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NASCAR President Steve Phelps addresses short tracks, 2021 schedule

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR President Steve Phelps vowed Sunday morning that the racing at short tracks will be better in 2020.

That was among the key points Phelps discussed in his state of the sport news conference before Sunday’s season-ending Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Phelps also explained what will be the key points to setting the 2021 schedule, more information on the NextGen car that will debut in 2021 and the interest of other manufacturers.

One of the key points Phelps stressed was the racing at short tracks.

While drivers have complained about how difficult it is to pass, at many tracks, those concerns have been greater at some of the short tracks. Martinsville Speedway had only three lead changes each in its races this year as Brad Keselowski led 446 of 500 laps in winning in the spring and Martin Truex Jr. led 464 laps to win the playoff race last month.

Also of concern is the racing at ISM Raceway, which will host the championship races next year for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series. While that suburban Phoenix track has renovated its facilities, the racing has raised questions.

Here’s what Phelps said on a variety of subjects:

On the status of ISM Raceway hosting the championship race beyond next year:

Phelps: We need to make sure we are working with our industry, our teams, our (manufacturers) and Goodyear, to make sure that the racing we have in Phoenix both in the spring as well as our championship next year is as good as it can be.

We’re going to announce that 2021 schedule, as you said, in the spring, probably around April 1st, which is a self‑imposed deadline that we have for ourselves. Could that change forwards or backwards a little bit? It could.

Our promise to our fans, and we’ll do it right here, is that we are going to provide the best racing we can at our short tracks. I think we’ve overdelivered on the intermediate tracks, and we will make sure that when we get to Phoenix in the spring, and some of the other racetracks that are short tracks, that they’re going to have better racing.

On how NASCAR will make the racing better at short tracks in 2020:

Phelps: We’re going to work with our teams in order to figure out how we do that, work with our OEMs to figure out how we do that. Everyone knows I’m not an engineer, I’m not going to play one now.

I am confident, having spoken to people who are far smarter than I am in this space, that there are things we can do. And I think our teams are excited about trying to partner with us to figure out what that looks like.

On if they could just cut the spoiler to enhance the racing at short tracks and when a decision might be made:

Phelps: There are people far smarter than I am that could figure that out. Yes, could we go to something that is a lower downforce package and do we think that will probably be one of the answers that we could look at to be successful on the short tracks? Yes.  Whether it’s cutting off the spoiler, other opportunities for us to take some of the downforce off there, those are things that we’ll explore. No specific timing.

On when NASCAR will announce what sponsors it has in its new model that will see the Cup series known as the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020:

Phelps: This is about our championship, and we wanted to keep it about that. We also wanted to make sure we were making sure we were true to Monster (Energy) and their three years. Monster has been a phenomenal partner for us. They’ve had significant success with their sponsorship and entitlement.

We have moved to a different model. I’m not going to get into what the announcement is, but we’ll have some announcements in Nashville around that new sponsorship model that we’re super excited about.

On cap costs for NASCAR teams as Formula 1 recently announced it would do for 2021:

Phelps: I think reasons to go to this new car, one is to take what is great racing, will be great racing in 2020, to create better racing.  I think this new car will do that, this Next Gen car.

Another component certainly is around relevance. Our (manufacturer) partners were here looking at the showroom car or the street car versus what our racecar will look like. It’s going to be extraordinary. We are going to put the ‘stock’ back in stockcar.

The last component of that is to try to make sure that the costs associated with the car are not such that they just continue to escalate on that car.  Whether we are going to have a cost cap moving forward, I don’t know.  It is not an easy thing to do.  We want to make sure that we have competitive racing.  When the race starts, we want as many folks and drivers to win that race as they can.

Lots of work to do on what we would do, whether we would have a cost cap or not. But it is something that we continue to work with our race teams on to make sure that we are having competitive race teams and race teams that are profitable.

On why there might be a question to do a cost cap:

Phelps: We’re going to see, right? We’re going to see how it works with F1.  A little bit of a wait‑and‑see approach on that.

It is not an easy thing to do, right? How are you going to make sure the costs are being captured fairly and smartly across the race teams? It is a slippery slope. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a good step or it doesn’t mean we’re not going to get there. It means that we’re going to study it very closely. We’re going to study what they’re doing, continue to work with our teams and (manufacturers) to make sure whatever we do moving forward makes the most sense for our sport.

On the 2021 schedule:

Phelps: We’re having a lot of discussions right now on the 2021 schedule. We’re looking at three things when we’re looking at that race schedule. We’re looking at where we’re going to have the most competitive racing that we can have, where we’re going to have full grandstands, and what does that market look like, is it a new market that we can service.

There are a lot of discussions that are going on both internally and then with other owners of racetracks. We need to obviously work with Speedway Motorsports, work with the three independent tracks that we have, then the tracks that we own as NASCAR now.

Again, we’ll look through that same lens. I think it’s important to do that. This is the first time I’ll go back to the fans. It really is about the fans. We need to make sure we are putting on compelling racing and having full grandstands when we do that.

On status of the NextGen car, which is scheduled to debut in 2021:

Phelps: So, yes, the car is on schedule, as I said.  With that said, we’re going now through an RFP (request for proposal) process, RFPing different parts of the car. There are parts that fans don’t frankly care we’re competing, and other parts fans care we’re competing. Also our OEM partners, certain things they want to compete at, certain things they don’t care about.

We’re in the RFP process. We’re on the track already at Richmond. We have another test coming up in a couple of weeks.

When the teams will take delivery of that car, probably in the July timeframe of when the cars will start to be delivered. I have to give a shout out to, again, really the entire industry because they’re working collaboratively, working together. NASCAR runs the process, but there are teams that are involved, OEMs that are involved, and that’s how we’re going to be successful moving forward.

With respect to those that are in the RFPs to build the car, I don’t want to get into specifics about where that is. There would obviously need to be a separation between that race team and whatever either part or the vehicle itself that’s being put together.

If there is a team that is interested in competing for what that’s going to be, it would have to be kind of removed from what that organization is, if that makes sense.

On a new engine:

Phelps: I do think for a new engine, that engine will have some type of electrification, some hybrid that will be part of it.  It’s kind of a follow to the question, in fact, I know for a fact we will not have a new OEM unless we change our engine.

This engine is going to sound significantly the same as whatever the current engine is.  We’re not going to have a bunch of electric cars going around. That’s not what this is about. It’s about having a relevant engine to our OE partners, both the existing Ford, Chevy and Toyota, as well as whoever the new OEs that we’re looking at.

Some form of hybrid, some form of electrification is going to be required, whether it’s stored engine or whatever that might be is down the line. But ideally creating a single engine package as opposed to taking an engine and kind of choking the horsepower down, is something that I believe we will ultimately get to.

What that looks like frankly will be a discussion between ourselves and our existing OEs because we need to make sure we are taking care of them first and foremost before we get a new OEM into the garage. They have been incredibly supportive of that.

We’ve had a couple of different partners come to the racetrack.  We had some last week. We had a group that came when we were at Talladega. Each of the OEs showed them what they do, this is what Ford does, this is what we do at GM, this is what we do at Toyota. That’s incredibly helpful.  They, too, want to be able to compete on the racetrack with other OEs.

ThorSport Racing to mark 25th Trucks anniversary with Daytona season opener

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ThorSport Racing will reach a significant milestone when the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series kicks off the 2020 season on Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway: the Sandusky, Ohio organization will celebrate its 25th anniversary as a team in the Truck Series.

ThorSport, which is the longest-operating team in the Truck series, is returning with last season’s lineup intact for 2020: defending series champion Matt Crafton (crew chief Carl Joiner Jr.) in the No. 88, Johnny Sauter (crew chief Joe Shear Jr.) in the No. 13, Grant Enfinger (crew chief Jeff Hensley) in the No. 98 and Ben Rhodes (crew chief Matt Noyce) in the No. 99.

Since its initial driver, Terry Cook, competed in three races in the 1996 season, ThorSport has gone on to win three championships, all by Crafton (2013, 2014 and 2019). The team has compiled 30 wins by Cook, Crafton, Sauter, Rhodes, Enfinger and Chase Briscoe, as well as 253 top five and 533 top-10 finishes, plus 33 poles in the series.

It also captured one championship by Frank Kimmel in the ARCA Menards Series.

ThorSport drivers have finished in the top 10 in Truck Series points a total of 27 times, including a current streak of 13 in a row by Crafton from 2007 through 2019.

Crafton (453) and Cook (296) hold the record for most consecutive starts in Truck Series history. The Truck Series began competition in 1995, one year before ThorSport joined the series.

To mark its 25th Anniversary, all four ThorSport Racing Ford F-150’s will sport a special silver paint scheme at the season-opener in Daytona.

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Matt DiBenedetto: Indy road course ‘everything we could ask for’

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After a morning spent testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Matt DiBenedetto admits the circuit is “tougher than I thought,” but that its 14- and 12-turn formats have “everything we could ask for” competitively.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver piloted a No. 22 Team Penske car around the road course for the only scheduled test ahead of the Xfinity Series’ debut on the circuit July 4 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

“The part that I like the most about this course is that it actually does have multiple passing opportunities, and that was one of the things we wanted to evaluate is how it’s going to race, how technical it is in the passing zone,” DiBenedetto said during a press conference between test sessions.

“So the cool thing is what we love as road racers is heavy braking zones. Clearly, the end of the front straightaway here, you have a very heavy braking zone. You also have another long back straightaway getting into Turn 7, which is a heavy braking zone. And then on the 14-turn course, you have another braking zone coming into (Turns) 12, 13, and 14. When you come up onto the short chute, get on the brakes, get on there.

“There’s high-speed stuff. There’s low-speed stuff. So it’s pretty much everything we could ask for from a competitor’s standpoint for raceability. Also, the little chicane back there coming on the back straightaway is really technical. I’m still figuring out my approach to that. There’s a lot of different elements to the racetrack that makes it exciting.”

DiBenedetto described how the Indy track compares to other road courses that NASCAR series compete on.

“Coming off of that chicane, exiting it, I’ve made comparisons to Sonoma already,” DiBendetto said. “Then some of the low-speed stuff, where you’re in either first or second gear, I’ve compared to Mid-Ohio, which is also a really neat course.

“And then I guess you could compare it to maybe a Watkins Glen or something, where you’re flying down the front straightaway and then you have a real heavy braking zone, which is perfect, which allows the opportunity to pull out and try and pass people and outbrake and all those different things.”

DiBenedetto said there is “no doubt” there will be physical racing come July.

“There’s a lot of areas not only to try and outbrake and pass, but actually set up in the prior corner, to set up for those passing zones and things like that,” DiBenedetto said. “There’s some low-speed stuff where people might just use their bumper and knock them out of the way, whatever. So there’s opportunities for all of that.”

The main goals of the test were to gather data that will help NASCAR determine which road course format to use, how long the race will be, evaluate safety concerns and to gather info for Goodyear.

Wayne Auton, Xfinity Series managing director, said Goodyear brought tire setups from the Xfinity Series races at Road America and Mid-Ohio, as well as the Charlotte Roval. The morning session had DiBenedetto using the Roval tires.

“Goodyear is getting a lot of data with Matt’s feel inside the race car,” Auton said during the press conference. “And going down into this long straightaway and into that real slow Turn 1 area … Matt’s done us a great job, and we’re getting a lot of input. We’ll do some maybe 10-lap runs here this afternoon and see what we find out from that and take that back, and then we’ll decide on which course we’re going to run.”

Auton said that video from a GoPro camera placed in DiBenedetto’s car will be shared with drivers who will compete in the July 4 race (DiBenedetto will not be eligible to compete due to conducting the test) and that some data collected by Team Penske would be shared with competitors.

The main difference between the 12- and 14-turn layout is the final section of the circuit, which empties from the infield road course onto what is Turn 1 of the oval. In the 12-turn format, cars drive completely through Turn 1 (Turn 12) heading the opposite way Cup cars will drive when they race on the oval for the July 5 Brickyard 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

On the 14-turn layout, after returning to the oval from the infield portion of the road course in the short chute between Oval Turn 1 and 2, there is sharp right-hander (Turn 12) toward the infield, followed by a left-hander (Turn 13) which leads back to the frontstretch (Turn 14). It is the same portion of the track IndyCar uses for its race on that circuit two weeks before the Indianapolis 500.

DiBenedetto said both the 12- or 14-turn format “would put on great racing.”

“The 14-turn course, you’re coming up on that short chute, and it’s right on edge, and you get to brake right next to the wall there (in the short chute between oval Turns 1 and 2), which is pretty cool, and it’s just really unique. I can’t compare that to anything actually. So that’s a cool technical passing zone opportunity.

“Then on the 12-turn course, it spiked the old heart rate pretty good coming through backwards through oval Turn 1 … That was very weird.”

 

Roush Fenway adds Castrol as primary sponsor of Ryan Newman

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Castrol will be a primary sponsor of Ryan Newman in select Cup Series races in 2020, Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday.

Castrol joins a roster of sponsors on the No. 6 Ford that includes Oscar Mayer and Wyndham Rewards, which both recently extended their deals with the team.

Castrol will make its debut as a primary sponsor in the March 1 race at Auto Club Speedway.

“We are really excited to have Castrol on board as our official oil partner,” Jack Roush said in a press release. “Castrol has been a leader in engine lubrication for as long as I can recall. They have a history of competing with great success at the highest levels of motorsports. I’m looking forward to the edge we feel they will provide our race cars going forward and we can’t wait to launch our partnership in Daytona.”

Castrol was last a major primary sponsor in NASCAR when Casey Atwood competed for Brewco Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 1999-2000. It has also sponsored D.J. Kennington in a handful of starts across all three national series.

“Jack has a hard-earned reputation for success in NASCAR and all of us at Castrol are thrilled by the opportunity to join the Roush Fenway team,” David Bouet, Castrol’s US president, said in a press release.

“Castrol has a long history of partnership and success with many Ford teams – in NHRA, World Rally and with the iconic Ford GTs in endurance. We look forward to using this proven race expertise and our leading performance technology to build on the team’s record of success.”

Newman is entering his second full-time season with Roush Fenway Racing and his 19th full-time Cup season.

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Matt DiBenedetto to test Xfinity car on Indy road course

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Matt DiBenedetto will take part in a one-car Xfinity test today on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.

The test by the Wood Brothers Racing driver comes after the track and NASCAR announced last week that the July 4 Xfinity Series race (1:30 p.m. ET on NBC) will be held on the road course rather than the historic 2.5-mile oval.

Due to DiBenedetto taking part in the test, he will not be eligible to compete in the race.

While there could be a tire test at some point, there are no plans at this time for any additional testing other than DiBenedetto’s. New track owner Roger Penske said the focus of the test with DiBenedetto will be primarily to look at run-off areas.

“We will not be running at any speeds here next week, just with the weather,” Penske said during the announcement. “If someone thinks we picked (DiBenedetto) to run this. This was a car that could be available.”

The high for Wednesday in Speedway, Indiana, is not expected to top 40 degrees.

The July 4 race will be the fifth road course event on the 33-race schedule for the Xfinity Series this season.

The Xfinity Series has raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2012. Kyle Busch has won four of those races. Other winners have been Justin Allgaier (2018), William Byron (2017), Ty Dillon (2014) and Brad Keselowski (2012).