Getty Images

Road course racing about being ‘accurate’, ‘smooth’ and not breaking anything

1 Comment

For the first time this season, the Cup Series will have to turn left and right this weekend.

The circuit heads to the West Coast, where the 12-turn, 1.99-mile Sonoma Raceway awaits.

After 15 races on ovals of varying designs, drivers will have to brush up on skills they mastered in other racing disciplines or skills they’re just now developing.

“My focus when I go to road courses is to not wheel hop, not spin out, not break anything,” Kyle Larson told NBC Sports. “But I seem to always do those things when I go there.”

Larson has only one top-10 finish (fourth at Watkins Glen in 2014) in four starts at each track.

“I never had any road course experience growing up, you know?” Larson said. “All my stuff was on dirt tracks and ovals, which was totally opposite, but in a way, those stock cars on a road course feel more similar to a sprint car on a dirt track to me than anything. … I feel like at road courses I can kind of feel the car a little bit better. I always qualify well at them. I don’t really race great for whatever reason.”

How do drivers get themselves in the mindset to turn right for the first time in a season?

Thanks to limits on testing, teams can use simulators and road course schools to give their drivers a boost.

That helps drivers like Bubba Wallace, who will make his Sonoma debut this weekend, and Alex Bowman, who makes his first road course start of any kind in Cup since 2015.

“I want to do everything I possibly can,” Bowman told NBC Sports. “So simulator, road course school, whatever I can get my hands on to be better.”

Bowman’s start will also come in an appropriate car.

“I’m excited to go road racing in a Hendricks Motorsports car,” Bowman said. “It’s going to be different. Last time I went road racing (with Tommy Baldwin Racing) we raced a superspeedway car. So it should be quite a bit of fun. A little bit more fun than that was.”

Wallace last competed on a road course in 2016 in the Xfinity Series at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio.

“I think the simulator will do,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “The simulator is good for putting the corners together. It is so hard to translate speed from a simulator, but then when we go to the actual road course for driving school the cars aren’t the same, the speeds aren’t the same so that is kind of tough as well.”

Fellow rookie William Byron will also make his first Cup start on a road course. In his championship campaign last season in Xfinity, Byron had finishes of 10th (Watkins Glen), 25th (wreck at Mid-Ohio) and sixth (Road America).

“I think road courses, you just try to be as accurate as you can,” Byron told NBC Sports. “It’s obviously a different skill set than it takes for an oval. So you have to adapt, and kind of grow your style at those places, but you don’t get to do it a lot. So I think the biggest thing there is being able to get through the gears and downshifts and everything successfully.”

What about veteran drivers who have already experienced the twist and turns and elevation changes at Sonoma?

Daniel Suarez, who will make his second Sonoma start in Cup, relies on his experiences from racing go-karts.

“One of the main things for me to think about was to be smooth and slow to actually (being) fast on the clock,” Suarez told NBC Sports. “That’s something very important. Sometimes you want to rush everything and to try to make things happen very quick and that’s when the car can do many things at the same time so you have to be smooth, aggressive, but everything at the right time so you can make some speed.”
Suarez and Bowman will get a little more track time this weekend. In addition to Aric Almirola and Erik Jones, they are entered into the K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma. Suarez competed in the race last year.

After Sonoma, Cup will race at Watkins Glen on Aug. 5 and then it will hold its inaugural race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course on Sept. 30.

But three road courses isn’t enough for Wood Brothers Racing’s Paul Menard, who has one top five at Sonoma and an Xfinity win at Road America.

“I don’t think we have enough of them on our schedule,” Menard told NBC Sports. “The whole thing with road racing is you … have these braking zones and you have these points and you always try to push it to get a little bit more in a braking zone, try to get back to the gas sooner all the while trying to be smooth so you are not abusing your tires, your brakes, your transmission.

“It definitely puts it in the driver’s hands a little bit more which is cool for us.”

Driver lineup set for Charlotte road course tests in July

Photo: Dustin Long
Leave a comment

Charlotte Motor Speedway announced the driver lineup for the two days of testing that will take place in July on the track’s road course.

NASCAR created two separate test days. Tests will be July 10 and July 17. Both sessions will go from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET with a lunch break from noon to 1 p.m. ET.

The tests are open to the public.

The Cup series races on Charlotte’s road course Sept. 30 in the playoffs.

Scheduled to test on July 10

Martin Truex Jr.

Jimmie Johnson

Chase Elliott

Kevin Harvick

Clint Bowyer

Denny Hamlin

Daniel Suarez

Brad Keselowski

Paul Menard

Trevor Bayne

Jamie McMurray

Austin Dillon

Chris Buescher

Kasey Kahne

Michael McDowell

Gray Gaulding

Landon Cassill

B.J. McLeod

Scheduled to test on July 17

Kyle Busch

Erik Jones

Ryan Blaney

Joey Logano

Kyle Larson

Aric Almirola

Kurt Busch

Alex Bowman

William Byron

Bubba Wallace

Ryan Newman

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

AJ Allmendinger

Ty Dillon

Matt DiBenedetto

Corey LaJoie

David Ragan

Reed Sorenson

 and on Facebook

What drivers said after Michigan race

Leave a comment

Clint Bowyer — Winner: “It took something crazy on a restart to be able to get Kevin (Harvick). That was a gutsy call. When we went out there on two tires, I looked in the mirror, and I was so far ahead of everybody else i was like, ‘Oh man, we are in trouble!’ The rain came just in enough time. I was trying to hold him off. I was cutting him off and taking his line away pretty bad. If it wasn’t for a win you wouldn’t be doing that. He was so much faster than me in (turns) 1 and 2. I got down in (turn) 3 and just had to take his line because that bear was coming.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished second: “It was a weird day. If you are going to have rain kind of take one from you, I would rather give it to my teammate. I am happy for Clint and all the guys on (his) team. Everyone on our car did a great job. I had a really fast car, and the pit crew was the best thing that happened all day. They were solid all day and kept us up front. That to me is the best thing that came out of today.”

Kurt Busch — Finished third: “We had an excellent day all the way through. No big mistakes, no rough moments.  Pit stops were solid. Adjustments were solid. Restarts, I’d say three quarters of the time I was on the inside lane, so that might have been a little bit where we were pinned down. But you have to make do with what you have, how the chips fall.  I’m happy with our effort today. Of course you always want to go back racing again, but to see the two cars in front of me at the end, the 4 and the 14, that’s a big day for Stewart‑Haas Racing.  It’s very special to finish 1‑2‑3.

Kyle Busch — Finished fourth: “The blue ovals (Fords) were just tough today. It wasn’t anything about (Stewart-Haas Racing). They go down the straightaway really, really fast. We have a hard time keeping up with them there, but our car through the corner was really awesome. The M&M’s Camry was really good there after yesterday’s practice. I thought we had something for them and if it was going to be a little bit hotter and sunnier today, I felt like we were going to be really good. That just wasn’t the conditions for today, so chilly and cool and lots of grip, and that was better for all those guys, but we gave it a hard fought fight and come home with what we could there – a fourth. Not too shabby. I thought we had third and then Kurt (Busch) blew my doors off on the straightaway and we’ve just got to get better there and try to make it up and be able to put on a fight here later on this year. … If it would have went green the rest of the way, I felt like we could keep up with them. I felt like our long-run speed was better than theirs and if we could have had some green flag stops and maybe made up ground on that we would have been alright.”

Paul Menard — Finished fifth: “We had a good car today and all weekend. We didn’t qualify as good as we would have hoped and went from the back and got put to the back twice. Once I sped and another time we got door slammed. I am really proud of my guys. We made a gutsy call to stay out on no tires with a bunch of laps on it. Gutsy call. We had the car to hold on though, so it worked out.’’

Joey Logano – Finished seventh: ““I got out of the car and thought, ‘Man, that was a weird day.’ It was hard to pass. I had a car that was capable of running in the top five, but the result depended on the restart. If you got a good restart, you could settle in and run pretty well. Our car took off pretty good on restarts, which was good and played into our hands a little bit. We had a good pit stop at the end that got us up to 10th, and we had a good restart at the end and got a couple cars and that is what got us to the seventh-place finish.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished eighth: “We were really fast. We got our car better all day and won that stage and kind of got back there and a lot of guys took two. We were making it back up, but then the rain came. It was a really great race car. Definitely not an eighth-place car, but unfortunately, that is where we ended up.”

Chase Elliott – Finished ninth: We had a flat tire there on one of those first cautions, and it kind of got us behind a little bit, but we were hovering right there kind of at the edge of the top 10 inside or outside depending upon the restarts and what not.  I felt like we finished about where we deserved.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 10th: “Yeah, we had a really good car.  I struggled to pass people, and I had about 10 instances where I was a half a car length from clearing somebody, and I lost four or five positions, but we had a really good car. I feel like every week we keep getting a little bit better and super happy with the way we ran today.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 11th: “Man, I hate it for my guys. We had such a fast Ford Fusion. I’m proud of our team, and I’m looking forward to coming back to the track at Sonoma.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 12th: “We had a really fast car. We just didn’t get to show it. Got stuck on the bottom line all but one restart and just – we just had a very good car. Just never got to get up there and race and show it and that’s frustrating, but can’t help the weather.”

William Byron – Finished 13th: “Yeah, I think that is the best car we have had this year.  We were able to run top seven or top eight.  We still need to work on a few things with the front of our car, but I think overall we really had a good balance and really just seemed to hold on pretty good.  I wanted some longer runs, but it was a pretty good race for us.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 14th: “What a wild race! It was crazy racing in the rain like that. I couldn’t even see out of my windshield because of the rain drops. Overall, we had a solid run in our Dow Salutes Veterans Camaro ZL1. By the end of Stage 2, we had one of the fastest cars on the track. We just lacked the track position. When the rain really started coming down hard, that ended the race. Our team is still trending in the right direction. We just need a little bit more to compete with the next group of cars.”

Erik Jones — Finished 15th: “We were just trying to maximize our day. Obviously, I didn’t think we had a car that was capable of winning the race, so we were just trying to do the best we could and have a solid week. It is what it is. I don’t know that we have anything for them right now, but we’re working hard to catch them and we’ll hopefully be better here soon.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 17th: “We maximized the day with our No. 47 Camaro. It was a tough weekend with track conditions because of the weather, and we didn’t get to have final practice on Saturday. For the race, the guys really worked on our car. We’re getting more speed out of them. On the 47 side, we’re working on having better practices, and we’re putting our heads together better and focusing on the conditions of the race. Last week and this week, I feel like our cars have been a lot more competitive. Overall, today we struggled in dirty air (traffic), but in clean air the car was pretty fast. That’s just the way it goes at Michigan. It’s something to go into the off weekend with and on to Sonoma (Raceway). We wished we had more time to gain more spots, but the rain finally got us.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 21st: “What a crazy weekend with Michigan weather. I’m glad we were able to get this race in today for all of the fans, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to finish it. I felt good about the balance of our Twisted Tea Camaro ZL1 after practice on Saturday, so I was confident going into today. The car was pretty good at the start of the race, but it was just too aero-tight in traffic. My crew chief Matt Borland made great adjustments throughout the day, and they really woke our car up in the second stage and what little we got to run of the final stage. We were knocking on the door of the top 20, so I really wish we could have gotten the whole thing in. I know that with the extra time to make adjustments and pick away at the cars in front of us that we could have brought home a top-20 finish. I’m proud of the work this team puts in each and every week. They did a great job today, and I’m looking forward to heading to Sonoma with them after the much-deserved off weekend.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 22nd: “Rain certainly played a big role in strategizing for this race. Early on we raced in the top 10, but as rain approached we opted for four fresh tires in hopes of making it to the end of Stage 2 in a better scenario. Instead, we realized our car did not respond well in traffic and dirty air. It pretty much bogged us down and prevented our Camaro ZL1 from making up the ground we had anticipated gaining. Then the rain finally came to end the race. It has been a tough go for us of late. Here’s hoping the off weekend will allow us to recharge and get this bad luck monkey off our back.”

David Ragan — Finished 38th: “I wish (Bubba Wallace) wasn’t able to drive away because he just kind of ran in over his head and wrecked us. You will have that sometimes. Guys make mistakes, and he made a mistake. It is unfortunate. I feel like I car was going to be OK. We made some good adjustments to our Ford for today’s race, and I was going to race hard to try to get to halfway. It is just one of those days and we will move on.”

Kevin Harvick fastest in second Cup practice at Michigan

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kevin Harvick was fastest in the second Cup practice for Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.

Harvick posted a top speed of 200.719 mph around the 2-mile track. He also had the best 10-lap average at 199.345 mph.

The session was shortened about six minutes due to rain.

Final Cup practice was canceled by rain.

Kyle Larson (200.083 mph) was the only other driver to top 200 mph.

The top five was completed by Joey Logano (199.800), Clint Bowyer (199.723) and Brad Keselowski (199.529).

Only eight drivers topped 199 mph.

Aric Almirola, who was 13th fastest, recorded the most laps with 31.

Pole-sitter Kurt Busch recorded 30 laps and was ninth fastest.

Click here for the speed chart.

Ryan Blaney tops 202 mph to lead Cup practice at Michigan

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Ryan Blaney topped the field with a lap of 202.617 mph in Friday’s Cup practice at Michigan International Speedway.

Nine drivers ran a lap above 200 mph.

Click here for Michigan practice report

Blaney was followed by Kyle Busch (201.935 mph), Brad Keselowski (201.867), Kevin Harvick (201.478) and Chase Elliott (201.134).

Also over 200 mph were: Kurt Busch (200.630), Clint Bowyer (200.568), Paul Menard (200.312) and Aric Almirola (200.128).

Martin Truex Jr., who won last weekend at Pocono, was 11th on the speed chart with a lap of 199.861 mph.

Kyle Larson, who is seeking his fourth consecutive Michigan win, was 16th on the speed chart with a lap of 199.242 mph.

 and on Facebook