will open at 10:30 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting will be at 12:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 1:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:30 p.m. by Lt. Col Randy Croft, Whiteman Air Force Base. The National Anthem will be performed at 2:31 p.m. by Eric Roosevelt.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race. Coverage will begin with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. on NBC. Countdown to Green follows at 1:30 p.m. on NBC, leading into race coverage. The postrace show will be on NBCSN at 6 p.m., followed by Victory Lap at 6:30 p.m.

Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast will begin at 1 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts partly cloudy conditions with a temperature of 63 degrees and a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: A year ago, Chase Elliott led the final 44 laps for his third and final victory of the season. Brad Keselowski won the May 11 race here, outdueling Alex Bowman in the closing laps. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here

Garrett Smithley calls wreck with leaders a career low point

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Garrett Smithley said he felt “probably the lowest of my career” Saturday after causing the leaders to wreck late in the Xfinity Series playoff race at Kansas Speedway while he was five laps down.

Smithley said he wasn’t aware the leaders were behind him when he exited Turn 4 and moved up toward the wall. Chase Briscoe, who was leading, and Christopher Bell, who was second, made contact as Briscoe tried to avoid Smithley.

Briscoe finished third. Bell 12th.

“I just didn’t get the memo that he was coming,” Smithley said of the leaders. “(Spotter) Freddie (Kraft) usually does a good job, he always does a good job. I’m sure it wasn’t his fault. Something didn’t get transmitted or what. I glanced up. David Starr was back there. I was just riding. We were on like 70-lap tires just riding not even pushing hard. I hated it.”

Asked about the line he ran, going from the bottom in the corners to high on exit, Smithley said:

“I was running my line. If I had known he was back there, I wouldn’t have even done that. I was just riding. I was on 70-lap tires, not even pushing it. Just stupid mistake. I hate that it happened. I hate it for everybody that got involved. I do not want to be that guy by any means. I’ve never been that guy. I hate that that happened.”

It’s the second time in about a month that Smithley has been hit by a faster car while running laps down in a race.

In the Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch ran into the back of Smithley’s car and criticized Smithley’s credentials.

Asked if he feared people would start associating him with those incidents, Smithley said:

“No. What happened at Vegas happened. People spoke and most people were on my side. It was a mistake. People forget how hard this stuff is. Things happen in a split-second decision. Like I said, I didn’t know he was up there. I glanced up and didn’t see him and ran my line and that was it.”

Briscoe demurred on being overly critical of Smithley, saying “I still haven’t seen a replay” when he talked to reporters.

“It is frustrating even without that lap car, just in general,” Briscoe said. “I totally understand lap cars are obviously off the pace and that makes it tough for them. At this place, the fast guys are running the top and there were a lot of guys that would run the top in front of you.

“We are literally racing for our lives trying to lock into a championship. I haven’t seen the replay so it is hard to say. I know I got tagged in the left rear by Bell but at the same time it felt like (Smithley) was going to put me in the fence regardless.”

Told that Smithley said he wasn’t aware Briscoe was behind, Briscoe said: “I feel like he should have general awareness of what is going on. I totally get where he is coming from. It is tough in those situations. I don’t know. I don’t want to comment on it because I have not been in his position, so I am sure it is tough but it is frustrating to say the least on my end. We go from 15 to go thinking we are going to win the race and lock into Homestead and then you are two points back. It is frustrating. I am sure he will reach out and I appreciate that, but it doesn’t much help the fact.”

Said Bell: “I haven’t seen (a replay) so it’s hard for me to say. Obviously I didn’t mean to wreck the 98. It sucks that we tore up two race cars.”

While Bell and Briscoe were judicious in their words, some Cup drivers expressed their feelings on Twitter:

Smithley took responsibility on Twitter:

 

 

Xfinity results, points after Round of 8 begins at Kansas

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Brandon Jones may have been eliminated from advancement in the Xfinity Series playoffs after the cutoff race at Dover two weeks ago, but on Saturday he lived up to his promise that he’d still win a race in the remainder of the playoffs as the Round of 8 kicked off.

It was Jones’ first win in 134 career Xfinity Series starts. It also was his 14th top-10 finish of 2019.

MORE: Brandon Jones rallies late to earn first career Xfinity win at Kansas

Tyler Reddick finished second, followed by Chase Briscoe, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

POINTS:

Even though he finished 12th after being involved in a late race wreck with Briscoe and Garrett Smithley, Christopher Bell still maintains his lead at the top of the heap of the Xfinity Series point standings.

Bell holds an 11-point lead over Cole Custer and is 12 points ahead of Tyler Reddick and 47 points ahead of Justin Allgaier.

Fifth through eighth are Chase Briscoe (-49 points), Michael Annett (-59 points), Noah Gragson (-64 points) and Austin Cindric (-77 points).

Click here for the updated point standings.

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Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick have physical confrontation after Kansas race

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Xfinity Series championship contenders Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick got involved in a heated confrontation that quickly turned physical after Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Custer, who was angry about Reddick making contact with him, approached his rival after they parked in the pits. Custer put a hand on the shoulder of Reddick, who responded by grabbing Custer with both hands (watch the video above).

The drivers both fell to the ground as they were swarmed by members of both teams. Neither driver seemed to be hurt, though Reddick had a red mark above his right eye.

“I was just frustrated that he can’t keep his car on the bottom and then runs us up into the wall,” Custer told NBC Sports. “If he wants to wreck cars and put them in the wall, that’s fine, but when it affects me, I’m not going to be very happy with him.

“I don’t know. I just went over to talk to him and say that and put my hand on him, and he just went berserk. I thought we had a good car and a shot to win.”

As he approached Reddick, Custer addressed him with “You can be a dumb (expletive).”

“I understand Cole’s frustration 100 percent,” Reddick told NBC Sports. “We’re trying to lock ourselves into Homestead, and he came up to talk after the race. He put a hand on me, I put a hand on him back, and that’s just how it’s going to be if we’re going to have a conversation that way.

“I’m out of breath. Had a fight there with some people, and it was a little bit of fun. I think a lot of Cole and his driving ability.”

Reddick finished runner-up Saturday to Brandon Jones, who won but already had been eliminated from the playoffs and wasn’t eligible to advance to the championship round. Custer finished 10th.

With two races remaining in the Xfinity playoffs at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, Reddick and Custer both are comfortably in position to reach the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Custer is 38 points ahead of the cut line, and Reddick is plus-37. Christopher Bell, who crashed with leader Chase Briscoe when he ran into the rear of the lapped car of Garrett Smithley, remained the championship leader at 49 points ahead of Briscoe, who is two points behind fourth-ranked Justin Allgaier

“It was just heat of the moment,” Reddick said of the scuffle. “We’re pissed off. I’m sure we’ll talk about it here soon, maybe today, tomorrow.

“I hate that it happened to him, but we’ll try and move forward. Both of us have a lot left to lose in this deal, and if we take each other out, neither one of us get to Homestead, and I feel we both deserve to be there.”

A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesman said Reddick and Custer talk led later in the garage as their cars went through postrace inspection.

There also were postrace tweets from Custer and from Reddick.

Custer also was involved in a notable altercation after a truck race three years ago at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where he tackled John Hunter Nemechek in anger after they collided on the last lap while racing for the lead.

Nemechek made light of that situation while Custer did postrace interviews Saturday (see the :50 mark of Dustin Long’s Twitter video below).