Joe Gibbs Racing among serious bidders to build Next Gen chassis

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – When NASCAR initially set a 2021 deadline for launching its NextGen car, Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson was skeptical of the timeframe.

Nearly a year later, he believes NASCAR’s overhaul is on track for next season, but he still has reservations about the aggressive rollout of a project that he compares with one of the most ambitious undertakings of the 20th century.

“We need another year, really,” Wilson told NBCSports.com last week about the release of the new car. “Because here’s my concern: We can’t afford to get this wrong. But the analogy is when NASA is doing a moon shot or rocket launch, that’s pretty well thought out, and they’re not afraid to pull the date back. What we’re doing in a relative sense feels like the same thing.

“There’s going to be more change in a year than this sport has seen in the past 60 years combined. Cumulative. It’s a revolutionary change. We as an industry need to get this right.”

During his annual address of the news media Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR president Steve Phelps reaffirmed multiple times that the Next Gen is on pace for a 2021 debut.

A prototype of the car recently made its debut at Richmond Raceway with Austin Dillon (whose Richard Childress Racing team worked with NASCAR to build the prototype), but Cup teams likely won’t take delivery on a real-world version to test until next July.

Using a Request For Proposal-type process, NASCAR is soliciting bids on suppliers for the various stock elements that the new car will have, principally the chassis (in a structure that will resemble how Dallara supplies IndyCar teams with a standard chassis).

“The car is on schedule,” Phelps said. “I have to give a shoutout to, again, really the entire industry because they’re working collaboratively.  NASCAR runs the process, but there are teams that are involved, (manufacturers) that are involved, and that’s how we’re going to be successful moving forward.”

Multiple people familiar with the Next Gen process but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly told NBCSports.com that there are at least three companies being considered seriously to build the chassis.

That list includes Joe Gibbs Racing, which is one of multiple Cup teams that inquired about bidding on the chassis.

It isn’t unusual for a Cup team to build chassis for others (such as Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and JGR) have counted rivals as clients. But it would be new to have a single team that builds chassis for the entire field.

Phelps mostly demurred when asked by NBCSports.com how NASCAR would handle that arrangement.

“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,” Phelps said. “There would obviously need to be a separation between that race team and whatever 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.”

Wilson said TRD favors Cup teams getting involved in the business of building the new car because of their familiarity with the output.

“It’s kind of polarizing because of the perceived advantage for the team that’s supplying, but the reason I say that it works to our favor is because nobody understands like a team does what it means to make a quality part,” he said.

Goodyear’s move from a 15- to 18-inch wheel with the new car also will need to be factored into the timeline of the rollout. Goodyear’s Greg Stucker said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR’s The Morning Drive that it’ll be a “significant change,” but that the tire supplier is on schedule with NASCAR and teams.

Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook said nearly 10 months ago that he was optimistic about having the new car by 2021 and reiterated his enthusiasm in a Saturday news conference with manufacturer executives hosted by NASCAR.

“It’s a very exciting time for NASCAR,” Rushbrook said. “To see all the technology and architecture changes that are going into Next Gen, it’s had a very successful test already. I think the fans are going to be excited once they see the final versions of the car. And then leading beyond ’21 to further technology with hybrid I think is important for all of us as manufacturers.”

The commonality of the new car should eliminate the assembly lines that many teams have and result in cost savings (in part by trimming staff). That theoretically should lower the barrier of entry to NASCAR for new teams and manufacturers (NASCAR courted a prospective automaker two weeks ago in Phoenix, according to Phelps).

Ed Laukes, group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor North America, said the cost reductions were “overdue and had to happen, so one way or another there needs to be new blood brought into the sport, new team ownership brought into the sport, and this is the way that it’s going to happen. I think the vision of (NASCAR chairman) Jim France and of NASCAR right now was very, very appropriate.”

The new car also will enhance showroom relevance with the addition of independent rear suspension.

“When you see the proportions of this car, it fits the production vehicle even better, particularly in the rear,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet. “It matches up to where the Camaro is, and we’re really quite excited about that. Finally, we’ve got symmetry between left‑ and right‑hand side. We needed that so it looks more like the street car.  We’ll have a wheel that really mirrors a little bit closer to what you see on the production side in terms of size.”

Phelps said NASCAR has another test of the new car in a few weeks, and Toyota had a Next Gen body in a wind tunnel last week for the second time.

“I handicapped the possibility of racing in ’21 (with the Next Gen car) as a very slim chance,” Wilson said. “I have to eat a little crow. It is on the calendar as they laid out. On paper, it certainly looks like ’21, and certainly Jim France has not given one inch to hedging that.

“I will say that everything has to go to that schedule. There’s no margin for slipping.”

Wilson also believes there needs to be more than one vendor available for some parts to safeguard against unforeseen emergencies and faulty manufacturing.

“I was talking to Steve O’Donnell and Jim France at Charlotte just kind of cautioning them relative to the slippery slope that you have with a single-source supplier,” Wilson said. “Anecdotally, we used to have one valve-spring supplier, and that bit us in the butt. Now we have two. The issue there is very pragmatic, in case say you have a fire that takes out your factory. But the other side is you have a bad batch of material or something that puts you in a tough spot, and you don’t have a backup.

“So just suggesting that they use some, not common sense per se, but that they think about contingencies relative to the supply of parts and pieces.”

Wilson also believes a backup is needed for keeping the 2020 cars in place just in case NASCAR is unable to hit the 2021 target.

But he added the financial straits that many teams are facing have made the ’21 deadline a necessary reality for the NASCAR industry.

“We all know there are teams on the precipice of failing. So there is a lot of pressure,” Wilson said. “We appreciate and respect that there are parts of our sport that are in trouble.

“The team ownership model is nuts. So it’s not that we shouldn’t be attempting (the Next Gen in ’21). But we just need to get it right. If we can’t — hand on heart — make that target in ’21, we need to be prepared with a contingency plan.”

Champion crew chief Jeff Hammond returning to pit box

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Jeff Hammond, a two-time Cup champion crew chief, will be the crew chief for Clay Greenfield in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Clay Greenfield Motorsports announced Tuesday night.

“It’s like coming full circle to be able to return to the top of the box for such a first-class team and a hungry driver like Clay Greenfield,” Hammond said in a statement from the team. “I believe this Rackley Roofing #68 is going to turn some heads and prove that we’re a team to respect!”

Said Greenfield in a statement: “We are thrilled to have a legendary crew chief like Jeff join our team and help take us to the next level. With the addition of Jeff combined with equipment upgrades Rackley Roofing has allowed us to make, we are poised to have the most successful season in CGM’s history.”

Hammond won 43 Cup races and Cup titles in 1982 and ’85 with Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip. Hammond last served as a crew chief in NASCAR in 2000 with Chad Little before joining Fox Sports as an analyst.

Hammond said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Late Shift” that “I’m not going to do as much television this year, and I got a chance to meet and get to know Clay a little bit last year. We’ve been kicking some things around. … Their desire is a lot like mine. When you go do something, do it right. They’ve shown me already their intention to be a first-class operation with making good decisions.”

Greenfield will compete in at least eight series races this season with Rackley Roofing as the primary sponsor.

Greenfield has 46 career Truck starts since 2010. He ran in four races last season. His best career finish in the series is eighth at Talladega in 2017.

 

Silly season scorecard: Daniel Suarez joins Gaunt Brothers Racing

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The biggest remaining piece to the puzzle that was the 2019-20 NASCAR silly season has been put into place with the confirmation that Daniel Suarez will compete full-time in the Cup Series with Gaunt Brothers Racing.

Suarez moves from Stewart-Haas Racing over to GBR to drive its No. 96 Toyota. This will be the first full-time Cup campaign for the team.

Here’s a recap of all the major headlines from silly season.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 00: Quin Houff will race for Star Com Racing full-time. Announced Nov. 27.

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 15: Brennan Poole will make his Cup debut and will drive for Premium Motorsports full-time. Announced Dec 11.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after the 2019 season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 32: Corey LaJoie will return for a second straight full season with Go Fas Racing and the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year. Ryan Sparks will serve as his crew chief.

No. 37: Ryan Preece moves from the No. 47 to the No. 37. He will have a new crew chief, Trent Owens, who has been crew chief on the No. 37 for the past three seasons.

No. 38: John Hunter Nemechek replaces the now retired David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports. Announced Dec. 12.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 47: JTG Daugherty Racing announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. On Dec. 2, the team announced Stenhouse will drive the No. 47, with Brian Pattie serving as his crew chief.

No. 77: Ross Chastain will drive the car as part of a partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing and Spire Motorsports in the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 (announcement made Jan. 9).

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

No. 96: Daniel Suarez joins Gaunt Brothers Racing for his fourth full-time Cup season and the team’s first (announcement made Jan. 28).

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley and Joey Gase will drive two of the team’s three full-time rides. The third driver has not been named yet, although David Ragan will compete in the Daytona 500.

Kaulig Racing: The Xfinity Series team will attempt to make its Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500 with Justin Haley (announcement made Jan. 10).

ANNOUNCED PLANS IN OTHER NASCAR SERIES

Xfinity Series 

Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 Ross Chastain would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley, who returns for a second full-time season and will drive the No. 11 Chevy.

More: Kaulig Racing announces full-time crew chiefs for 2020

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Will field the No. 21 full-time with three drivers, Myatt Snider, Anthony Alfredo and Kaz Grala. Andy Street will serve as crew chief. Snider will also compete in selected races for Ryan Sieg Racing.

Stewart-Haas RacingChase Briscoe will remain with the team for his second full-time season (announcement made Jan. 6).

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team, while Colby Howard will compete for the majority of the season.

SS Greenlight Racing – Former Richard Childress Racing driver Joe Graf Jr. will compete full-time in the No. 08 Chevrolet (announcement made Jan. 16)

Martins MotorsportsTommy Joe Martins‘ team returns to the track with Martins set to drive the No. 44 car (announcement made Dec. 24).

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed, Tyler Ankrum and in six races, World of Outlaws driver David Gravel.

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Halmar Friesen Racing — Stewart Friesen will return for a third full-time season in the No. 52 Truck. The team will also switch from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2020.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

Niece Motorsports – Ty Majeski will drive the No. 45 truck full-time, taking the place of Ross Chastain. Announced Dec. 10. Carson Hocevar and Natalie Decker will compete part-time for the team.

DGR-Crosley/Front Row Motorsports – An alliance between the two teams will field an entry for Todd Gilliland in the No. 38 truck (announced Jan. 13), but it will be in a Ford instead of a Toyota (Announced Dec. 11).

McAnally-Hilgemann Racing – 2019 NASCAR ARCA Menards Series West champion Derek Kraus will compete full-time for the new team in the No. 19 (announcement made Jan. 13).

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It’s official: Daniel Suarez to drive for Gaunt Brothers Racing in 2020

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Gaunt Brothers Racing made it official Tuesday that Daniel Suarez will drive the team’s No. 96 Toyota Camry in the Cup series this season.

The team, which has run a limited Cup schedule since 2017, will run the full season. Gaunt Brothers Racing will not have a charter.

“It’s great to be back with Toyota and back in the NASCAR Cup Series,” the 28-year-old Suárez said in a statement from the team. “My NASCAR career started off really well and Toyota was a very big part of that. To have them in my corner again gives me a lot of confidence. Gaunt Brothers Racing has something to prove and so do I. We’re committed to each other and we’re going to build each other up.”

This will be the fourth Cup season for Suarez. He won the 2016 Xfinity Series title before moving to Cup. He drove two seasons for Joe Gibbs Racing before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing for 2019. He was replaced by Cole Custer after last season. Suarez has yet to make the Cup playoffs.

Dave Winston will serve as Suárez’s crew chief. Winston was at Richard Childress Racing where he was vehicle performance group engineer and also the race engineer for Daniel Hemric. Winston has served as a crew chief before, spending 2014 at BK Racing with driver Alex Bowman and 2016 at Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing with driver Michael McDowell.

Coca-Cola and CommScope will continue their partnerships with Suarez. The team did not announce how many races those companies will be on the car.

“We’ve been working toward this moment since Gaunt Brothers Racing joined the Cup Series in 2017,” said Marty Gaunt, president, Gaunt Brothers Racing, in a statement. “We’ve made steady improvement every year, but bringing Daniel on board allows us to take a giant leap forward. We’re investing in each other. He’s not content to just be here and neither are we. We’ve been very strategic in everything we’ve done, and between our partnership with Toyota and the resources now available to us, we can take that next step and deliver for Daniel and all of our partners.”

Suarez told reporters Tuesday in a conference call with reporters that “in the last couple of weeks, I have been going to bed thinking that my goal is to take Gaunt Brothers Racing … that some people know as a part-time team, to a winning team. That is going to happen. It’s going to take some time but it’s going to happen.”

Gaunt said Tuesday night in a conference call with reporters that Toyota Racing Development will provide all the engines for the team. TRD provides engines for Joe Gibbs Racing and Leavine Family Racing.

Gaunt said that acquiring a charter remains a priority for the organization. A charter guarantees a team a starting position in each race.

“It’s top of mine,” Gaunt said of the goal of acquiring a charter. “We made some phone calls, unfortunately there is not a charter available at the present time but it is high on our priority list. If one comes available we’ll be the first person to be at that table to have those conversations.”

Suarez replaces NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman, who ran 14 of the team’s 15 races last season.

NASCAR shortens final stage for several Cup races

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR has changed the length of stages for 16 Cup races this season, primarily shortening the final stage in those events.

The overall length of those races did not change, except for the Pocono doubleheader events. NASCAR also announced that with the stages changing, the end of Stage 2 will go beyond the halfway point of the race. NASCAR stated that a Cup race would be official at the halfway point should it have to end early, a change from last year.

NASCAR reveled the changes to reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Here are the changes:

At speedway races, the Daytona 500 stages will now be 65 laps/65/70. The final stage of last year’s Daytona 500 was 80 laps.

At Talladega, the stages will be 60/60/68 laps. The final stage for last year’s races there were 78 laps.

“With the 550 engine package, the fuel mileage was different and the fuel windows got really tight before this change,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. “All this does is make it so in the final stage there is more than a couple of lap option for the whole field to pit and it gives a little bit more leeway at the end on fuel should we go into overtime. That’s why the speedway races got changed.”

At intermediate tracks:

Atlanta’s Cup race will feature stages that are 105/105/115 laps. Last year’s final stage at Atlanta was 155 laps.

The Cup races at Texas will have stages of 105/105/124. Last year’s final stage was 164 laps.

Darlington’s Cup race will have stages of 115/115/137. The final stage of last year’s Southern 500 was 167 laps.

“The way those races laid out before, (they) had an extremely long third stage with two green-flag stops necessary,” Miller said. “So what we did was we shortened the final stage. It now only has to have one green-flag stop. The center stage is longer, but we kind of collectively thought, having that last stage not be so long … would keep the field tighter and make for more exciting racing.”

At tracks 1 mile or less in length, the changes are:

Phoenix Raceway, site of the championship race, will now have stages of 75/115/122. The final stage at Phoenix last year was 162 laps.

New Hampshire’s Cup race will have stages of 75/110/116 laps. The final stage of last year’s race there was 151 laps.

Dover’s Cup races will have stages of 75/162/163 laps. The final stage of last year’s race was 160 laps.

Richmond’s Cup races will have stages of 80/155/165 laps. The final stage of last year’s race was 200 laps.

“Phoenix, New Hampshire, Dover and Richmond, the goal there was to create some stages that potentially gave us some more strategy options for the crew chiefs,” Miller said. “Typically, those races laid out to where there was no stop necessary in Stage 1 and Stage 2 and a green-flag stop necessary in Stage 3. These shifts in stage length put us to where … there is a need for a green-flag stop in the second and the third stage. Some more strategy options available there.”

New this year is the Pocono doubleheader on June 27-28. The Saturday race is 130 laps and will feature stages of 25/52/53 laps. The Sunday race is 140 laps and will feature stages of 30/55/55.

Miller said that stage lengths had yet to be set this season for the races at Watkins Glen, Sonoma and the Charlotte Roval.

“At the road courses, there’s only one green flag stop that is necessary and that is in the third stage,” Miller said. “We’re talking about reducing the fuel cell capacity and creating some stage lengths that again create a green-flag stop in Stage 2 and Stage 3. Still some work to do there on particulars on the fuel cell and make sure that everything works with the industry. I think we will probably get there.”

Miller also said that NASCAR explored the notion of four stages for every event — only the Coca-Cola 600 has four stages — but that was dropped.