Bristol takeaways: Time to consider holding NASCAR title races at this track

1 Comment

BRISTOL, Tenn. – As NASCAR seeks inventive ways to push the sport forward, last weekend’s racing at Bristol Motor Speedway might give series officials something else to ponder.

What about Bristol hosting the championship weekend?

For a series that moved Daytona off July 4th weekend, races on the road course instead of the oval at Indianapolis, and will run the NASCAR Clash in a football stadium, the idea of Bristol hosting the championship doesn’t seem any more far-fetched. NBCSN’s Dale Jarrett suggested it last weekend.

“Bottom line, it’s the best racetrack we have,” Joey Logano said. “In my opinion, Bristol is the best racetrack out there, not only for the drivers and putting on a good race, but for the fans.

“There’s not a bad seat in this place. You can sit anywhere and you can see the whole racetrack. There’s always action around the whole thing.”

As if any more evidence was needed to consider ending the season at Bristol, the track provided three nights of memorable action.

Chandler Smith scored his first Camping World Truck Series win Thursday night after trading paint with reigning series champion Sheldon Creed in the final laps.

AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric slid across the finish line in the Xfinity Series race. Allmendinger won the race and regular-season title, and saw his car heavily damaged in the crash.

Kyle Larson passed Kevin Harvick with four laps left to win Saturday night’s Cup race. The main attraction, though, was the post-race confrontation between Chase Elliott and Harvick. Elliott was upset with Harvick about contact that cut Elliott’s tire and cost him a chance at the win. Harvick was upset with Elliott, believing that Elliott retaliated by running in Harvick’s line, which helped Larson to get by.

NASCAR has built the playoffs around drama and conflict. Phoenix, which hosts the championship weekend for a second consecutive year in November, doesn’t have the reputation for drama and conflict that Bristol has. Then again, few, if any, tracks do.

The idea of Bristol hosting the championship race in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks has the potential to create an energy and atmosphere unlike any NASCAR title event. That alone should make Bristol part of the conversation on where the sport should end its season.

With the incoming Next Gen car expected to be able to take more of a pounding that the current Cup car, ending the year at a short track becomes more feasible.

Making Bristol the title weekend site, though, would require other big moves by the sport.

The season would need to end in October to have better weather. The average high temperature in October for Bristol is 70 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Also, October is the month with the least amount of rainfall in Bristol.

“Is it too cold to end here at the end of October?,” Kevin Harvick asked before last weekend’s race. “Probably not. Why not, right?”

NASCAR would need to move the end of the season up at least one week, and likely two or more weeks, to create a better fit for Bristol to host the season-ending event.

How to do that?

Maybe NASCAR could go back to starting the season in January as it did from 1970-81 when Riverside (California) hosted the first race of the year.

To end the NASCAR season earlier also might require a doubleheader weekend somewhere to shorten the schedule. The challenge is that NASCAR didn’t see enough from fans to put a doubleheader weekend into next year’s Cup schedule.

One thing to consider: Is it better to have a Saturday race earlier in the year or have another weekend going head-to-head against football in the fall?

If such a move allows Bristol to hold the championship weekend, then what is there to debate?

Nothing.

—————————————————-—————————————————————————-

Is the sport’s most popular driver being picked on? Or is it a case of that’s how competitors race for the lead late in the race?

Elliott was frustrated with Kevin Harvick after contact while racing for the lead cut Elliott’s tire and cost him a chance to win last weekend at Bristol.

“It’s something (Harvick) does all the time,” Elliott told NBCSN’s Dave Burns after the race. “He runs into your left side constantly at other tracks. Sometimes it does cut your left side and other times it doesn’t. Did it to me at Darlington a few weeks ago because he was tired of racing with me. Whether he did it on purpose, it doesn’t matter.

“At some point you’ve got to draw the line. I don’t care who he is or how long he’s been doing it. I’m going to stand up for myself, my team and we’ll go on down the road.”

That was a sentiment last year at Darlington when Kyle Busch made contact with Elliott late in the track’s second May race and Elliott crashed. Elliott gave Busch a one-finger salute after exiting the car.

While Busch said he made a mistake, Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said after that incident: “I don’t think (Busch) intentionally wrecked us, but you just get tired of coming out on the wrong end of those deals too often.”

Elliott lost a chance to win the 2017 playoff race at Martinsville and advance to the title race when Denny Hamlin’s contact turned Elliott in the final laps. He repaid Hamlin at Phoenix. Elliott raced Hamlin tight and caused Hamlin to hit the wall, ending Hamlin’s title hopes.

Of course, Elliott has been on the other side. Racing underneath Joey Logano for the lead late at Bristol in May 2020, Elliott went up the track and they both crashed. Brad Keselowski won.

Logano was upset with Elliott for how Elliott reacted after the incident.

“The part that’s frustrating is that afterwards, a simple apology, like be a man and come up to someone and say, ‘Hey, my bad,’” Logano said that day. “But I had to force an apology, which, to me, is childish.”

Harvick’s frustration with Elliott last weekend was with Elliott running in his line. Harvick felt that helped Elliott’s teammate, Kyle Larson, ultimately win.

“Throw a temper tantrum like you’re 2 years old because you got passed for the lead and got a flat tire,” Harvick told NBCSN’s Dillon Welch.

“We barely even rubbed. It’s all Chase’s way or it’s no way, and if he doesn’t get his way, then he throws a fit.”

Both Elliott and Harvick are in the Round of 12, which begins Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN). How they race each other moving forward could be among the key storylines of these playoffs.

—————————————————-—————————————————————————-

The storyline for the beginning of the Xfinity playoffs could easily viewed as a matter of old vs. new.

AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric are the favorites heading into Saturday’s playoff opener at Las Vegas (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). They finished first and second in the points and won nine of the first 26 races. They’ll also be watched closely after their door-banging finish at Bristol last weekend.

Allmendinger is the veteran. The 39-year-old driver has raced in Cup or Xfinity since 2007.

Cindric, 23, is the new kid, part of a talented generation of racers. Cindric moves to Cup next year in the No. 2 car for Team Penske, replacing Brad Keselowski.

But there’s another way Allmendinger vs. Cindric as old vs. new.

The championship battle is old to Cindric, the reigning series champion. He also won the regular-season title last year.

Allmendinger has never won a NASCAR championship. This is his first full-time season in the Xfinity Series. He made the inaugural Cup playoffs in 2014 and was eliminated in the first round.

Time is an element for Allmendinger, understanding where he is at his career.

“I’m almost 40 years old,” he told NBCSN’s Dave Burns. “ … Why not go for it, give everything you’ve got? You never know how long you’ve got left. So I’m going to run every lap like it’s my last one because it might be.”

Last weekend’s incident was the second time Allmendinger and Cindric have had contact coming to the finish line this season. 

The first time happened in the second race of the year, when they made contact racing to the end of the stage at the Daytona road course. Cindric won the stage. Allmendinger’s damaged car no longer was competitive.

“I think there’s a mutual respect between AJ and I,” Cindric said after the Bristol race. “I feel like I understand my limitations with him as far as what I expect and where that respect stops. It’s in those situations that it stops that makes it hard to race against him in those situations.

“I think (Friday) was a test for him because I don’t know if in his NASCAR career he’s been in a championship position. Definitely told me a lot (Friday), for better or for worse. I’ll be fine with it. I’ve been run over before. I’ve gotten into people before.”

Allmendinger said he looks forward to racing Cindric in the playoffs.

“If Team Penske wasn’t in the Xfinity Series with that 22 car, we wouldn’t be as good as we are,” Allmendinger said. “They make us step up every weekend to be better.

“It’s the same way I’m working my ass off to try to figure out how to step my game up to beat Austin every weekend and beat everybody else.

“He’s the champ. He’s the guy you’ve got to go for. I’ll compete 100% and do it out of respect because I don’t want any hard feelings going into the playoffs. But, if the are hard feelings, OK, whatever, I guess, fine.”

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

0 Comments

Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

0 Comments

While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

0 Comments

A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”