NASCAR stock market: Ups and downs heading to Kansas

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On a recent edition of the “Positive Regression” podcast, racing analytics expert David Smith and broadcaster Alan Cavanna asked what was the third-best team in Cup behind those of Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

It was an interesting discussion with no clear-cut answer as they examined the pros and cons of Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

It showed how up-and-down this season has been with teams struggling to find consistency in a time where there is no practice. You might see one driver rival Hamlin and Harvick for a couple of weeks and then be replaced by someone else before they fade back to the field.

MORE: NASCAR to speak to driver for “very poor decision” at Texas

MORE: Cup Series playoff grid after Texas

Cup teams again will have no practice before they race Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Kansas Speedway. NASCAR is not scheduled to have any practice for Cup teams for the next month.

Logano won two of the season’s first four races but then struggled after the series returned in May. His third-place finish Sunday at Texas was his best result since winning at Phoenix in March — the last Cup race before the season was suspended for 10 weeks by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s harder to recover,” Logano said about when teams fall behind the top teams. “When I said lost puppy, that’s what we are, that’s what we were. You don’t have a chance to fix anything, right? You get done with the race, this, this, and this we need to make better on the racecar at least. We’ll try this, this and this next week, but it’s a different track. We’ll go and race, have no practice. Who knows if we’re going to make it better or worse, right? How do you find direction out of that?

“That’s where practice was so important. You could go out there, make a run, make one change, go back out and say, ‘Was that better or worse? Now we’re done with the race, we have things we want to fix. Let’s go to a track that’s nowhere near the same as we just went to and make some changes to our car and tell me if it’s better or not.

“You can’t. You can’t. You only can tell just by overall finish compared to the field. That’s kind of what we worked on. Seems like there was some progress made.”

Lack of practice is something Kyle Busch has mentioned as to why he’s winless in 18 Cup races this year. He also has yet to win a stage this season and has no playoff points. Last year at this time, he had a series-high 25 playoff points. At this time in 2018, he had a series-high 30 playoff points.

Level of respect declining in Xfinity?

It has been a question asked throughout this season as more incidents take place on the track. The Xfinity Series is back on track at 5 p.m. ET Saturday at Kansas Speedway on NBCSN.

Last weekend at Texas saw Noah Gragson, who has already had issues with Myatt Snider, Harrison Burton and teammate Justin Allgaier this season, run up on the back of Riley Herbst, making contact and causing Herbst to crash before the race was six laps old. Herbst said afterward that he “got absolutely drove through” by Gragson.

“I don’t get it,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said on the broadcast after the incident. “I just don’t get it. Five laps into the race why you have to be that aggressive on a slick race track with Riley in front of him. I know Noah didn’t drive in there with the intention of wrecking (Herbst) … but definitely pushing the issue early.”

Said NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also is Gragson’s car owner, on the broadcast: “To me, it looks like Noah got in the back of (Herbst) and didn’t give him a break. Just ran into the back of him. … I’ve got to put that on Noah. This early in the race Noah had a chance to cut that 18 a break.”

Kyle Busch says he’s seen a big change in the Xfinity Series in how drivers race each other.

“Nobody races with respect anymore,” Busch said after last weekend’s race at Texas. “They all just run as hard as you can every lap and when you’re running on ovals and stuff like that, you have to give room and you have to be courteous sometimes.

“Yeah, there’s going to be times you have to run hard, but other times where – like I was getting blocked down the back straightaway today by (Anthony Alfredo) on the second restart or something like that. What are we doing? It’s a long way from the end of the race and if you want a crashed car right now, I’ll give you one and you won’t even make it to the end of the race. I guess that’s what everybody else is kind of thinking too.”

Ross Chastain, who has built a reputation as someone who is hard to pass, says losing any positions can be too difficult to overcome in the shorter races.

“Track position is key in any series now,” Chastain said. “I definitely think there are some things that I’ve had some run-ins with and we agree to disagree on about everything. That’s just part of it.”

Busch said he understands that “you try to make it as hard on your competition as you can possibly can” but there are times to be smart about it.

“I learned from the likes of Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart and Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon and in that era,” Busch said. “Let’s call in the late 90s, early 2000s that it seemed like respect was a big deal on the racetrack and then you just started to get more and more call them kids that come on here and they beat and bang on short tracks in late models and K&N and ARCA and stuff like that and they just keep bringing it up into these levels.

“I don’t think they have a whole (lot of) respect for the equipment that they’re in sometimes because many of them have probably never worked on them before. They just pick up another ride and go on to the next year and run that stuff and then go on and move on.

“It’s just about trying to figure it out and pick and choose your battles. That’s typically what it boils down to. I certainly made poor decisions in the past and kind of still do sometimes today. You have to be smart as much as you can.”

Starting lineup draw Wednesday

NASCAR will set the starting lineup for the Cup race with a random draw on Wednesday.

Since replacing Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer in the top 12 in owner points — and eligible for starting positions 1-12 in the random draw — Almirola has started in the top five all four times the random draw was used. Almirola started on the pole last weekend at Texas.

Bowyer became eligible for starting positions 13-24 since he fell into that group in owner points. In the four races the random draw has been used, Bowyer has started 18th, 22nd, 15th and 17th.

The way that the draw is for the top 12 it basically just protects those guys and makes it virtually impossible for anybody outside of that to capitalize on that first stage, which puts them in a really good position points wise for the rest of the race,” Bowyer said. “Furthermore, it puts you in a situation to have to try to gamble either at the tail end of that first stage or throughout that second stage to try to capitalize off some points, whether it be that second stage or set yourself up for the end of the race.

“Anytime you go to gamble we all know that it can either win or lose big. Nine times out of 10 the house wins from what I can see. So, I am kind of frustrated in a sense that I feel like over the last month and a half we have had a lot better runs than our stats show.”

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Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

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JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.