Friday 5: Call it a roof or a cover over Bristol, but it likely will be costly

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As NASCAR headed into the 2000 season, several people in the industry gave their vision of what the sport might look like 20 years later.

The ideas featured cars with wings (the Car of Tomorrow debuted in 2007 with a rear wing) and road courses with banked turns (the Charlotte Roval debuted in 2018 and Daytona road course debuted in 2020 on the schedule).

At the time, there were plans for a domed track up to 1-mile in length near Pittsburgh that would make weather forecasts meaningless for races there.

The project fizzled, but the concept of an indoor track was one that many in 2000 thought would happen by now.

The wait remains. But maybe not much longer.

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, said on a recent episode of the Dale Jr. Download that in “five years, we need a roof on Bristol.”

Smith later described it as a cover instead of a roof.

“We need an umbrella,” he told Dale Earnhardt Jr. “We just need to prevent the rain from ruining the day.”

The idea is feasible, it’s a matter of finances. One sports stadium architect expert estimates such a project at Bristol would cost at least $80 million.

Benjamin Flowers, a professor of Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture, said the key for any track would be a cover that does not fully enclose the stadium. By not having an enclosed roof, there will be places for exhaust emissions and sound to escape and fresh air to circulate.

Flowers notes that the “operating expenses of this novel approach (of covering a track) are unknown. That is, historically, you don’t want to be the first to try something this high-risk. You want to know what the business model is.”

No track has had more Cup races affected by rain in recent years than Bristol Motor Speedway. Three of the its last five spring races have been impacted by rain. Two, including this year’s dirt race, were postponed a day. Another race started on a Sunday and finished on a Monday because of rain. The track’s spring race has been held primarily in March or April in recent years.

A cover could shelter the racing surface from rain and allow the event to continue. Races postponed by weather typically have smaller crowds and TV audiences the next day. Postponements also can make it more challenging for tracks to retain some ticket buyers, impacting finances.

Another benefit of a cover — even if it does not enclose the facility as a roof would — is that it could allow the track and NASCAR to do some creative scheduling.

Should NASCAR continue to hold the Daytona 500 on President’s Day weekend in February, maybe it’s possible to make Bristol the second race of the season. Imagine the potential for fireworks by starting the season at Daytona and then going to a short track? The high temperature in Bristol the week after Daytona 500 the past two years was in the mid 50s.

A cover would be valuable even if Bristol’s spring race weekend returned to April. Bristol had 7.55 inches of rain last April, the city’s most rainfall in that month in more than 40 years, according to the National Weather Service. From 2016-20, there was more rain in Bristol in April than March by nearly 4 inches, National Weather Service data showed.

With a need for a covering, the question is cost.

“No engineering firm and architecture firm is going to give you a realistic number,” said Flowers, who has written multiple books on sports stadium architecture. “They’re going to say, ‘We think it might cost this, but it could cost a lot more.’ The likelihood is it will.

“That’s before we even get into the global demand for building materials right now in a post-pandemic startup. It’s going to drive up the cost of steel. It’s going to drive up the cost of concrete. It’s going to drive up the cost of everything you’re looking to work with on this project, including labor. … If you asked me, off the cuff, what would this cost? I would say you’re looking at at least an $80 million project.”

NASCAR - Sprint Cup - Chevy Rock & Roll 400
Jimmie Johnson takes the checkered flag at Richmond Raceway on Sept. 7, 2008. (Photo by Tom Whitmore /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)

2. Richmond riddle

No current Cup track has stymied Hendrick Motorsports more than Richmond Raceway.

The team’s last victory there was September 2008 with Jimmie Johnson in the Car of Tomorrow. William Byron was 10 years old at the time. Chase Elliott was 12.

In the 23 races at Richmond since Johnson’s win, Hendrick Motorsports twice failed to place a car in the top 10 and had eight races where it did not have a top-five finisher. 

The organization’s best result at Richmond since Johnson’s win is second. That’s occurred six times. Jeff Gordon has four runner-up results. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott each added a second-place finish for Hendrick in that time.

Greg Ives, crew chief for Alex Bowman, was an engineer for Johnson’s team the last time a Hendrick car won at Richmond.

Ives said he and an engineer recently discussed the organization’s struggles at Richmond with Chad Knaus, who was Johnson’s crew chief when Hendrick last won there.

“(Knaus) goes, ‘I don’t know, I’ve wholesaled (changes to the setup) a lot and haven’t really hit on anything that was perfect,’” Ives told NBC Sports.

When Ives moved to JR Motorsports to be a crew chief in the Xfinity Series from 2013-14, his cars finished in the top five in each Richmond race. Elliott had a pair of runner-up finishes there in 2014. Elliott finished second to Kevin Harvick, who was in a JR Motorsports car, in the spring 2014 Richmond Xfinity race.

“That was the culmination of something that we hit on,” Ives said of Elliott’s 2014 runs at Richmond in the Xfinity Series. “We’ll bring that over to the Cup Series in ’15. … We had some OK runs, but nothing that really was like, wow! … We never really got to the point where we were a big threat at Richmond. It was not for the lack of trying. That’s definitely for sure.”

Ives noted that regardless of the setup the results often were similar.

“From driver, aero, engine, to how the crew chief calls the race, it doesn’t seem to line up very well, that’s for sure,” Ives said of what Hendrick has tried at Richmond.

LONGEST TIME SINCE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS LAST WON AT A TRACK

Sept. 2008 — Richmond Raceway: Jimmie Johnson

June 2010 — Sonoma Raceway: Jimmie Johnson

July 2012 — New Hampshire Motor Speedway: Kasey Kahne

May 2012 — Darlington Raceway: Jimmie Johnson

Aug. 2014 — Michigan International Speedway: Jeff Gordon

Aug. 2014 — Pocono Raceway: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pinty's Truck Race on Dirt
Chase Briscoe (right) has leaned on Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick for advice in what has been a challenging start to Briscoe’s rookie Cup season. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

3. Searching for success

Chase Briscoe’s rookie Cup season has not gone as expected. Eight races into the season, he’s not finished better than 18th.

It’s not just him. All of Stewart-Haas Racing has not met the standards of an organization that has won 26 races since 2018.

“Obviously, we want to go out there and try to win every race, and right now our cars are off,” Briscoe said. “We’re just trying to keep that confidence, and it’s been hard to not run like I thought we would. 

“I think the encouraging thing is we’ve been fast at times of the race, we just haven’t been able to put the whole thing together, and I think that will come with experience.”

Briscoe said he’s leaned on teammate Kevin Harvick this season for advice. Briscoe said Harvick’s comments have proved helpful with several things, including what to say on the radio to the team.

“I feel like my entire career I’ve never really been vocal on the radio,” Briscoe said. “I’m a pretty even-keeled guy. I don’t get worked up. I don’t yell. I don’t get frustrated. I’m pretty normal all the time and just kind of relaxed all the time, and I probably need to get a little more worked up in the race car and let my team know what I need and not get angry or mad, not yell and scream, but be more adamant.”

Briscoe said Harvick’s advice helped him discuss how to improve that with his team.

“I felt like as a team we could have communicated a lot better, for example,” Briscoe said of last weekend’s Martinsville race. “ There were a couple of times we should have pitted and we didn’t, and we were gonna take the wave around, but there are lead lap cars in front of us and a couple times we didn’t even know who we were racing for the lucky dog. It was frustrating from my end just not knowing, and I know at Martinsville it’s really hard for my crew chief and spotter to even know all those things that are going on because stuff happens so fast, but I just felt like it needed to be addressed to make our team better.

“Just talking to Kevin about ‘How do I bring this up without being a rear end essentially?’ I don’t want to be that guy just because that’s not who I am from a personality standpoint. I’m not gonna be going into a meeting and pounding my fist or cussing or anything like that. … In the past, I never felt like I could complain because I was just thankful for the opportunity, and I didn’t want to screw up my opportunity. 

“So, just talking to Kevin about how I think, (and) the best thing he told me was you have to look out for yourself. This is a business, and if you don’t bring things up, the blame is gonna get pointed at you on why the results aren’t coming and things like that. Not saying I’m trying to blame the results on our team, I just felt like we could run a lot better and just communicate a lot better, and as that communication gets better and even me communicating what I need in the car — all those things — those are gonna make our results better.”

4. Frustrated teammates

Car owner Rick Ware told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week that he’s talked with James Davison and Cody Ware after Cody Ware spun his teammate during last weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Rick Ware said that the drivers had issues this season at the Daytona road course and also Atlanta before the contact at Martinsville.

“Cody was wrong,” Rick Ware told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio host Dave Moody. “He was upset, and he knew better than to go wreck one of our cars, but he for sure spun him out.

“James and I had multiple conversations over Atlanta with him driving a little bit with tunnel vision. There were several instances (at Atlanta) that both of our cars were going to be wrecked. Cody had backed out and there was a frustration factor.”

Davison finished a season-high 22nd at Martinsville. Cody Ware placed 28th, his best result in the last six races.

5. Opening the garage

Car owner Joe Gibbs said he looks forward to NASCAR opening the garage to a limited number of team guests. That’s expected to begin next month.

Such guests have not been allowed since the sport returned from the COVID-19 pandemic last May. The garage has been restricted to team members. Car owners were allowed there this season after being permitted only in suites at races last year.

Gibbs said that inside access can be important to sponsors and potential sponsors.

“When you’re missing all that, it’s really hard,” Gibbs said. “So I appreciate our sponsors. I know that other owners do here. Everybody that has worked so hard with us. I’m hoping we reach the time now where we can start getting a lot of the key players for us, from the sponsor standpoint, back at the racetrack.

“I know NASCAR wants to do that. They’re working hard to try to get that done. But it’s a huge deal, as I mentioned earlier, because they play such a key part. Over here you can’t race these cars if you don’t have a partner, a sponsor partner.”

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AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.