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NASCAR makes changes to pit stops for select Xfinity, Truck races

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NASCAR will implement new pit stop rules for select Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races in 2020, the sanctioning body revealed Tuesday.

The rules will be in place for most Xfinity and Truck races that do not compete with the Cup Series at the same track on the same weekend.

Here are the new rules for the select Xfinity and Truck races this season:

  • The field is frozen when the caution is displayed. Stage breaks will have a full pit cycle (two opportunities to pit). For non-stage breaks there will be a full pit cycle (two opportunities to pit). There also could be an optional quickie yellow (one opportunity to pit).
  • The team roster will consist of eight crew members at these events. The pit crew — four to service the car, one fueler and one driver assist — must come from among those eight team members on the roster. This is a way to help teams save money since they won’t need to pay for the services of a pit crew that is not a part of their team roster.
  • The pit stop must be completed within a designated time period. That time will be determined later.
  • On an oval track, teams may add fuel and change two tires per stop.
  • On a road course, teams may add fuel or change four tires per stop.

NASCAR stated that the following penalties will be issued for violations: 

  • Cars will start at the tail end of the field if they exceed the time limit on pit road.
  • If a car is involved in an incident, the team will be allowed to change four tires at once to avoid damaging the vehicle but will start at the tail end of the field.
  • A car will start at the tail end if it pits other than on the designated lap.

NASCAR will issue two-lap penalties for the following violations:

  • Change four tires and add fuel on any pit stop
  • Change tires under green (unless approved by NASCAR for damage)
  • Perform a four-tire stop on any pit stop (on oval track only)

For the restart, the field will line up:

  • Vehicles that did not pit
  • Vehicles that pitted one time, followed by vehicles that pitted two times
  • Free pass vehicle, wave around vehicles and penalty vehicles.

As for the reason for the change in format at the select races, Eric Peterson, technical manager for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, said: “We believe this procedure will increase competition on track, incentivize different strategy plays to bring interesting storylines for the fans and bring efficiencies to teams that will help help strengthen the garage now and into the future.”

The new rules will be in place for Xfinity races at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (May 30), Iowa Speedway (June 13 and Aug. 1) and Road America (Aug.  8). Truck races at Iowa Speedway (June 12), World Wide Technology Raceway (Aug. 21) and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Sept. 6) will use the new procedures.

The Truck race at Eldora Speedway (July 30) already has special rules regarding pit stops.

The exception for the Truck Series is the June 5 race at Texas Motor Speedway. That race will not have these special rules.

Peterson said NASCAR is using these races “as an avenue to test and try this out. … We wanted to dip our toe in the water and do a deliberate, strategic approach to implementing and getting a look at it. The reason why we selected the events we did was because they are standalone events. Any events for the Gander Truck Series and the Xfinity Series that are not with Cup presents some challenges from a logistical end from doing the pit stop. This is a way to alleviate the burden that teams have with performing pit stops at the races that are not companion events to the Cup Series.”

Peterson said the reasoning for limiting what teams can do on pit stops is to alter strategies and restarts.

“All the teams that consistently run in the top 10, our current pit stop strategy really did not mix the field up very well,” Peterson said. “It was an average position change of right around one position. That’s the reason we took this other approach. The purpose of coming down pit road and doing pit stops is to hopefully mix the field up a little bit where you don’t have a follow-the-leader race the entire race. What we currently have at all the other events does not mix that up very well. That was one of the reasons we are going this route with these standalone races.”

The first Iowa race last year saw Christopher Bell lead 186 of 250 laps to win. There were two lead changes in the last 190 laps of that race. Last year’s Truck race at Iowa saw Ross Chastain lead the final 141 laps to take the checkered flag before his victory was taken away when his truck failed post-race inspection.

Peterson said that while each race will still have three stages, the length of the stages will be altered to prevent the need for a green-flag pit stop. In 2019, the final stage was typically longer than a fuel run, forcing teams to stop. The final stage will be shortened for 2020.

Peterson said fans will play a role in determining if this system is used in more races.

“The primary driver of that will be fan interest and engagement and feedback we get from the fans, along with how we see the races play out and utilizing the metrics we have here for passing,” he said.

Peterson also said the focus remains on the Xfinity and Truck Series for these rules.

“Right now there are no plans for the Cup Series,” he said.

Wayne Auton, the Xfinity Series managing director, said Wednesday morning on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the designated time will be based on when a car enters pit road, crossing a yellow line, and when it exits pit road by crossing a yellow line.

Auton also addressed what would happen if a race on a road course started in dry conditions and then it rained, forcing teams to change to rain tires.

Auton said NASCAR would throw a caution and open pit road and declare the caution is for weather or track conditions. Teams then have the option to come down pit road and change to rain tires. At any time during the race, teams will be approved to come down pit road under green to change to slicks if the track dries. Auton said that teams will have a minimum time that they cannot beat — the time from when the car enters pit road road, performs its service and exits pit road — in those green-flag stops.

 

John Ray, who drove patriotic big rig at Talladega, dies at 82

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
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One of Talladega Superspeedway’s most endearing and popular figures has passed away.

John “Johnny” Ray, whose diesel big rig carrying an American flag around the 2.66-mile track has been a fixture during the playing of the National Anthem at NASCAR Cup races for the past two decades, has died at the age of 82, the track announced Monday.

Ray began the tradition behind the wheel of his gold, brown and chrome-colored Peterbilt semi-tractor in 2001, with an oversized American flag flowing in the breeze behind the tractor.

The procession quickly became a significant fan favorite, eliciting loud cheers and applause from fans in the stands each time it passed by on the track’s front stretch.

“We just had the 9/11 attacks and Dale (Earnhardt) had also passed away earlier that year,” Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, Alabama, said in an interview three years ago. “I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back. It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it.”

Ray, who started his own trucking company in the early 1970s, and also had a brief NASCAR racing career of his own, ceded driving duties of the big rig several years ago to his late friend, Roger Haynes, and then last year to son Johnny Ray, to continue the tradition.

“National Anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” Speedway President Brian Crichton said in a media release. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated.

“He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

Funeral arrangements for John Ray are pending, according to the track.

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Ryan Blaney experienced Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’ in person

NASCAR Twitter
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CONCORD, N.C. — Kobe Bryant didn’t ask normal questions.

Nearly two years after a 20-minute conversation in the back of a Las Vegas steakhouse, that’s what sticks out to Ryan Blaney about the five-time NBA champion.

Blaney reflected on his encounter with Bryant on Monday, roughly 24 hours after the 41-year-old former Los Angeles Laker was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

MORE: NASCAR community mourns death of Kobe Bryant

The encounter between the Team Penske driver and Bryant came in October 2018 during a convention for Body Armor, a sports drink company Bryant was an investor in that sponsors Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“We went into a backroom and all of a sudden Kobe Bryant was standing there,” Blaney said during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Pretty amazing that he was back there and they let me meet him.”

During their meeting, Blaney gifted Bryant the firesuit that he wore during the race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier that year.

“He was pretty excited about that,” Blaney said. “Just being able to talk to a guy like that for 20 minutes, someone who didn’t really know a lot about racing, but wanted to learn everything about it 20 minutes. Just the way he asked questions, (he) was so interested in it, to me I could see where they call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ comes from and how he used it in basketball to become so great.

“That was the coolest moment. I don’t get star struck very often. I knew all the answers, but I was getting nervous that I would answer wrong when he was asking me questions he knew nothing about. That’s just his atmosphere.”

Bryant didn’t pepper Blaney with the cliche questions one expects from those uninitiated with auto racing.

“I just didn’t expect the amount of interest he showed, he wanted to learn everything about it,” Blaney said. “It wasn’t like the (how do you use the) bathroom question. It wasn’t ‘do you get dizzy?’ It was technical stuff and shows what kind of amazing, intellectual person that he was. That was something that really tickled me, how excited he was to learn about it.”

Blaney, who said he was a Bryant fan growing up in the ’90s before LeBron James arrived on the scene to play for his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, said it was a “shame” he was never able to get Bryant to attend a race weekend.

“For somebody who has inspired so many young boys and girls around the country for decades, the social media stuff the last day and half has been unbelievable to see people who looked up to him growing up. I did too, I ain’t lying, how can you not watch Kobe Bryant when you’re growing up as a kid? A terrible loss. I hate that for his family and the other family involved.”

Bryant didn’t forget about their steakhouse encounter. He later sent Blaney a signed copy of his book, “The Mamba Mentality.”

Blaney keeps it on display on a bookshelf.

“Just really neat,” Blaney said. “You respect other great athletes and people and their work ethic. I think that’s what impressed me the most about him was his work ethic at everything. He’d outwork you at every little bit. You’ve got to respect somebody like that, who will figure out how to beat you and if he can’t do it with talent he’s going to outwork you really hard. I don’t know, it’s just amazing to get a privilege like that. It’s hard to describe.”

Brendan Gaughan to run 4 final Cup races in 2020, including Daytona 500

Photo: Beard Motorsports' Twitter account
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Brendan Gaughan will kick off his 23rd and final season of NASCAR racing in the 62nd Daytona 500 for Beard Motorsports.

Gaughan – who is using the hashtag #NotGaughanYet to symbolize his final season — will drive the No. 62 Chevrolet at Daytona. If he qualifies, it will be his fifth time in the 500 field, with his best finish coming in 2017 when he finished 11th.

The 44-year-old Gaughan is slated to drive four races this season in NASCAR Cup for Beard Motorsports. In addition to the Daytona 500, he’ll also race April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway, August 29 back at Daytona and will make the final start of his racing career on October 4 back at Talladega.

The Las Vegas native has made 12 previous starts for Beard Motorsports, all at either Daytona and Talladega.

“I love racing, and competing with Beard Motorsports these last few years have made for some of my most enjoyable moments in NASCAR,” Gaughan said in a media release. “We do a lot with a little, so when we run up front and lead laps, it’s very satisfying because you know all the work that went into it.”

Last April, Gaughan led five laps at Talladega and gave Beard Motorsports its second top-10 finish in the Cup Series, finishing eighth. Gaughan also finished seventh at Daytona for Beard Motorsports in July 2017.

“I wouldn’t want my last races as a NASCAR driver to be with any other team,” Gaughan said. “(Team owner) Mark Beard Sr., and his entire family are passionate about racing, and NASCAR in particular. We’re all competitive and want to perform, but we’re going to have fun doing it. That’s how we all got started in the sport – because it was fun. And as I wrap up my career, I’m going to make sure it stays fun.”

Gaughan has made 62 prior starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie season in 2004, when he earned his best career finish in the series (fourth at Talladega).

He also has made 219 starts in the Xfinity Series with two wins, and 217 starts in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series with eight wins.

Gaughan’s effort at Daytona will be in a chassis built by Richard Childress Racing and powered by a motor from ECR Engines. He’ll be sponsored by Beard Oil Distributing, South Point Hotel & Casino and City Lights Shine whiskey moonshine.

He begins his quest to qualify for the 40-car field with Daytona 500 qualifying on February 9. His lap will determine his starting spot in the Feb. 13 Duel – twin 150-mile heat races that set the rest of the field for the Great American Race.

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UniFirst to sponsor Chase Elliott in three Cup Series races this year

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
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UniFirst will be a sponsor of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet in three Cup Series races this year, Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday.

The company will be on Elliott’s car at Phoenix Raceway (March 8), the All-Star Race (May 16) and the playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 27).

A work clothing and uniform supplier, UniFirst has been a Hendrick Motorsports sponsor since 2016. It sponsored William Byron in four races in 2018 and three last year.

UniFirst also will be featured as an associate sponsor for all races in 2020.