Ross Chastain, Chip Ganassi Racing sticking to their ‘plan’

Leave a comment

The last 10 weeks provided surreal sight after surreal sight as the NASCAR community and the world at large navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those odd sights came on May 5 courtesy of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch. In a video posted to Twitter, Busch showed off his racing gear as he prepped to take part in go-kart races at the GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina, to get ready for NASCAR’s return 12 days later at Darlington Raceway.

At one point, Busch showed two figures social distancing in the parking lot. Busch referred to them as “secret weapons.”

The one sitting on a curb was 48-year-old Matt Kenseth, recently brought in from the cold to drive the team’s No. 42 Chevrolet 17 months after his last NASCAR start.

The other was 27-year-old Ross Chastain, the CGR development driver who competes full-time in the Xfinity Series for Kaulig Racing.

Making it more surreal: Chastain was the driver many expected to get the nod to replace Kyle Larson after his firing by CGR.

Chastain is all about opportunities to race.

Last year, he competed in 77 of a possible 92 national NASCAR series races, competing full-time in the Truck Series while missing only one of 36 Cup Series races.

Before NASCAR entered its COVID-19 imposed lockdown in March, Chastain had competed in every national NASCAR series race – four Cup races, four Xfinity races and two Truck races. Over the course of those 10 races, Chastain drove vehicles for five different teams: Kaulig Racing, Niece Motorsports, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sieg Racing and Roush Fenway Racing as a substitute driver for Ryan Newman (and as one of its drivers in the Pro Invitational iRacing Series).

“It’s just been when opportunities come up in the top three levels of NASCAR like, yes, yes, take them as a driver and make the best of them,” Chastain told NBC Sports.

Chastain will be back in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 (Chip Ganassi Racing prepared) car for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. But before that, he returns to his full-time job driving Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series, which is scheduled to end its 10-week hiatus tonight at Darlington.

But for a brief window of time last month, Chastain seemed the logical choice to take over the CGR’s No. 42, and to be in it last Sunday.

However, that wasn’t part of the plan.

Ross Chastain on the track during Xfinity practice at Phoenix Raceway in March. (Photo by Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Obviously, what all happened (with Larson) hit everybody really fast,” Chastain said. “I don’t know all of the details about it. But I just know that in my mind, we’re on a path. … Obviously, when Chip and (Chief Operating Officer) Doug Duchardt and (Managing Director) Max Jones and I … sat down two years ago or I guess the middle of 2018 and set out this plan, there was a lot of other factors involved like we all know and that all went away.

“All the other factors that supported me with them went away and they’ve kept me on, they’ve kept building out a plan for me and they didn’t give up whenever they very easily could have. … I just know that they haven’t given up on me and I surely haven’t given up on them.”

And you won’t hear Chastain complaining about having Kenseth as an unexpected teammate five months into the year.

“Too much of our plan was in place and obviously getting to know Matt now, he’s the right guy,” Chastain said. “He knows stuff and has been a part of stuff that I only watched as a kid on TV and he just rattles off this scenario, that scenario, this racetrack, that race car. And it’s great to be around him a little bit and learn from for sure.”

Kenseth and Busch took to the track Sunday at Darlington in the first NASCAR race in 71 days. It was also the first NASCAR race without Chastain in the field since last year’s Xfinity finale in Miami. Chastain expected to talk to Kenseth and Busch “a bit annoyingly” afterward to get feedback.

“They can just talk in such literal terms of, everything else aside, what did the track do?” said Chastain. “Doesn’t matter what kind of race car you had, if you were the leader, you were 32nd place, what did the racetrack do? What were the trends? Was it normal Darlington? What do you see? That’s where I found that Kurt is really, it’s why Matt says he’s such a good teammate so often is that he just can articulate what we all think, but we can’t put in words. … He genuinely wants to help.”

When Chastain straps into his No. 10 car at Darlington, it won’t be his first time in it since March. Last week, he and teammate Justin Haley visited Kaulig Racing’s shop on the Richard Childress Racing campus in Welcome, North Carolina, and gave their cars for the races at Darlington and Charlotte (Monday, May 25) shake down drives.

“We did the Charlotte car first and it worked fine, drove for two laps around the RCR compound and hopped over into the Darlington one,” Chastain said.

That’s when the team discovered an issue on Chastain’s car that could have resulted in a “big scare” tonight.

“We actually had a (radio) wiring harness in the Darlington car that did not work,” Chastain said. “I couldn’t hear my crew and they couldn’t hear me.”

Chastain said his team “kind of felt silly. … We all were laughing like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ And then as soon as that happened and we replaced the whole wiring harness … we were like, ‘Okay, it was all worth it.”

Chastain feels “confident” going into Darlington, the track where he made his debut with CGR two years ago in the Xfinity race and had a good shot at a win before an incident with Kevin Harvick. That performance helped lead to his signing with CGR later that year.

But Chastain admits “just because I had a good run there two years ago does not mean a whole lot.”

“I’ve used the end of that race as motivation for a lot of stuff and a lot of training,” he said. “Looking back at it. Yeah, obviously, you want to go replicate how the first two thirds that race went, if you can, and then clean up the end.”

and on Facebook

Ryan Newman to be sponsored by Progressive Insurance at Atlanta

Ryan Newman
Roush Fenway Racing
Leave a comment

Ryan Newman and his No. 6 Ford will be sponsored by Progressive Insurance this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox), Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday.

“We’re excited to welcome Progressive Insurance to the team this weekend in Atlanta,” Newman said in a press release. “A major brand such as theirs fits well into the NASCAR space. Atlanta makes for a challenging and entertaining race with the differing options of the preferred line, so we’re looking forward to it with Progressive on board.”

This is the first time Progressive has been a primary sponsor on a car in a national NASCAR series.

“We’re inspired by the resolve of Ryan and thrilled to be working with him and the team at Roush Fenway Racing this weekend in Atlanta,” Jay VanAntwerp, Progressive’s Media Business Leader, said in the press release. “Racing fans, and sports fans in general, are craving live events, so everyone should be thrilled at the chance to see Ryan and his fellow drivers out on the track. Progressive’s competitive spirit is a great fit for the dynamic, fast-paced action of NASCAR, so we’re looking forward to being part of that excitement with the No. 6 car wrapped in blue and white and sporting the Progressive name. Hopefully we will see Ryan take the checkered flag on Sunday afternoon.”

Newman enters Sunday’s race coming off a 15th-place finish at Bristol. In the five races since NASCAR returned on May 17 at Darlington, Newman’s best finish is 14th in the second Darlington race.

Cup drivers preparing for hotter, slicker Atlanta race after March postponement

Atlanta Motor Speedway
Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s time for NASCAR to go racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway, finally.

Almost three months after it was scheduled, NASCAR will head back to Georgia for its annual race weekend at the 1.5-mile track Atlanta.

Cars were hours away from being on track on March 13 when NASCAR announced that weekend’s races were postponed due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

All three national series will be in action, with the Cup Series highlighting the weekend with its race on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on Fox).

This is the first time the Cup Series has competed at Atlanta in June since 1965. The last five Atlanta weekends have been held in late February or early March after it was moved from Labor Day weekend in 2015.

With a forecasted temperature of 81 degrees at the start of the race, it will be the return of “Hotlanta.”

The series is preparing for the combination of warm weather and the track’s rough surface that hasn’t been repaved since 1997, thanks to petitioning by drivers.

“Atlanta is always a fun place to race because of the surface and how worn out it is,” Martin Truex Jr. said in a media release. “It has been a few years since we’ve raced there when it’s really hot to bring out just how slick the track can get, so that will be a bit of a challenge going in with no practice.”

Truex, who finished second in this race last year, is seeking his first victory of the year and his first win at Atlanta. Atlanta is one of two 1.5-mile tracks he hasn’t won at, joining Texas Motor Speedway.

Truex has failed to finish in the top 10 once in his last eight starts at Atlanta. He heads into Atlanta coming off a 20th-place finish at Bristol. Before that he had four consecutive top 10s.

“I feel pretty good about how we have ran on the bigger tracks where handling comes into play,” Truex said. “We need a little bit of speed overall, but we’ve been able to run pretty well at tracks where the surface is slicker, so I feel confident about the car we’ll unload and how we’ll run on Sunday.”

With the track’s rough surface, restarts will be vital according to Kyle Busch, a two-time winner at Atlanta.

“I don’t know if it has to do with the asphalt mix or whatever when they paved that place that now you can definitely tell the difference between the inside lane and that outside lane,” Busch said in a media release. “Also, the inside guy has a straighter launch than the guy on the outside – he’s always kind of turning so that’s something to be said for it. Overall, it’s just some places are that way. Atlanta is the worst for the launch. The application of throttle to not spin the rear tires is so crucial there and it’s so easy to do when you’re in that outside lane.”

Busch was the winner of the 2013 Atlanta race, which was held Labor Day weekend. That was also Toyota’s last Cup win there.

“Atlanta is one of those places where anything can happen and we’ll definitely have to be on our toes there this weekend,” Busch said. “You have to have good grip there, you have to have good (tire) fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run, yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else. So you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early (in the run) or save a little and be there late. We went there several months ago and didn’t get to race there, so expecting the weekend to be much different this time around than when we traveled there in March.”

Like Truex, Busch is looking for his first win of the year. Should they or any other Toyota or Chevrolet driver win, they would end a three-year reign by Ford on the 1.5-mile track.

Brad Keselowski won two of those races and Kevin Harvick claimed the other.

Bubba Wallace joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

Leave a comment

Bubba Wallace will be on today’s “Lunch Talk Live” with host Mike Tirico. The show airs at Noon ET on NBCSN.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Wallace is also a guest on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download, which airs at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Today’s scheduled guests are:

  • 12:00 p.m. – Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills head coach
  • 12:15 p.m. – Bubba Wallace
  • 12:30 p.m. – James Hinchcliffe, IndyCar driver
  • 12:40 p.m. –  Ken Niumatalolo, Navy football head coach
  • 12:50 p.m. – Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets captain

 

Bubba Wallace encourages drivers to speak on social issues

Leave a comment

Bubba Wallace, at times emotional in discussing the recent killings of unarmed black men, said on the Dale Jr. Download that he needs to be more vocal on such matters and encouraged fellow NASCAR drivers to do the same.

“Through all the chaos that has gone on in the world, all of the African Americans, all of the unarmed black men and women being killed, I’ve been silent,” Wallace said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I’ve read all of them and I’ve been silent. I just felt that wasn’t my place. That was a huge mistake.”

Wallace, the only black driver competing in the Cup Series, said he’s reached out to fellow competitors and NASCAR officials and encouraged them to speak out in the days after George Floyd was killed while in custody of Minneapolis police on May 25. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Wednesday, the murder charged was changed to second-degree murder. Also, three other former Minneapolis police officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder on Wednesday.

“We have got to do better, we’ve got to step up,” Wallace said on the show about a message he sent to fellow Cup drivers. “I encourage everybody to say what they feel. … This is way more important than any race win, any championship that you’ve ever accomplished. This is something that can change on a global impact.”

Wallace also discussed a conversation he had with Chase Elliott.

“I texted him (Monday) night,” Wallace said. “I said, hey man, you’re the biggest name in our sport right now bud, like it or not. You’re the biggest name and your voice carries over much more than mine in our sport. I said don’t be silent on this please, don’t let it go under wraps.

“He was like, I know it’s tough to comment on and I’ve been trying to come up with something. What’s really going to change? I said Chase I don’t know but think about this. Imagine a follower, two followers that you have in how many you got. One is a person that is going to go hate somebody, go kill somebody today and the other one is somebody that is getting discriminated against.

“Imagine you saying something and both of those people look at that and they’re like, ‘Wow, that changed who I am today. I’m not going to hate on anybody anymore. I’m not going to be discriminated against. I’m going to stand up for what’s right.’

“Imagine your words changing somebody else’s life. Being silent on that they could have just (said) ‘I was waiting for somebody to tell me something.’ We have that platform and that voice to tell people we have got to stop and change our ways. That’s how to think about it.

“Could my words have helped people? Pissed off people for sure. It could have helped that one person that needed it and didn’t know it. Wow Bubba Wallace just said that, he’s my favorite driver. You know what, I’m going to change my life today because of that. That makes me feel good.”

Wallace became emotional on the Dale Jr. Download as he described seeing the video of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, gunned down in February in Georgia after a white father and son followed him. They and a third man have been charged with murder in connection with Arbery’s death.

“My heart was broken and my stomach was ripped out of my body when I saw that video and even thinking about it I’m getting emotional about it now, thinking about that video and seeing how an unarmed black man … to be jogging down the street and being hunted by two armed civilians and shot and killed in broad daylight with the other guy videoing and it sounded like he was loading his gun and ready to do the same thing.

“So that’s my take on that, and I’m just like what kind of world do we live I where we hunt people and take their life away because we assume something? We assume that this is a black guy that is terrorizing our neighborhood so we’re going to go kill him? What in the hell, man? I don’t see how people can wake up and think like that.”

Wallace later said: “I’m taking an effort to understand where all the hate, where all the anger, the pain, the suffering is coming from. I’m doing my research, I’m learning about things. I feel better about speaking out about it.”

Wallace also told the story of a cousin who was killed in a police shooting in 2003 in Tennessee.

“We were at my sister’s basketball tournament, I can’t remember where,” he said. “I was running around the gym with all the brothers and sisters there and all of a sudden I hear a scream like the worst scream that you want to hear, not like somebody scared you straight, like something bad had just happened. I look over and I see my mom running out the door and we had just found out that my cousin was shot and killed by a police officer.”

A judge later cleared the officer in the shooting. The family filed a civil suit and lost in court on appeal.

Wallace will appear on Lunch Talk Live with host Mike Tirico on Wednesday on NBCSN. The show airs at noon ET.

The Dale Jr. Download with Wallace airs at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday on NBCSN.