Getty Images

Strategy is goal of pit road experiment in Xfinity, Trucks

1 Comment

While Xfinity and Truck Series teams will save some money with the newly announced pit crew and strategy rules for seven standalone races, two NASCAR team officials cited a desire to increase “strategy” and “wit” with the move.

The financial angle is a “small aspect” of the format according to Ryan Pemberton, competition director for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, where the rules will be used in four races — at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (May 30), Iowa Speedway (June 13 and Aug. 1) and Road America (Aug. 8).

“I really think it’s about leveling the playing field a little bit and mixing it up, giving people opportunities to do something different on pit road that don’t normally have that opportunity,” Pemberton said after the announcement. “You take a 15th-place car and you can pick one of those guys back there that are having a good day, and it’s hard to have a real successful day due to the fact that maybe (it’s) their pit crew versus somebody else’s (more experienced) pit crew.

“I think from a strategic point, from a crew chief’s point of view, it puts more people in play, and it should be broadened ‑‑ the competition, how many guys could be in the top 10 on a regular basis and have more opportunities. And then from a logistics standpoint, it helps out, too, as far as the people and moving people across the country.

“But for the most part, it’s really about competition.”

Pemberton emphasized that teams that take two tires on a pit stop will start ahead of teams that took four.

“That mixes things up, makes for different opportunities for different people,” Pemberton said. “And then maybe one guy does it, maybe two guys do it, and the third guy wants to do it, next thing you know it really flips the field.”

David Pepper, the general manager of ThorSport Racing in the Truck Series, made small team owner Jordan Anderson the poster child for those who could benefit from these rules in his series, which will use them at Iowa Speedway (June 12) and the playoff races at World Wide Technology Raceway (Aug. 21) and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Sept. 6).

Anderson, a driver-owner on an underfunded team, has only two top-10 finishes in 101 Truck Series starts. Those top 10s came at Daytona and Talladega.

“Jordan Anderson, who has had many good runs, and then we come down pit road and he can’t compete on pit road with the pit crew,” Pepper said. “This will allow that to go away and a team like that to compete at a high level and have an opportunity to showcase their crew chief and driver talent and their team’s talent in building a fast race truck.

“So we’ve leveled the playing field, and I think you’re going to see a lot of really good stories from a lot of really good race car drivers that are out there that are going to have an opportunity to go run in the top five and go run in the top 10.”

Among the rules is when teams can take two or four tires.

  • On an oval track, teams may add fuel and change two tires per stop. A second stop must be made to change the other two tires.
  • On a road course, teams may add fuel or change four tires per stop.

Pemberton raised the risk/reward that a team that is leading a race will have to consider when the caution comes out.

“How many people are going to take two behind me versus taking four?” Pemberton said. “That’s going to make even the guys up front rethink what they’re doing. Maybe they get cold feet and they go like, ‘Man, I’m only going to get two because I don’t want to give up the lead, and next thing you know maybe the guys right behind them get four.

“So it’s going to really change how you go about these pit stops. And that’s where the strategy comes in play, and I think that’s where the excitement level comes in.”

Eric Peterson, the Xfinity Series technical manager, addressed how the rules impact the relationship between the haves and have nots in the NASCAR garage.

“One of the things we looked at was kind of the data of our current pit stops and all the teams that consistently run in the top 10,” Peterson said “Our current pit stop strategy really did not mix the field up very well.  The average position change was right around one position.

 “That’s the reason we kind of took this other approach, is that kind of 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.”

The first Xfinity race at Iowa 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.

The perspective of one Truck Series crew chief was provided by Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Rudy Fugle Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

Fugle said he’d be “open-minded” about the rules change, but said he’s “not 100% for” them.

“As the son of a mechanic, my first job as a young kid was working with someone disassembling cars at a salvage yard,” Fugle said. “I kind of grew up wanting to be a guy that changes tires on pit road. Taking that element out, or maybe leading to taking that element out is kind of … it’s not exciting to me. But I’ll be open-minded and we’ll attack and figure out how to make the system the best for KBM and figure out how to beat everybody, no matter what the rules are.”

Fugle also addressed how the new rules at the standalone races will impact the role of a spotter in pit strategy.

“Normally … the crew chief gets a lot of help on some of the ways the rules are and the way the pit road rules are from the spotter,” Fugle said. “Because the spotter can see what’s happening. So you want your spotter to know 100% what the rule is. … But now we go to the standalone races, you’re not going to have a normal spotter. You’re going to have a guy that only does three or four NASCAR races, so he’s not going to know those rules, let alone the new rules. We’re going to have to spread those delegations out a little bit through the team to make sure that we’re thinking of everything and not messing something up so we don’t make a mistake. I think that’s the biggest fear.”

While the financial savings of this limited pit format might be a “small aspect” for a team like JR Motorsports, it’s a different conversation for Tommy Joe Martins, who will race for his family-owned team in the Xfinity Series this year.

 

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

Photo courtesy Talladega Superspeedway
Leave a comment

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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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

NASCAR Twitter
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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

Chase Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports
Leave a comment

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.