Friday 5: Ford boss reaffirms commitment to motorsports

0 Comments

The executive overseeing Ford’s racing program said the company is “committed to motorsports” even as the manufacturer faces economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, said motorsports remains important to the manufacturer but admitted that “scrutiny to make sure we’re getting the return from every dollar is probably higher than it ever has been before, or at least in the last five years.

“So that is part of the discussions that we have internally with our motorsports steering team and governance board that we have with our racing partners, but Ford is a company founded based on motorsports with Henry Ford (winning a race in 1901) and ultimately forming the company over 100 years ago. It’s part of who we are today, so we’re here to be in motorsports. We’re committed to motorsports.”

Ford announced during an earnings call in April that it lost $2 billion in the first quarter of the year. Before taxes and after adjusting for one-time items, Ford lost $632 million. Projections at that time were that the number could top $5 billion in the second quarter. Even so, Ford stated in April it had $35 billion in cash.

“Be assured that everyone at Ford is squarely focused on both today and our future,” said Jim Hackett, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ford Motor Co., during the April earnings call. “We believe it remains bright and it’s a great source of motivation for us as we serve that future and of course take care of all these immediate needs.”

On the track, Ford has been a leader this season, winning seven of the 13 Cup races. Ryan Blaney’s victory Monday at Talladega gave every Cup driver at Team Penske at least one series win this season.

Ford’s wins this season are by Kevin Harvick (two), Brad Keselowski (two), Joey Logano (two) and Blaney (one). Seven Ford drivers are in the 16 playoff spots at the halfway mark of the regular season: Harvick, Keselowski, Logano, Blaney, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto.

“The season is going really well so far,” Rushbrook said. “Certainly the four races before the break that we had with our two wins out of those four races and just continuing that momentum even a little bit better for our win percentage since we’ve returned from that break.”

2. Missing practice

Although racing without practice appeases some fans, it creates challenges for some teams.

Chris Buescher, who is in his first season back at Roush Fenway Racing and has a new crew chief in Luke Lambert, said the lack of practice has impacted his team.

Buescher said the team knew “that it was going to be very difficult to start up coming back to a new team with a new crew chief and not having the ability to do any testing, and then after just four races taking away all of our practice. 

“That’s made it extremely difficult for us as a team trying to build chemistry and come together, so we’ve been put at a pretty serious disadvantage, and I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do in the last several weeks. We’ve made some huge gains that are really helping us be able to be more competitive.”

Chris Buescher is 19th in the points at the halfway mark in the regular season. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) 

With the regular season at the halfway point, Buescher enters this weekend’s races at Pocono Raceway 19th in the standings. He is 40 points out of what would be the final playoff spot, which is held by rookie Tyler Reddick.

Buescher opened the season by scoring four consecutive top-20 finishes, which included a third-place result in the Daytona 500. Those races featured practice.

When the sport resumed in May after a 71-day pause because of the coronavirus pandemic, practices were eliminated. In the nine races since, Buescher has three top-20 finishes, including a sixth-place finish Monday at Talladega.

Cup teams are not scheduled to practice at upcoming races at Pocono, Indianapolis, Kentucky, the All-Star Race at Bristol and Kansas. Weekend schedules for upcoming races at Texas and New Hampshire have not been revealed.

With 13 races left until the playoffs begin in September, Buescher and his team will need to show better results despite not having any practice time.

“I feel like we should be stepping our game up every week going forward right now,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten a lot of the elementary stuff behind us that we had to learn as a group and being new with Luke Lambert leading the charge for the 17 group, for me not being able to go into the shop and be a lot more hands-on with everything has been very difficult.

“It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and pride myself in being able to know exactly what’s underneath our race cars, what’s going into it and how we’re going to be better. With this distance, it’s just made it difficult, so where we’re at we definitely have a chance to make (the playoffs) still. We just have to clean up. We have to keep progressing in what we’ve been able to do the last couple of weeks.”

3. Looking ahead

While Cup races Saturday and Sunday at Pocono Raceway, it is not expected to be the only doubleheader weekend this season for the series.

NASCAR has not announced its schedule beyond Aug. 2 but Michigan International Speedway and Dover International Speedway are expected to host doubleheaders after both tracks had earlier races postponed by the pandemic.

Doug Yates, CEO of Roush Yates Engines, said this week that he would be concerned most about engines at Dover.

“I’m a little bit more nervous about a doubleheader at Dover than the other tracks,” Yates said. “Dover is a long race no matter what and it’s also a race where on a green track you turn a lot of RPMs and as the lap times fall off, the RPM comes way down, so when we go there to qualify or when we used to qualify we would turn 9500 RPM on Friday in qualifying, but during the race you’re about 9000 RPM, so it’s a big swing. Conditions change a lot, so I think Dover is the one that makes me nervous and obviously we’ll do our homework and prepare, but just something to look out for and it is a different track.”

As for running two races this weekend at Pocono and the impact on engines? Yates said it shouldn’t be a problem.

“When Pocono was originally laid out, we were going to have practice and qualifying and then two 350-mile races, which would have put us over 700 (miles),” Yates said. “… So if we were to go over 700 miles, we would need to change springs after Race 1 before the second race. Now that we’re not going to have practice or qualifying, we’re going to run both races without changing valve springs. We’ve made a pretty extensive checklist, so we’ll probably end up changing oil and checking the filters, going back through some things that you would normally do after a race event.” 

4. More of the same?

Drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing have combined to win each of the last five Pocono races.

Kyle Busch has won three of the last five races there. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. each has a win during that time. Erik Jones has finished in the top five in each of the past three races there, including a runner-up finish in the most recent race there last season.

In the last six Pocono races, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have five wins, 11 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes. They’ve also combined to lead 51% of all the laps run in those races. Joe Gibbs Racing has 14 career wins at Pocono. The only track JGR has won more races at is Richmond. JGR has 16 Cup victories there.

5. Leading the way …

Ryan Blaney has scored the most points in Cup since the series resumed in May. He has scored 342 points, collecting one win and six top-five finishes in those nine races. After Blaney in points scored since the season resumed is Martin Truex Jr. (328 points), Kevin Harvick (326), Brad Keselowski (323) and Denny Hamlin (317).

 and on Facebook

 

Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

3 Comments

NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

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.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

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

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

1 Comment

Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

2 Comments

A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

0 Comments

FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”