Bristol Motor Speedway will move its traditional Wednesday night Camping World Truck Series race back a day this season.
Track officials announced Tuesday that the UNOH 200 truck race and the Bush’s Beans 150 Whelen Modified race will be run on Thursday, Aug. 16.
The Xfinity and Cup series will run the next two nights at the 0.533-mile oval.
The truck race will begin at 8:30 p.m. and will be televised on Fox. The Xfinity race will be at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17 on NBCSN, and the Cup race will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 on NBCSN.
“Moving the Camping World Truck Series race to Thursday allows for three consecutive nights of NASCAR action, making it easier for fans to attend each race of this can’t-miss weekend,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series general manager. “We appreciate the effort from our partners at Bristol Motor Speedway, FOX and the race teams in putting the fans’ interest first.”
Said Jerry Caldwell, Bristol’s executive vice president and general manager: “We’re blessed to work with so many quality partners who pulled together for the fans to make this schedule change happen. We have received a lot of feedback over the years suggesting this change and through a number of meetings with NASCAR, television and sponsor partners, we all agreed that this move was in the best interest of the fans. We’re looking forward to showcasing the best three consecutive summer nights of racing in all of motorsports this August.”
New year, new teams bring improvement for Matt Tifft, Brandon Jones
It took until March 9 for Matt Tifft to realize it wasn’t 2017 anymore.
During a press conference at ISM Raceway, Tifft was not introduced as the driver of the No. 19 Toyota owned by Joe Gibbs Racing.
That honor went to the driver sitting to his left – Brandon Jones.
“I was like, ‘Oh wait, that’s not me,’” Tifft said that day.
On race days in the Xfinity Series, Tifft now pilots Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet.
The end of the 2017 season and resulting offseason saw arguably the silliest of “Silly Seasons” in recent NASCAR history.
Drivers retired, got promotions, were forced to unceremoniously retire and in a few cases, swapped teams.
The last option was the case for Tifft and Jones.
A STEP BACK
Things did not go well last year for either driver.
The 21-year-old driver calls his last 33 races with RCR “bizarre” and “confusing.”
It started with Jones on the pole for the season-opener at Daytona.
It ended with Jones 16th in the standings (he was 10th in 2016). He recorded no top fives, three top 10s and seven DNFs.
“It was definitely rough time, man,” Jones says. “It was just confusing because we had guys on the team and stuff that were top-of-the line guys and we put this team together and we were honestly having so much fun as a team that it almost took away from having bad luck and bad runs and stuff.”
“I had everything possible except for a blown motor that could have gone wrong,” Jones says. “It was just bizarre. Couldn’t ever catch a break. We kind of put that behind ourselves this year. Wanted to try and start fresh whenever I made the move to JGR.”
WELCOME TO WELCOME
In the middle of 2017, Tifft had a conversation with Ben Kennedy, then one of the drivers rotating in and out of RCR’s No. 2 car.
Kennedy brought up his crew chief, Randall Burnett.
“I just lean on this guy because he’s got to much experience,” Kennedy said. Burnett was in his first season as an Xfinity crew chief. In 2016, he was crew chief for AJ Allmendinger in Cup after 10 years as a Chip Ganassi Racing engineer.
“That was way before I knew I was going to RCR,” Tifft told NBC Sports.
In October, the 21-year-old driver was announced as moving to RCR after one full-time season with JGR.
While his rotating cast of teammates won 12 of 33 races in 2017, Tifft came up empty. He earned just two top fives, at Mid-Ohio and Road America, and 13 top 10s.
Even without a win Tifft made the playoffs, where he placed in the top 10 in seven of the eight races. But was eliminated after the second round.
“I felt like we were competitive in the playoffs. That’s the time there I felt like we were starting to get there. But it took that long,” Tifft says. “I think I just had a hard time putting the races together and dealing with pressure and the ups and downs. I don’t think I knew exactly how to handle it. I think part of it was I didn’t know how to prepare for it, too.”
Tifft eventually found himself eating lunch at “one of the few restaurants” in Welcome, North Carolina, where RCR is headquartered.
With him was Burnett, who he had found out that day would be his crew chief in 2018.
“I felt like there was just a really good connection there as far as personalities and where he was at,” Tifft says. “This deal is so stressful that you’ve got to be able to have that trust in a relationship with your crew chief. Jimmie Johnson talks about it all the time. It really is a relationship. You’ve got to have that.”
Early on Tifft established a clear understanding with his car chief, Cam Strader.
“He said straight up, ‘Hey, we’re going to bust our tails to make sure that we’re bringing the best stuff for you but you make sure you focus on what you need to do, not only from a driver side of things, but also from a promotional side of things.,’” Tifft says. “If we’re out doing events and stuff and I can’t be at the shop that one day they understand because I want to make it clear to them if I’m not in the shop I’m doing something that’s productive for our race team.”
Tifft is keeping his side of the deal with Strader.
Where race preparation was a weakness last season, Tifft isn’t just relying on resources provided by RCR to improve.
He’s getting a little help from “the hardest working” guy he knows in the garage – Blake Koch.
While Tifft and Jones landed safely during “Silly Season,” Koch found himself without a ride at the end of 2017, replaced at Kaulig Racing by Ryan Truex.
Now, through a mutual connection who manages drivers, he’s Tifft’s unofficial driver coach.
“It wasn’t like I was in a dire situation where I needed somebody like that,” Tifft says. “But I was just thinking back to when you start racing in go karts and late models and all that stuff, there’s usually a strong mentor piece or someone that’s looking out for you. I felt like I was going to have a very strong foundation there this year at RCR with having (Daniel) Hemric as a teammate and whoever’s rotating through the 3 car is going to be really strong I felt like. Anything I could do to try to step up my game and keep on accelerating that learning curve to where I can make our organization better by being a better teammate, just trying to give the best effort I could.”
Koch, who has 213 Xfinity starts since 2009, helps Tifft with his workouts, weekend prep and debriefs him after the race weekend.
“He’s very particular about every single thing I’m doing,” Tifft says. “From first lap on practice to coming up to speed in qualifying, your lines and techniques. … I think a lot of the fundamental stuff that you can improve on as a driver was something I felt I needed to get better at last year and I felt like I made that jump in the playoffs.”
Koch is even picky about “garage flow,” an effort to declutter Tifft’s mind at a track
“When you show up to a race track and you get in your car you shouldn’t have to wonder how the heck you get on the race track,” Koch says. “When you get to the race track, the only thing you should have to think about is hitting your marks and running in a perfect line and focusing on your task at hand, not the other small details that are just cluttering your mind.”
What’s been Koch’s emphasis through the first few weeks of their partnership?
Tifft points to being more efficient in passing.
For Koch, it’s all about restarts
“That was the main thing we focused on going into the year, let’s be the best at restarts,” Koch says. “I think five races in he’s had better restarts than he had in the entire year last year and that’s pretty important in our series right now with the stages, with track position being so important. I would say that’s the No. 1 improvement.”
There’s not that much different in terms of resources when it comes to teams like RCR and JGR.
But Jones has found there’s a difference in how they’re used.
No more so than when it comes to simulator time.
Every Tuesday, he and teammate Christopher Bell spend the day in Toyota Racing Development’s simulator. Bell takes the morning shift and Jones takes over in the afternoon.
“We’re there and talking to each other and bouncing stuff off each other, what’s working and what didn’t,” Jones says. “That’s been a really big help for me this year. There were times last year where I was able to run a little bit on the simulator, but it wasn’t every single week and it wasn’t a set date. That’s been one of the things that’s been really cool about going to Toyota this year is just having a set date for their simulator every single week.”
Also, there’s data. So much data. The information proved to Jones that simply having better cars wasn’t the only reason the field was left chasing JGR the last few years.
“I think they were available to me at RCR, either I didn’t know to ask for it was they didn’t cram it down my throat kind of deal,” says Jones. “I get everything possible I can for a driver.”
Some of that info comes straight from the mouths of JGR’s Cup drivers.
“Even when it comes to talking to Kyle Busch or one of those guys on how they do pit stops, ‘Man, I do it way differently, but your way is more effective, so I’m going to work on doing it that way.’” Jones says. “It’s hard to know how to do all that stuff without ever being taught it. At the end of the day, some of it’s pretty obvious when they show it to you, but you would have never thought of doing stuff like that without seeing it.”
BACK ON TRACK
Whether it’s data, equipment or luck, Tifft and Jones’ first five races of 2018 are a marked improvement from last year.
Following Saturday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, Jones has two top 10s and he’s finished outside the top 15 once.
Last year, he didn’t have a top 10 until race 13. He’s also catching breaks he didn’t in 2017.
At Atlanta, he cut a tire and brushed the wall, but narrowly avoided being rammed by cars as he dove to pit road. He finished 17th.
At Phoenix, Jones “saw my life flash before my eyes” when he avoided a lapped car on the backstretch that didn’t have power steering. He placed 11th.
In Fontana, after a harmless spin in practice, he kept from wrecking with Kaz Grala at the checkered flag. He finished 13th.
“Just about everywhere we were pretty quick,” Jones says. “We’re very close. I think by the end of the year, we’re going to be very, very close if not right there with them. … We’ve got the long-run speed figured out. It’s more just trying to figure out how to get short-run speed out of me and how to qualify just a little better.”
Tifft has seen improvement every week. After finishing 19th at Daytona, he had finishes of 12th, 11th, seventh and then eighth in Fontana after starting 20th.
His first consecutive top 10s last year weren’t until races 11 and 12.
Even though they’ve swapped teams, Tifft doesn’t see Jones as his head-to-head competition, at least not yet.
“To be focused on one car and beating them is kind of stupid unless you’re in the Dash 4 Cash or the playoffs,” Tifft says. “It’s too early in the year to say we need to go out and beat the 19 car. You’d just drive yourself crazy for no reason.”
NASCAR announced multiple leadership moves Tuesday, including the naming of Ben Kennedy as general manager of the Camping World Truck Series.
Kennedy, a former Truck Series driver, is the nephew of NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France and son of International Speedway Corporation’s CEO, Lesa France Kennedy.
Kennedy, 26, will work closely with Brad Moran, the managing director of the Truck Series and Jeff Wohlschlaeger, managing director of series marketing. He will report to Elton Sawyer, vice president of competition.
“Ben will draw upon his years of experience across NASCAR’s grassroots and national series to bring valuable commercial and competition insights to our NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said NASCAR President Brent Dewar in a press release. With promising young drivers and experienced veterans battling it out in close, side-by-side racing, Ben truly understands from experience that every lap matters and we are excited about his future leadership in this important national series.”
NASCAR also announced it has appointed Jim Cassidy to the new role of chief international officer. Cassidy was previously the vice president of racing operations.
In his new role, Cassidy will oversee all international competition and commercial operations, which includes the Pinty’s Series in Canada, the PEAK Mexico Series and the Whelen Euro Series.
“NASCAR racing is broadcast in over 185 countries and territories, with race fans engaging stock car racing in person at events in Canada, Mexico and across Europe,” Cassidy said in a press release. “The demand for NASCAR racing internationally has never been stronger and we look forward to bringing our sport closer to race fans everywhere.”
Cassidy will report to Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer.
“Jim brings nearly two decades of racing operations and industry leadership experience,” O’Donnell said in the press release. “He has worked tirelessly to grow our existing motorsports properties outside of the U.S and will lead our efforts to identify important growth opportunities internationally for our sport and its growing fanbase.”
Joining Cassidy in his efforts will be:
Chad Seigler as vice president of international business development
Celeste Griffin-Churchill as senior director, international
Joe Balash as director, international competition
Bob Duvall as senior director, international & weekly/touring business development
Ray Evernham has been successful in virtually everything he’s done in his life.
That includes an amateur boxer, race car driver, 3-time NASCAR Cup championship crew chief, Cup team owner, TV and radio personality, racetrack owner, businessman and so much more.
But nothing will ever personify and speak to Evernham’s career success like Friday night’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It’s without question the pinnacle of his career, celebrating a man who has done so much in the sport – as well as for the sport.
“You dream about it and you work hard to get there, and the whole time you’re doing it you never really think that you could ever make a mark in a sport that would get you at this level,” Evernham told reporters after his induction.
“I can tell you it still really blows me away. To stand up on top of that stage there and look at the banner and look at the people sitting there in front of me and when I turned around people were on their feet and clapping, it was like very surreal.
“It was just like being in a movie. I thought, ‘Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ But I can tell you it’s the greatest moment of my career.”
Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ … It’s the greatest moment of my career.” — Ray Evernham
Evernham was presented for induction into the Hall by Jeff Gordon. When asked how much of a role he played in Evernham’s career, Gordon was gracious in his reply.
“I think (Evernham) played a larger role in my career,” Gordon said. “I’m so thankful to be a part of this.
“What he’s meant to me with my driving career and as a friend because of all we’ve gone through – I mean, we’ve seen one another go through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, on the track or off the track.
“And when you go through that and you have the kind of relationship that we had, the business relationship that then turned into the friendship, when you see somebody honored like Ray was tonight, which is so deserving – this guy sacrificed – I think that’s why I love seeing people.
“Listen, don’t get me wrong; I love seeing the drivers. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, all of them deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. But to me, the drivers already get a lot of rewards or accolades or written up, but guys like Ray, even though he got his fair share, but it was never enough for the effort, the sacrifices and the things that he did to make that car, the team and me really shine the way that it did.”
While Gordon and Evernham teamed together for the first time in Gordon’s NASCAR Cup debut, the final race of the 1992 season at Atlanta, something magical happened when they first got together two years earlier in a 1990 test.
“I knew it immediately, we just clicked,” Evernham said of Gordon. “I liked him a lot and he liked me. We spoke the same language. He was a kid, might have been 19.
“I had seen the best drivers in the world. I knew talent. What I saw him do that day at Charlotte with the car that we had that wasn’t that special, I believe it was a Buck Baker school car we went and tested with, and he was quick, I think second quick overall that day to Davey Allison.
“He did some pretty amazing things, and the way that he spoke to me and the way that he described what the car was doing and what he needed in the car, I thought to myself, this guy is way too young. That’s not experience; that’s pure talent and that’s ability.”
“It was the same for me,” Gordon said. “It clicked right away. … I came home from that test, and I just said, ‘You’re not going to believe this guy.’ He had a clipboard. He’s writing down every word that I say, and he’s like, ‘Ok, we’re going to do this, we’re going to put this spring in.’
“I was like, ‘What’s that going to do?’ I didn’t know anything about springs or shocks. I was racing dirt sprint cars and midgets. He said, ‘Well, it should do this,’ and I’d go in the corner, and it did it. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this guy is a genius.’ So we clicked immediately.”
Evernham, now 60, admits that his induction had him choked up.
“It’s been emotional to me,” he said. “I mean, certainly you look at this as a cap-off on your career, and you look back, as I said – I meant it when I said I’ve seen some of the toughest, most articulate guys we know stand on that stage and be emotional.
“Tonight it’s very special to me because Ray J (Evernam’s son) was up there, Jeff was up there and Ben Kennedy, again, because his dad Bruce and I were close, to have all three of them up on the stage. When I walked up there, I said, I hope I can get through it without crying, but that’s normally Jeff’s deal. But I get it.
“It’s a tremendous, tremendous honor, and when you start to … when you realize that it really is all about the people and the relationships that you’ve made, because without those people and without the relationships, the rest of the stuff is just trophies, man.
“When you win at the Cup level, you get to enjoy it for four days, and then there’s 39 more guys trying to knock you off that pedestal. They’re not going to let you have fun. Friday morning, it’s back to square one.
“The memories are going to be of the things that we did with the people. … That’s what’s really special about the Hall of Fame, because this is forever.”
William Byron fastest in final Xfinity practice at Homestead-Miami