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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.

March 30 in NASCAR History: Denny Hamlin earns first Martinsville win

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Back in the late 2000s, Martinsville Speedway might as well have been called Johnsonville Speedway.

Entering the March 30, 2008 race there, Jimmie Johnson had won the previous three races on NASCAR’s oldest track and he had four total since 2004.

By spring 2009 he’d bring that total to six, but not before a Virginia native provided a respite from Johnson’s domination.

Denny Hamlin, in his third full-time season Cup, started second on a dreary, misty day in Virginia that saw the race slowed by 18 cautions. Hamlin led 87 laps around the half-mile track, including the final 74.

Johnson wasn’t a factor in the finish, but Hamlin saw another driver with deep Martinsville history in his rear-view mirror. Hamlin had to hold off Jeff Gordon, then a seven-time Martinsville winner, over the final few laps.

“Finally, the curse is over I think, I hope,” Hamlin told Fox. “We had such bad luck over these last few weeks. It finally feels good to come here and get a win in front of the home town fans. Can’t wait. This is a sign of things to come I believe.”

It would turn out to be his only win of 2008, just like 2007. But within two years, Hamlin would have three more Martinsville grandfather clocks.

The race at Martinsville was also the first career Cup start for Michael McDowell, who drove the No. 00 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Also on this date:

1952: Herb Thomas led all 200 laps from the pole to win a Cup race at North Wilkesboro.

1980: A year after winning his first career Cup Series race at Bristol, Dale Earnhardt went back to victory lane at the half-mile track, winning a second straight race following a victory at Atlanta. Richard Petty was scored as finishing eighth in the race, but he was relieved in the event by Richard Childress, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”

2014: Kurt Busch claims a victory at Martinsville Speedway for his first win with Stewart-Haas Racing and his first win since 2011.

Winners and losers from virtual Texas

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WINNERS

Timmy Hill — Underfunded rides have defined his NASCAR career, but he’s among the more successful Cup drivers in iRacing. He showed that Sunday, winning the Pro Invitational Series race at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway.

Garrett Smithley — He and Timmy Hill are the only drivers to score top-five finishes in each of the first two Pro Invitational races. Smithley was third Sunday.

Kurt Busch — His 10th-place finish Sunday was 25 spots better than his last-place finish the race before at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Larson — His ninth-place finish Sunday was 24 spots better than his finish the race before at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson — He finished 19th Sunday, placing 12 spots better than he did the week before. His performance came a day after he ran in the IndyCar Challenge iRacing race at a virtual Watkins Glen International and finished 16th.

LOSERS

William Byron — Led a race-high 80 of 130 laps before a bump-and-run by Timmy Hill moved Byron up the track and out of the lead in the final laps. Byron went on to finish seventh. Still, it was better than his 34th-place finish the previous race.

Ty Majeski — After placing ninth the race before, he finished 30th Sunday after a speeding pit penalty on pit road.

Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers — With so many Cup drivers taking guaranteed spots in the main event, it leaves few drivers to transfer from the qualifying race. The first week, six Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers advanced. Sunday, it was four.

Timmy Hill celebrates win but knows payback could be coming

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Timmy Hill said he had to make the move.

He also knows there could be consequences.

“But that’s in the future,” Hill said. “I’m kind of living in the present and happy to get the win.”

The 27-year-old driver, whose career has been defined by underfunded rides in NASCAR, used a bump-and-run to take the lead from William Byron with nine laps left and win Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Race results 

MORE: What drivers said after iRacing race at virtual Texas

After he crossed the finish line first, Hill said his wife came up the stairs in their home to hug him and give him a cup of milk.

“Downed it right away,” Hill said.

But he likely was going to hold off contacting Byron, who finished seventh after leading a race-high 80 laps in the 130-lap event, extended by overtime.

“This is a very unique situation because, trust me, it feels real,” Hill said after the victory. “I’m sure (Byron) is mad. That’s one of the situations where I think if I call him today, he probably really wouldn’t even want to talk about it. I’ve got to probably give him some time to cool down.

“I may try to reach out to him. He’ll probably still be mad probably for the next coming weeks. Even though this is iRacing, it is virtual, the feelings are real.”

On the etiquette of iRacing and if there might be a payback, Byron tweeted “if he’s in front of me you can be sure of it” followed by a winking emoji.

The situation came about after a caution led to a restart with five laps left to the scheduled distance of 125 laps.

With four laps to the scheduled distance, Byron led with Hill on his rear bumper entering Turn 1.

“I didn’t go into it thinking I had to move William,” Hill said. ”I’m sure as everybody watched the race, Texas, with the way this format is, wide open in (Turns) 3 and 4, barely lift in (Turns) 1 and 2, I think you see drivers get in massive runs.

“The car in front has a couple options. You can try to race the guy heads‑up, side‑by‑side, or block all you can. For me, in the time remaining, when William threw a big block to protect his line, I had the option of either get hit from behind, hope I don’t get hit from behind, or give him a little bump and run and keep going.

“My mindset, had to make a quick split‑second decision, was to go for the win. I didn’t want to put myself in a bad spot to get hit from behind or take myself out of it. When William blocked going into Turn 1, kept a low line, protected his position, it left very few options for me in Turn 1. That’s kind of my mindset through it.”

Hill, who has no top-10 finishes in 96 career Cup starts and five top-10 finishes, including a third at Daytona in February, in 188 Xfinity starts, said that he hoped Sunday’s win could help with his underfunded teams when racing returns.

“Some of the best drivers are underrecognized because of the opportunity they’re in,” Hill said. “I’ve made a career personally out of taking cars that were 35th- to 40th-place cars, qualifying 25th. The reason I’ve been able to stay in this sport is because I can take a car and elevate it to a level to make fields, ultimately make a paycheck for teams.

“I wish people would kind of focus back towards that side of the garage, understand the deficits that we’re facing going into a race, because I think a lot of guys are shortchanged, some of their talents. I feel like I’m one of them. I feel like a lot of the guys in the top five (in Sunday’s iRacing race) are in the same boat as I am.

“I’m glad this is kind of showing a little bit of that. I don’t know if it will transfer in real life. I’m glad at least for the last couple weeks and going forward that can kind of showcase that a little bit.”

What drivers said after iRacing race at virtual Texas

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Timmy Hill — Winner: I definitely rank (the win) up there (among career achievements). The reason being is just because the platform is being televised on FOX, having essentially the entire NASCAR audience tuning in. I’ve won a lot of iRacing races. It’s neat to win on there. It’s really neat to win against your competitors that you race each and every Sunday.  … For me personally, what I’ll gain from this is recognition. For us, it’s hard to get that recognition because of the level of competition that we are in real life.  We’re doing our best. Frankly, we just don’t have the money, the dollars, to compete at a high level.  Every once in a while we’ll get a big sponsor and you’ll see us exceed normal expectations for us, like at Daytona where we had a really good Daytona 500 car, really good Xfinity car.  We finished third in the Xfinity race, made the Daytona 500. Every once in a while we’ll get that big payday and we can really reinvest in our race team. But most weekends we got to kind of do the best we can with the dollars we have. This win will hopefully gain some recognition and attract more sponsors for us maybe in the real world when we get back racing because they know Timmy Hill from iRacing.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 2nd:

 

Garrett Smithley — Finished 3rd: 

 

Alex Bowman — Finished 5th:

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Finished 6th:

 

William Byron — Finished 7th:

 

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 8th:

 

Kurt Busch — Finished 10th:

Clint Bowyer — Finished 11th: “Today was all about survival, guys. I needed a redo for my Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang because I got together with (Greg) Biffle, ‘The Biff’, off of (Turn) two. I guess we were three-wide. I didn’t realize we were three-wide. My spotter Jeff Gordon, I had to fire him halfway through the race and moved to Larry McReynolds. Larry said nothing when we were three-wide and I wrecked and collected a bunch of them. But again, a great time was had by all. Timmy Hill, big win for him and his brand. It’s going to be a lot of fun to compete in this over the next few weeks. But, man we are all in this together! Looking forward to next week.”

Parker Kligerman — Finished 12th:

 

Bobby Labonte — Finished 13th:

 

Michael McDowell — Finished 14th:

 

Kyle Busch — Finished 17th:

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 19th:

Chase Elliott — Finished 20th:

 

Erik Jones — Finished 21st:

 

Bubba Wallace — Finished 25th:

Alex Labbe — Finished 26th:

 

Austin Dillon — Finished 29th:

 

Ty Majeski — Finished 30th:

 

Ruben Garcia Jr. — Finished 31st:

 

Greg Biffle — Finished 32nd:

 

Daniel Suarez — Finished 33rd:

 

Anthony Alfredo — Finished 35th: