‘This will look unlike any NASCAR season in our history — by a mile’

Chris Gabehart Homestead Denny Hamlin
AP Photo/Terry Renna
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Chris Gabehart doesn’t know what the remainder of the 2020 Cup schedule will look like, but the crew chief for Denny Hamlin knows how it will unfold.

And as the plan for finishing the season continues to move “from liquid to solid,” Gabehart said he is “antsy, excited, focused and apprehensive” of what the final 32 races will hold.

“This is going to look unlike any NASCAR season in our history — by a mile,” Gabehart said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Obviously being a crew chief, I’m a major part of building a plan and unfolding that logistically. Crew chiefs have enough variables to deal with on a daily basis under normal circumstances. This will be an amount of variables that are completely unparalleled.

“You’re going to see a lot like a year ago when the new rules package was unfolded. There was so much uncertainty, you never know who’s going to be up front when or why. Well, this is going to be very similar but in a different way because we’re dealing with so many unknowns about how to prepare for a race.”

There could be fewer unknows soon as NASCAR seems to be closing in on announcing a finalized schedule for the remainder of May that likely would start at Darlington Raceway and include the Coca-Cola 600.

There could be multiple trips to Darlington and Charlotte Motor Speedway and tracks within driving distance such as Martinsville Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway are being given priority.

In part because there likely will be midweek races between weekend races, it’s expected there will be no practice and possibly qualifying for one-day events that will send teams directly into the race.

“If we go Wednesday racing, not only are we not going to get practice or qualify, but our prep time’s cut in half because you’ll be racing Sunday, then Wednesday, then Sunday, then Wednesday,” Gabehart said. “It’s just a lot of differences. So there’s a lot to keep track of as a crew chief right now. Certainly, the planning side of it is starting to actually matter. There was a while there for a few weeks where it didn’t do good to do a whole lot, because (the schedule was) just going to change 10 minutes from now anyway. But we’re certainly past that. So it’s exciting.”

Gabehart said Joe Gibbs Racing has had planning meetings have been happening for weeks via videoconferencing. Employees will begin entering the team’s Huntersville, North Carolina, shop “any day now.

“And it’s going to happen in waves of essential personnel, nonessential personnel and all the things we need to do to stay safe,” Gabehart said. “But there’s been work going on behind the scenes, no doubt. And everybody’s looking forward to getting back to the shop and try to get going with our lives again to try to establish a new normal.”

JGR and other teams already had cars prepared for Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, which both were scheduled to hold races before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic put the NASCAR season on hold.

“We do have a little bit of a backstop in terms of inventory, but again, our cycle time is not seven days a week,” Gabehart said. “Now it’ll be three days a week of putting another car on the racetrack and then that car has to go back in the system and get ready to go race again. So that’s going to be a challenge.”

So will social distancing, as teams will be limited as far as how many crewmembers are at the track and how they are allowed to assemble cars around the shop.

“Certainly as we go back to work, all the race teams are going to practice much different social distancing techniques than we ever have before,” Gabehart said. “Well, that’s going to be very unfamiliar, so it’s going to slow productivity down until we figure out how to maximize that. So you’ve got the schedule accelerating on prep time. And productivity decelerating because of social distancing. That’s really going to be a challenge balancing that.

“And then the other side of it of course is in these races where we’re going to unload with very little to no track time prior to the first lap of the race. We’re counting score right away. How do you prepare for that best? Who hits it the best? How do your drivers get locked in right away? That first run establishes track position. That’s going to be the week-to-week challenge that you guys are going to get to see unfold on TV.”

Hamlin got off to a strong start in 2020, winning his second consecutive Daytona 500, and Gabehart likes how the revised schedule could lay out for his driver.

“These are racetracks that are in right Denny Hamlin’s wheelhouse,” said Gabehart, who reached the 2019 championship round in his first season with Hamlin. “So honestly I couldn’t be more excited about the schedule that sounds like is laying in front of us, because I think there’s a ton of opportunity for us to wrap our hands firmly around this season, and I look forward to doing it.

“One thing I love about our sport, no matter the challenges, at the end of the day, whether it be a Saturday night or a Sunday or maybe even some Wednesdays here. They’re going to hand out a checkered flag and a trophy, and that signifies whoever did it the best on that day, and I don’t care what the rules or circumstances were. That’s our report card.”

During the podcast, Gabehart also discussed his involvement and support of Hamlin’s iRacing this season.

A winner in the Super Late Model ranks before becoming a crew chief, Gabehart has been practicing with Hamlin before races during the week and learning more about how to tune his No. 11 Toyota. Through the magic of Twitch, he also has seen a new side of Hamlin by watching his driver’s eyes and mannerisms in the way he stays focused and manages races.

“It’s been really neat the Twitch broadcasts are a lot of these drivers are doing, and Denny in particular,” Gabehart said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching that as much or more than the race because it allows me to evaluate how he works in more than just watching the 11 car go around the racetrack and every now and then, he keys the button and talks to me. I visually can watch how he thinks, what he looks at, how he reacts.

“It just gives me a whole new aspect, getting to visit inside Denny Hamlin’s mind while he’s doing the real deal, which is as close to it as can be without the fear side of it. He’s not worried about crashing into a wall at 190 mph, but you’re getting to really experience what it is he’s going through and how he thinks.”

During the podcast, Gabehart also discusses:

–His passion for iRacing and how long he’s been involved;

–His background as a real driver in Super Late Models;

–How iRacing can build the communication between Gabehart and Hamlin as NASCAR restarts without practice this season.

You can listen to Gabehart’s appearance on the new NASCAR on NBC Podcast episode by clicking on the embed above, or downloading at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway

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After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

 

 

 

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”