Hall of Famer Tony Stewart offers his take on various topics

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NASCAR Hall of Famer remains unafraid to share his opinion and did so Tuesday, raising concerns about driver development programs that pluck youngsters, sharing his take on the Next Gen car’s impact for teams and discussing 2021 for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, spoke to reporters on a conference call after SHR announced that Chase Briscoe will take over the No. 14 Cup ride next year with Clint Bowyer moving to the TV booth.

Briscoe becomes the third driver to race the No. 14 at SHR, following Stewart and Bowyer.

Here is what Stewart had to say on a variety of subjects:

Q: YOU SAID YOU SEE A LOT OF Chase Briscoe IN YOURSELF. WHAT ARE THOSE QUALITIES?

Tony Stewart: “I think (Ford Performance Global Director) Mark Rushbrook just mentioned it, actually.  When he makes a mistake he will spend more time reflecting on that mistake, unfortunately, than he does the rest of the good things that he does all day, but that’s kind of the way I was in my career, too. I felt minimizing mistakes was the key to winning races and championships and that’s also the same mindset that Chase has as well. 

“He’s very, very diligent about making sure he learns from everything that happens on the racetrack and he’s got a pretty good memory bank to hold all of that knowledge in, so he’s great about realizing when he makes a mistake and then analyzing what happened, why did he make the mistake and what can he do to correct it for the next time. That’s something that I had to try to do through my career as well.”

Q: DID CHASE’S PERFORMANCE EARLY IN THE YEAR IMPACT YOUR THOUGHTS OF GOING AFTER KYLE LARSON OR ARE THOSE TWO SEPARATE THINGS? 

Tony Stewart: “They were two separate things, actually. I think Ford has done an awesome job with their driver development program. There aren’t a lot of drivers in it, but there’s a reason there’s not a lot of drivers in it because they put that focus on that small group of race car drivers versus one of the other OEMs out there that is, in my opinion, ruining other drivers’ careers on a daily basis by just signing mass numbers of drivers and then at the end of it they don’t have anywhere to go with them or they decide they don’t like them and then those drivers, and most of them are young drivers, lose opportunities that they could have had along the way to go somewhere else. 

“That’s what I’m really proud of Ford about is that they’re very selective, they’re very mindful of realizing when these drivers make that commitment to be a part of that driver development program that they work with them and really push to get them where they need to be and make sure that they really are the right drivers before they actually get signed up in the system. So, it’s not throwing darts at a dart board. I feel like Ford has done an awesome job and Chase is a perfect example of that. 

“They were the first ones to really recognize his talent before anybody else got him in the system, so we obviously with our Xfinity program that is the whole point of having an Xfinity program is to try to cultivate talent, whether it be from the driver’s side, crew chief’s side, crew member’s side, pit crew guys’ side.  That’s what the Xfinity program is for us and to be able to run Chase through that system with us it was a natural transition to eventually get him from the Xfinity car to a Cup car. The Larson piece was a whole separate side.”

Q: DID STEWART-HAAS RACING IMPROVE TODAY WITH THE HIRING OF CHASE BRISCOE?  

Tony Stewart: “I feel like obviously that’s part of why we made the decision. I love Clint. You’re not gonna have more fun with anybody than Clint Bowyer and you’re not gonna have anybody that’s got any more passion, drive and desire than Clint Bowyer, so losing him is a detriment, obviously. 

“But looking down the road in the future of Stewart-Haas Racing, knowing that Clint was going to the booth in another year, we had an opportunity to get Chase I think now at the right time to get him in a car and work on the future.  We could have ran Clint another year in the 14 car, but I don’t know that it really was gonna progress the program any further than where we’re at with him right now, so giving Chase an opportunity to get a year under his belt and, ultimately, at the end of the year it may not be a step forward in one year, but long-term and down the road we feel like Chase has a lot of potential. 

“You obviously have seen what he’s done in Xfinity this year and the competition level goes up when you go to the Cup Series, but we feel and have a lot of confidence that he has what it takes to be a great Cup driver. So in year one, at the end of the year will we say it was a great decision? Maybe or maybe not. I hope he goes out and rattles off three wins and wins rookie of the year next year and ties our record for most wins as a rookie, but the big picture is what we’re looking at and I feel like even if the first year is a struggle for him, we’re committed to him and we’re gonna make sure we get him where he needs to be, and I think we will have a lot of success with him down the road.”

Q: HOW WILL THE CHANGEOVER BE FOR THE DRIVERS AND TEAMS FINANCIALLY WITH THE MOVE TO THE NEXT GEN CAR? 

Tony Stewart: “Financially, it shows on paper that it’s gonna be a huge improvement for all the teams, especially the bottom third of the field. It’s a great opportunity for them to be able to be more competitive with the top third tier teams, so I think all in all that’s gonna be a great thing. 

“Getting Chase in a car this year. Getting him used to his team. Getting him used to the drivers, the tracks in a Cup car, I think, is a valuable learning year even though you’re gonna be switching to a different car the next year. I think having him get that experience this year with that group will even make year two and getting into that new car put him on a more level playing field with everybody once he’s got that first year under his belt. 

“Everybody is gonna have to start kind of from scratch when the new car comes out, but financially it’s good for the sport and good for the teams and for Chase I think getting this year is a gonna be valuable for him before he gets in that car.”

Kevin Harvick Bristol
Kevin Harvick has won a series-high nine races this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Q: IF KEVIN HARVICK GETS ONE MORE WIN THAT WOULD BE 10 AND HE WOULD BE ONE OF ONLY THREE DRIVERS TO DO THAT IN THE LAST 25 YEARS, AND HE WOULD BE AT AN AGE WHEN MOST DRIVERS ARE LOOKING AT RETIRING. IS THIS A PROGRESSION OF DRIVERS CAN HAVE GREATER SUCCESS AT OLDER AGES AND WE SHOULDN’T BE JUDGING THEM WHEN THEY REACH AGE 40? 

Tony Stewart: “I think you’re definitely right on that. You look in different forms of motorsports there are drivers that are over the age of 40 that still win a lot of races, win a lot of championships as well. I feel like, and I can’t remember how many years ago this wave of starting to try to find these 14-, 15-, 16-year-old drivers that was a huge push for everybody, and I feel like they’ve really put an emphasis in an area that they’ve overlooked some really good talent, and I think Kevin is a perfect example of that. 

“But I’m also gonna go back to years ago. I’ve said it then and all the way to the present and I’ll still continue to say it — Kevin Harvick is the complete package. He’s a great race car driver. He was a great owner. He’s great at building teams. He’s great at managing teams. He understands how partnerships and sponsorships work in this sport and he also has a great management company, so Kevin Harvick single-handedly is the most well-rounded driver in NASCAR right now — has been for years and that’s why someone like him is able to do what he’s done this year. 

“He has the ability every week to go out and if we can give him a car that’s close and in the ballpark, he can do the rest of the work and get it the rest of the way.  On days that the car is perfect and he’s perfect, you’ve seen what happens. It’s proof that you don’t have to be a 14-, 15-, or 16-year-old driver to be great and all this emphasis on finding the next young guy, there are other guys in the sport. 

“Look at Martin Truex Jr. Martin has been around this sport for a long time. One variable changed in the equation and all of a sudden Martin is a championship-caliber driver, so I laugh and I make fun of all the organizations that are looking for these super young kids that are kids. Some of them don’t even have their driver’s licenses and their parents are having to drive them to the race shop and I’m like, ‘You have to let these kids grow up.’  They aren’t mature yet. They’re great race car drivers, but at the same time I’ve also told people to tell my how good their 14- or 15- or 16-year-old kid is I said, ‘Well, has he crashed hard yet?  Or her?’ And when they say no, I said, ‘Well, don’t tell me how good he is until he comes back from a hard crash and then let’s see how good he is because then you’re gonna find out what you’ve got.’ 

“So a lot of these young guys, the cars are so safe that they feel like they’re invincible in them and they all run fast, but they don’t have the savvy and the background of someone like a Kevin Harvick has and a Martin Truex has to sit there and go out and understand why they’re doing everything the way they’re doing and that’s why you see a guy like Kevin Harvick have the success that he has.”

WHAT IS THE TEAM STATUS ON THE XFINITY SIDE FOR NEXT YEAR?  

Tony Stewart: “We’re still working on it, but we have been working on it for a couple months now. We’ve got a couple prospects that nothing is done yet to announce, but we’ll keep working on our end. We definitely plan to continue the Xfinity program. We obviously see the value in it as you see with the announcement today, so we plan to continue down that path.”

Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

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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

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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

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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

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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.”