NASCAR President: Sport on ‘journey’ to make it better for all

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps says the sport continues “this journey toward getting better” and “bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment, whether at the race track or you are watching on television.”

Phelps made the comments Saturday night on NASCAR America on NBCSN before the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

He spoke after a remarkable week in sports that saw athletes halt play to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“For us it really is getting back to this, what’s action can we take?” Phelps said on NBCSN. “I mean, it’s great to say the words, but if you don’t follow them up with actions, they’re really meaningless. And so, for us, it’s continuing down … this journey towards getting better. And getting better really means bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment, whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome.”

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Asked about the events of this week in sports, Phelps said:

“Listen, the events of this week are difficult for sure. The sports world, we saw some things that are unprecedented with games being canceled and athletes finding their voice and talking about, in their minds what needs to happen, what needs to change.

I pivot back, frankly, to where we were back in early June. With, you know, coming out of the death of George Floyd, what the drivers did with their video in Atlanta, you know, kind of that moment of listening that we had as a sport in Atlanta and then the following week with the banning of the confederate flag and importantly to make sure that, you know, we were making sure we were following through with that at the racetrack, which is something that we have done. And then the following week, with Bubba Wallace at Talladega and just those iconic images that came from Talladega.

Before the June 7 Cup race at Atlanta began, the cars were stopped on the frontstretch. Pit crews stood on the wall behind the pit boxes. Phelps then addressed competitors and fans.

“Those watching at home, thank you for your time,” Phelps said. “Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard. The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”

“The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection to acknowledge we must do better as a sport and join us as we may now pause and … listen.”

Here are Phelps’ full comments in his NBCSN interview Saturday

Krista Voda: We are joined now by the president of NASCAR, Steve Phelps. It is never easy to see our country have divided. What are your observations from the sports world this week and what’s the sentiment inside the NASCAR community?

Steve Phelps: Well, first of all, thanks for having me on, Krista. It’s a pleasure to be with you and Brad. Listen, the events of this week are difficult, for sure. The sports world, we saw some things that are unprecedented, with games being canceled and athletes finding their voice and talking about, in their minds, what needs to happen, what needs to change. I pivot back, frankly, to where we were back in early June. With, you know, coming out of the death of George Floyd, what the drivers did with their video in Atlanta, you know, kind of that moment of listening that we had as a sport in Atlanta and then the following week with the banning of the confederate flag and importantly to make sure that, you know, we were making sure we were following through with that at the racetrack, which is something that we have done. And then the following week, with Bubba Wallace at Talladega and just those iconic images that came from Talladega, which, you know, for all of us that have been in this sport a long time, as you, Brad, and Krista, have been, just seeing that sense of community and that sense of family that exists at NASCAR, watching the support of Bubba – I just thought it was extraordinary.

Brad Daugherty: Yeah, it was absolutely remarkable. And Steve, as you go back to June, I mean, going forward, coming forward to now, the seismic shift in all of our cultural ideologies has changed dramatically. And at the forefront of that has been pro sports figures and pro sports teams. You talk about Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA, most notably, but also in the origin of all this was NASCAR and you stood behind a pretty defiant stance and took a really big chance with NASCAR, being one of the leaders, speaking out and taking a stand against social injustices. Why is now the right time for NASCAR?

Phelps: Well, you know what, Brad, that’s a really good question. You know, for us, and again, I’ll go back to June, it was a moment in time in this country that it appeared like everyone really was interested in understanding what was happening. An opportunity for us to listen. That’s where we were as a sport. You know, Bubba, who I think we would all suggest that he’s shown nothing but class and courage in this whole thing and he always has kept it up here, never has gone down here. It’s all about love, understanding, welcoming people to this sport and that’s really what we’re about. And I think that for us at this moment in time, where we were in June, was something that was important for our sport. We want to have this great sport open to as many people as we can. And the events that happened in June really showcased who our sport was, so, I was super proud of it. I know that the two of you have, I’ve had conversations with you about this, so I think it was, again, time and place, that was our time. There’s still work that needs to be done, for sure, and since June, you know, we’ve done a lot of listening with our own employees, with our industry broadly, with our many partners, Comcast, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Geico and many, many others about the role that sports can play, the role that our athletes can play and the roles, frankly, that our broadcast sponsors and our sponsors can play in what’s going on in our sport.

Voda: You bring up some great points, I think we’re all just trying to be better human beings overall. What is the biggest, I guess, takeaway or learning through all of the conversations and impact that you’ve had, you know, even dating back just to June?

Phelps: Yeah, listen, there’s so many, Krista, and they just kind of all blur together. But for us, it really is getting back to this, what actions can we take? I mean, it’s great to say the words, but if you don’t follow them up with actions, they’re really meaningless. And so, for us, it’s continuing down this continuum of this journey towards getting better. And getting better really means bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome. And that’s really, you know, we say it a lot, but I think our sport does that better than any other, frankly, in terms of this sense of family and this sense of community that exists.

Daugherty: Steve, we get through February, the pandemic hits, everyone’s scrambling, trying to figure out, especially in the sports leagues how they’re going to get their seasons done or in. Here we are, we’re coming to the end of the season tonight, the regular season. How in the world did you guys come up with this ending at Daytona? You’ve hit it out of the park, my friend. This is going to be epic. I want to know a little bit, I’ve known you a long time, I want to know about the thinking that went into this, because this is going to be an epic night for the playoffs to begin after this.

Phelps: Well, I think you go back, Brad, just getting back to racing as we did on May 17th in Darlington, first without fans and then with fans. You know, here tonight, we’re going to have over 20,000 people, which is both, you know, an extraordinary accomplishment, you know, all the protocols that are in place, both for our competitors and our fans, but here we are, race 26 of the regular season. This has been circled on my calendar since the schedule came out last year and you just think about, you know, even at the time, switching from the July 4th date and frankly, we were heavily criticized for doing that and bringing it to tonight, this is why we’ve done it. You think, DJ. said, if you have eight people — there are actually 17 individuals, drivers that could get in tonight that are in the top 30 that can win their way in or point their way in. It’s going to be — not that Daytona’s not always a wild ride, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Voda: Well, thank you, Steve. We appreciate both your time and your transparency on these topics and we’re going to see Steve again later in the show. He’s going to present Kevin Harvick with the award for regular season supremacy.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race: Start time, TV channel

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs get underway with the Saturday Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The race is the first of seven to determine the champion.

Chase Briscoe is on the pole after his win last weekend at Bristol

Here is all the info for the Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:38 p.m by Cup driver Bubba Wallace. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:47 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 1 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Mackenzie Mackey at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: Coverage begins on NBCSN with Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race broadcast begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 7 p.m.. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the link.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for clear skies with a high of 95 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe beat Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric at Bristol.

LAST RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Chase Briscoe beat Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg for the win.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

General Motors announces leadership for technical center

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General Motors has announced the leadership for its new performance and racing technical center in Concord, North Carolina.

GM has tapped Dr. Eric Warren of Richard Childress Racing to be the director of NASCAR operations at the facility, which was unveiled in January.

Warren will be responsible for competition duties for NASCAR programs, “as well as expanding the involvement of GM’s product development resources in the technical strategy for the Chevrolet race teams,” GM said in a statement.

GM’s 75,000-square-foot facility will feature Driver-in-the-Loop simulators, vehicle simulation, aero development and other practices designed to advance racing and production capabilities.

Warren had been RCR’s Chief Technology Officer since 2017 and part of the team since 2012.

GM also named Mark Stielow to its new Director of Motorsports Competition Engineering position. Stielow will be responsible for overall engineering and technical direction for the NHRA, IndyCar, IMSA and Motorsports Operations. He will have a direct link to GM’s vehicle integration organization.

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

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Charlotte Motor Speedway will host fans for its NASCAR Xfinity and Cup races and its IMSA race on the Roval Oct. 10-11, the track announced Friday.

The announcement comes after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper stated this week that outdoor sports venues with a capacity in excess of 10,000 could have up to 7% capacity.

The track stated that because of the limited capacity allowed, no additional tickets will be sold for the Oct. 11 Cup playoff race. Remaining ticket holders will have the option to receive a 120% credit toward a 2021 event or a refund for the full purchase amount.

Tickets remain for the Oct. 10 Xfinity playoff race and the IMSA WeatherTech  SportsCar GT Championship Series event. Adult tickets are $50. Tickets are available by calling 800-455-FANS (3267) or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com. Kids 13 and under get in free.

“Throughout the summer, we’ve been working with local and state officials to bring fans to the Bank of America Roval 400 weekend for what promises to be one of the season’s most anticipated events,” said Charlotte Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Greg Walter in a statement. “While we regret that we cannot accommodate every fan who would like to be part of this spectacular race weekend, we are committed to providing the best and safest experience possible for those who are able to attend.”

Among the safety protocols for the events:

  • Mandatory temperature checks at entry gates
  • Contactless ticketing
  • Socially distanced grandstand seating
  • Cashless souvenir and concession purchases.
  • Fans and staff must wear approved face coverings at all times, except while eating and drinking.
  • Limited grandstand seating will be in groups of up to six people properly socially distant from any other group.

Fans can bring food and unopened beverages in a soft-sided clear bag no larger than 14 inches on its longest side. To limit contact, cash will not be accepted.