Bump and Run: What happens when green waves at Darlington?

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Drivers will have no practice, no qualifying and will not have been in a car for more than 70 days when the green flag waves at Darlington. What do you think Lap 1 will be like?

Dustin Long: I’ve gotten mixed responses from drivers I’ve talked with on this subject. Some believe the start will be calm. Some acknowledge how difficult it is to pass and that the start is a good time to gain positions. I would expect the field to be nice to each other for a few seconds after the green waves and that’s it. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a caution in the first five laps.

Daniel McFadin: Tense and exhilarating. A field full of drivers who haven’t gotten to do much over the last two months, let alone race, are about to unleashed at 180 mph on one of the hardest tracks on the circuit. I can imagine a wild scramble to be able to lead the first lap back. Even if it’s pretty tame, it’ll be a cathartic moment.

Jerry Bonkowski: While some fans are likely expecting there to be a wild, frantic free-for-all, particularly going into Turn 1, I think it will be just the opposite. I believe drivers will be tentative and methodical and wait at least 25 or more laps before they start taking risks or making dicey moves.

Nate Ryan: Some very awkward driving and a crash. It’s easy to say, “Oh, everyone will be conservative!” There will be 40 separate views of what constitutes “conservative” and 40 separate reactions to those definitions.

 

What are you most intrigued about with Sunday’s Cup race at Darlington Raceway?

Dustin Long: I want to see what happens on pit road. Pit crews also will have to shake off the rust from this long break. Will their timing be off and they enter the pit stall too soon? More importantly, with fewer people behind pit wall — and some people likely in unfamiliar roles — will there be a spate of pit road penalties because tires get away from team members reaching over the wall? Pit road penalties could cost a team a win and the playoff berth that comes with it.

Daniel McFadin: Matt Kenseth. The whirlwind of how he became the driver of the No. 42 after more than a year out of NASCAR is just hard to comprehend. With the field being set by owner points, Kenseth will start seventh, so we won’t have to wait long to see how he stacks up against fellow competitors who haven’t raced in more than 70 days.

Jerry Bonkowski: How NASCAR will handle the logistics of keeping everyone safe, including taking participants’ temperatures both entering and leaving the racetrack and what happens if anyone tests positive for COVID-19.

Nate Ryan: How much the rust will affect drivers and teams. If it’s like last week’s World of Outlaws return at Knoxville Raceway, there will be many errors, and they will have a siginificant impact on results.

 

What are up to three key issues you’re are interested in seeing how they develop with the season resuming?

Dustin Long: I’m intrigued to see how free agency develops as the season progresses and if there might be as many changes as some expected before the season, or if the best deal for many drivers is to remain with the same team. It will be interesting to see how the schedule progresses and how teams are able to respond to multiple races in a week. I also want to see how fans embrace midweek races and if that’s something that can be done in the coming years to end the season well before early November.

Daniel McFadin: I’m interested to see how NASCAR’s plan of one-day shows evolves as it get more races under its belt and how long that format will stay in place this season. If it unfortunately occurs, I’m curious to see how NASCAR and race teams will handle it should just one person on a team test positive for COVID-19. That has the potential to derail NASCAR’s triumphant return.

Jerry Bonkowski: 1. Will the return to live racing draw high numbers of viewers to watch on TV? 2. Will drivers who had success in iRacing, such as William Byron, Timmy Hill and Garrett Smithley, be able to transfer their prowess behind a computer screen to behind the wheel of a Cup car? 3. How will Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman fare in their return to Cup racing?

Nate Ryan: I won’t have a good answer until after this race (and probably the next three). There are too many variables and unknowns.

 

Was the Pro Invitational Series a success?

Dustin Long: It was in providing a distraction and some entertainment, but the longer the series went, the more it seemed to wane. Those behind the scenes who made this series happen cannot be given enough credit. Still, the dichotomy between those competitors who took this seriously and those wanting to have fun created a tug of war that, quite frankly, seemed to take away from the experience.

Daniel McFadin: For the most part I think it was successful. It allowed NASCAR to stay relevant in some form in a world without sports, which means NASCAR won’t be appearing out of the blue on Sunday with the Darlington race. While I wish the Invitational had visited more unique tracks rather than staying faithful to the NASCAR schedule, Saturday’s event on a virtual North Wilkesboro more than made up for that. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Without question, it was a huge success in my mind. It filled a major entertainment void when fans needed some excitement and to keep themselves engaged. Frankly, I’m saddened to see the Pro Invitational Series go away. However, I think NASCAR would be very smart to bring the virtual series back in some fashion, particularly during the offseason. Why let all the momentum and attention fall by the wayside now that we’re going back to real-life racing?

Nate Ryan: Yes, it filled a void for content and kept NASCAR on the radar.

 

NASCAR Penalty report from Michigan

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The NASCAR penalty report from Michigan International Speedway has been released.

It includes two fines for unsecured lug nuts. Chad Knaus, crew chief for William Byron‘s No. 24 Chevrolet, and Chris Gabehart, crew chief on Denny Hamlin‘s No. 11 Toyota, have each been fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut during the course of the weekend.

The report also includes the penalties issued Saturday to Roush Fenway Racing for the improper spoilers used on both Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher‘s cars.

Brendan Gaughan set for Daytona road course after COVID-19 recovery

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On July 15, part-time Cup Series driver Brendan Gaughan became the second NASCAR driver to announce he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

After quarantining for two weeks and testing negative for COVID-19 twice more than 24 hours apart, Gaughan has been medically cleared to go racing again.

And he won’t even have to wait until the Cup Series regular-season finale on Aug. 29 to do it.

Originally scheduled to only compete in the season’s four superspeedway races with Beard Motorsports, Gaughan will suit up to drive the No. 62 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

He joins Jimmie Johnson in having tested positive for COVID-19 and returned to race. While Gaughan last competed in the June 22 race at Talladega, Johnson only missed the Brickyard 400 before returning to the track.

“I feel fantastic,” Gaughan said in a press release. “I’m finally out of the house. The toughest part of the whole ordeal was the mental aspect. I truly feel for people who struggle with depression and have to deal with COVID-19, because this thing is tough. You literally get stuck in a location by yourself. Fortunately for me, I had my puppy. I missed my two children tremendously. But it’s amazing now because we live in the age of the Jetsons that we can pick up a phone and look at their faces.”

To get clearance to race, Gaughan tested twice for COVID-19 in more than 24 hours and also had to get a doctor’s note saying he was good to go.

“That was it,” Gaughan said. “As long as I’m negative, they are good with it. They still have their protocols in place, so when we get to the track we are all still separated. The drivers don’t get to mingle with the teams right now. NASCAR has done a phenomenal job with it and they have been able to stay open for business while having very, very minor effects from this.”

While he was originally just going to race at Talladega and the Daytona oval, Gaughan says this weekend’s road course race “technically counts.”

“We said all of the Daytona races,” Gaughan said. “What happened is that as soon as it got added to the schedule immediately my mind went, ‘Wow, I would love to race the Daytona road course.’ There’s very few of us Cup drivers that have experience on that race course. And with no practice and no qualifying, that gives about 10 of us a very large advantage over the field.”

Brendan Gaughan
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Gaughan competed on the road course and earned a class victory in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, with his team beating second place by a full lap. He’s ran in the Rolex 24 twice since, finishing third in 2016 in the Prototype Challenge class and 14th in 2018 in the Prototype division.

“I was immediately enticed by it,” Gaughan said of the road course race. “Then you know how much I always speak so highly of Richard Childress Racing. Richard called and said, ‘Hey, come on man, you know you want to do it,’ and I kind of chuckled because everyone knows I love my road racing. I talked to the Beard family and said, ‘Hey, you want to add a race to the schedule?’ It wasn’t in the budget. It wasn’t planned originally, but the Beards were on board.

“They are in the same boat as me. This is a retirement year like me and they are having the same fun I am. They went, ‘Ooohh, we can do well there.’ So we called Richard up and he built me a brand new Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro from RCR that we were able to rent for Beard Motorsports to go race.”

Gaughan, who will start last in the race due his lack of owner points, dissected how different it will be navigating the road course in Cup compared to the sports car he drove the last time he raced on it.

“I need to remember that the last time I raced there in an LMP car, I could lift at the ‘1’ sign going into the chicane on the back straightaway,” Gaughan said. “Now if I lift at the ‘1’ in a Cup car, I will end up at the airport. So I need to remember that I’m going to need a little more braking zone room. But you basically already know the line and you know where you want to be. You know the feel of the place.

“You know where some passing zones are. You kind of know how to run that race, which is the big advantage that comes with it. Having a car built from Richard Childress means that I don’t have to worry that it’s going to have parts and pieces that aren’t any good. And I still have Darren Shaw, my crew chief, who I’ve been working with at Beard Motorsports. We’ve still got our guys working it and our guys doing it, so I kind of have the best of all worlds here. And there is an advantage for people that have been there. I also gave myself a little bit of an insurance policy. I offered to sponsor Andy Lally in the Xfinity race. To me, Andy Lally is the premier sports-car racer in America.

“I don’t think anybody can argue that there is anybody better than Andy Lally. So, I offered to sponsor Andy because he’s racing Saturday. I told him he has to stay over Sunday and do some driver coaching and give me his notes. Not only do I have experience on the track, I will have notes from a stock car on the track from the day before.”

Christopher Bell: ‘Pretty scared’ about future before re-joining JGR

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Early last week, Christopher Bell was “pretty scared” about his NASCAR future after Leavine Family Racing, the Toyota-backed team the rookie driver competes for in the Cup Series, announced it would sell its assets to Spire Motorsports.

That left Bell’s relationship with Toyota, the manufacturer that’s been the “centerpiece” of his racing career since 2013 and 2015 in NASCAR, up in the air.

“I’ve said it time and time again, but Toyota has been my – they’re the ones that got me here,” Bell said Tuesday in a press conference. “They’re the ones that took me from dirt track racing to pavement racing to Truck (Series) racing to Xfinity racing and then obviously made this deal happen with LFR too. At the time, it’s either the 20 car (at Joe Gibbs Racing) or I’m done with Toyota. There’s no other options. It was very scary. I didn’t want that to end.”

Bell acknowledged that despite his 2017 Truck Series title, his seven Truck wins and 16 Xfinity wins, a lack of sponsorship backing didn’t make him the most valuable hire for another team.

“The sponsorship piece is a huge part of it,” Bell said. “It’s no secret, you have to have sponsors in order to succeed in this sport and I’ve been really fortunate to have Rheem with me for the last couple of years. If I get pushed out of the Toyota group, I don’t really have much to say, ‘hire me.’”

Bell said, “I knew that once LFR shut down, there was only one place for me to go and the 20 car has obviously got a great driver in there right now.”

That driver was Erik Jones, who has been with Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup full-time since 2018 and been a Toyota driver in NASCAR since 2013 in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“‘How is that going to work?'” Bell asked himself. “‘How am I going to be able to go to JGR whenever they’re full?’ Unfortunately my homecoming so to speak was at the expense of another driver.”

Two days after LFR’s announcement, Joe Gibbs Racing revealed Jones would not return to the team in 2021, a move that “blindsided” Jones.

On Monday, JGR announced Bell’s ascent up the ranks would finally land him in the No. 20 next season.

“It was very, I mean, uncomfortable is a good way to put it,” Bell said. “I don’t think any of us – myself, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota – none of us expected the whole LFR deal to go down like it did, so I think that put everybody in a little bit of a box. … I’m extremely grateful that I get to continue that relationship and that I get to continue to drive Camrys on Sundays and race with TRD for hopefully a long time to come.”

How does Bell see his relationship with Jones playing out over the final 14 races of the season?

“As far as me versus him, that situation is already done, so I don’t know how he’s going to race me going forward,” Bell said. “I’m going to be cheering for Erik, just as everybody is at Joe Gibbs Racing, just hoping that he gets a nice solid deal and lands on his feet. I’ll be cheering for him and trying to race him with as much respect as I can, just like every other competitor. I hope he performs well, and obviously, the better he performs now in the 20 car, the better off I’ll be at the start of the year with the owner points standings. It’s really important that he does well this year in the 20 car for my future next year as well.”

Bell observed that it’s “absolutely crazy” to look back at his career path, which began in UASC Midgets and has led to him driving a “house” Toyota Cup car at JGR next year.

Going into 2021, Bell said he still has a “great relationship” with the people at JGR from his time there in the Xfinity Series.

“Whenever I was on the Xfinity side, I still got to mingle and interact with the Cup shop a little bit, so I have a rough idea how everything operates there,” Bell said. “I got in a little bit deeper with the LFR deal, and having that technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, but it’s going to be very nice to be able to go back home.”

Spire Motorsports confirms purchase of Leavine Family Racing

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Spire Motorsports confirmed Tuesday that it will acquire the assets from Leavine Family Racing upon the completion of the 2020 season. Spire Motorsports also will expand to a two-car team in the Cup Series in 2021.

The purchase will include LFR’s charter, the team’s race shop near Charlotte Motor Speedway and all of its owned inventory. LFR’s fleet of cars and chassis will be returned to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Spire, which began competing in 2019 after it purchased Furniture Row Motorsports’ charter, fields the No. 77 Chevrolet. It has made 58 starts for more than a dozen drivers since last year, including an upset win in the July 2019 race at Daytona with Justin Haley behind the wheel.

The team is co-owned by Jeff Dickerson and Thaddeus “T.J.” Puchyr.

“This is an exciting moment for Spire as we take the natural next step in our long-term plan to build our race team and prepare for the Next Gen car in 2022,” said Dickerson in a press release. “Bob Leavine invested more than money into LFR and this industry. He built a team brick-by-brick and we have long admired how he took his own steps in the garage. He also did it with his family at his side. We won’t let that be lost in this transaction. When you build something with your family, it always means a little bit more. His ability to connect with fans was genuine and we are thankful he chose us to carry this team forward.

“These are no doubt trying times, but I have never been prouder to be part of this sport. NASCAR has managed several difficult situations this spring and into the summer. We believe in the ownership model that NASCAR has built and where this sport is going now more than ever.”

The team said details about drivers and manufacturers for 2021 will come later.