Friday 5: Ty Dillon speaks from heart on racism, social injustice

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Ty Dillon listened to his heart. And it told him to speak up.

Dillon was among the first NASCAR drivers to comment on the death of George Floyd, beginning a lengthy Instagram post last Sunday by writing: “I never want to be seen as someone who is silent on the subject of racism and social injustice.”

He followed that with a video chat with Bubba Wallace on Instagram the following night. Wallace shared his feelings about recent incidents and his experiences of racism.

Dillon told media Thursday that he felt he had to speak up.

“I don’t care if I ever win a race or a championship in my life or lose every follower I have on Instagram or sponsor that I have, but when my children grow older and I take my last breath, I want to be sure that I was on the right side of what I felt is going on in history,” Dillon said. “And that means way more than acquiring fame and trophies and wins. Those things all fade away.

“But the impact you had on human beings in your life, the relationships last forever. So, that’s my heart behind this. I know some people might not feel the same as me and I understand that, as well. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I just wanted to stop, in the middle of my career, and say hey, this is where I stand. … I know at the end of the day, this is what I believe in and I’ll stand up for what I believe in.”

Dillon said listening to Wallace this week as they talked made him aware of experiences he never knew, including racist incidents at tracks in other series when Wallace was younger and encounters with police.

“I’ve known him my whole career and growing up and have seen him grow up as well, and to hear the stories about how Bubba was treated in some of those situations and knowing Bubba’s character and knowing him as a human being, that blew my mind because I would have never thought Bubba as a person, would have gone through anything like that,” Dillon said. “But, I think that’s just what it is.

“I think sometimes it’s easy for us who don’t know, as a white man or a white person, in general, we don’t know these stories. We don’t all the time ask the right questions to become informed.

“I think just hearing those stories impacted me in just saying that Bubba’s going through this, so is everyone else that looks like him, so why can’t we emphasize to learn more and hear the stories so that we can help make a change, have the right verbiage in our communities and in our groups, so that this problem doesn’t continue on.”

Since Dillon’s Instagram post, other drivers have spoken about social injustice, including seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who said he was for peaceful protesting. As NASCAR heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend as one of the only sports currently competing, Dillon was asked if there’s anything that can be done by NASCAR, its competitors and teams.

“I think obviously anything that’s said or expressed has to come from a true heart, so that does come from the individual,” Dillon said. “But I think it does take, as a group, saying that we don’t stand for it. And once we all know that we’re all on the same page as saying we don’t stand for it, we come together with a united voice saying that we don’t tolerate hate, racism, bigotry in our sport and that it’s not okay.

“There’s great conversations going on with the folks in our sport on this in planning a united front to make a statement. And I’m very proud of that.”

Dillon said the reaction to his comments on social media have been positive.

“I’ve had a really great reaction,” the 28-year-old said. “Obviously, there’s the few that don’t agree. But, I’m not looking for someone to agree with me. I’m just talking about how I feel on the subject. You can’t do anything in this day without making one person mad or somebody else happy, but this is who I am. I want to use my platform to talk about things that matter to me, whether it makes some people uncomfortable, or not.”

2. A fresh viewpoint

Nineteen-year-old Xfinity rookie Harrison Burton says the death of George Floyd, the ensuring protests and conversations about racism and social injustice have impacted him.

“It’s a tough thing for me as a young kid trying to figure things out in the NASCAR world and to be honest, I’ve always been so focused on racing,” Burton said Thursday in a media conference. “That’s been my whole life. The more we get into this year, it seems like the more I’m focusing on other things, focusing on the world as a whole.

Harrison Burton. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“You realize that racing isn’t the whole world. You get so caught up in ‘I got to win Atlanta next week. I got to go run as good as I can because this is my life, this what I’ve worked for, this is what I love to do.’ Which is all true, but there’s also the real world going on and so many issues out there as well that people are going through. I think there’s a lot of people that are looking introspectively and trying to see what they can do to help.”

Burton said he has.

“I think everyone has taken a look at themselves and said ‘How can I be better?’ and help this situation,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of people do a lot of great things in the NASCAR community. I think the peaceful protests are great way to have people’s voices be heard and things like that. But what is really exciting also – along with that – is sports have a way of bringing people together.

“People rooting for a driver together or working on a team together or things like that bring people together from all different places in the world, which is amazing. I think that when you have the opportunity to be that sport that it’s kind of on us to help people in need – and you can help bring people together – that is an amazing opportunity.

“I’m excited for that as well. I think there’s a lot of great things that are going on. People that are reflecting personally on what they could do to be better, and I know there has been a lot of conversations amongst a lot of people about how can we make a positive change from this tragedy.”

Chase Briscoe also has posted on social media his feelings in this time.

“Our God says, ‘Love your neighbor like you love yourself,’ “ Briscoe said of his tweet on Tuesday. “And I think that’s the perfect way to put it. We all need more love. 

“That’s really the best way I can put it is we just need more love, and if everybody loved their neighbor like we loved ourselves, then it would be a lot better place.”

3. Minimum attendance requirement

As a publicly traded company, Dover Motorsports must make various documents available to the public, including sanction agreements with NASCAR for its races in 2021 at Dover International Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway.

The 2020 season marks the end of the five-year agreements NASCAR had with tracks, so 2021 provides a look at any changes to the sanctioning agreements.

In the sanctioning agreements for races at Dover and Nashville in 2021 is a minimum attendance clause.

It states: “Promoter will use best efforts to ensure a minimum spectator attendance in grandstand seating during the NASCAR Cup Race portion of the Competition of at least seventy percent (70%) of Capacity of the Facility.”

That isn’t 70% of all of a track’s seats but 70% of all seats that are available and not covered by signs or banners. The sanctioning agreement states: “Any seats or stands not included as part of the Capacity for the Event must be covered, removed or concealed in a first-class manner reasonably acceptable to (NASCAR) and the broadcast partner. Social zones, viewing platforms or other general areas without permanent seats, and enclosed suites will not count in calculating a Facility’s Capacity.”

The agreement also states that the track promoter must provide NASCAR within 15 days of the event a report that shows the number of tickets scanned for the event, the number of tickets sold or distributed for the event and the capacity of the event. The agreement states that NASCAR “agrees all such attendance reports provided by Promoter shall remain confidential and not shared with any third-party without the written consent of Promoter.”

4. Staggered shifts

With the need to maintain social distancing, including in race shops, bigger teams have gone to staggered shifts with employees to keep the work going in a safe way.

Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske, explained on a recent call with media what is taking place with his organization.

“We’ve chosen at this point to work in shifts rather than have our entire workforce together,” Cindric said. “You have to remember we have almost 500 people in the building on a normal basis, so we’ve really been working to maybe a third of the workforce, if you will, on any given day, split into shifts.

“Our shifts have been six-hour shifts, so we’ve been working from 6 (a.m.) to noon, and then we’ve taken a two-hour break for sanitization and so forth, and then we’ve worked then from 2 to 8 (p.m.) with a different shift. That’s been across the board through all of our series, and we’ll continue that process here for the foreseeable future. It helps us maybe take less risk with our people but also put ourselves in a position to where we’re not as vulnerable should someone get infected.”

5. Busy schedule ahead

With NASCAR seeking to catch up in races after a 10-week break because of the COVID-19 pandemic, upcoming weekends will offer plenty of racing for fans.

Seven of the next eight Saturdays feature doubleheaders, including a NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader.

Here are the Saturday doubleheaders:

June 6: Truck and Xfinity at Atlanta Motor Speedway

June 13: Truck and Xfinity at Homestead-Miami Speedway

June 20: Xfinity and ARCA at Talladega Superspeedway

June 27: Truck and Cup at Pocono Raceway

July 4: Xfinity and IndyCar at Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course

July 18: Truck and Xfinity at Texas Motor Speedway

July 25: Truck and Xfinity at Kansas Speedway

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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.

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.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

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Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).