NASCAR America: Better equipment, skilled drivers changed road racing

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The Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway is the first of three road course races on the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar and the preparation involved in setting up these cars is much greater today than it has been in the past, according to NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett.

“I think the same emphasis is put in those two road course races and the cars that will be in those races,” Earnhardt said. “And now the Roval that will be at Charlotte – being a very important race in the playoffs – these road course racers are even more important.”

Man and machine need to be equal to the challenge.

“Not only is the emphasis more on the drivers to prepare and learn how to become road course racers, but there is a lot more emphasis on the cars too,” Earnhardt said. “All the cars are so much more similar and there is a lot more dedication to preparing the cars for these particular races. It’s almost like there is as much effort into putting a good road course car on the track as there is speedway cars – like Daytona and Talladega cars.”

Even the best driver cannot compete in equipment that is not up to the challenge and it took some outside expertise to raise NASCAR to the level of other marquee road racing series mechanically. Car owners like Jack Roush and road ringers like Boris Said contributed to the evolution of the racing discipline.

“The cars are so much better now than when we started,” Dale Jarrett said. “Whenever I got started in the Cup series fulltime in ’87, there were a couple of good road racers – and I think of Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace … but Jack Roush brought something totally new into the sport a little later in the 80s and early 90s. … Their equipment was a little bit better because they understood road racing a little more. Now everybody has all that.”

Jarrett recalled what he believes might be one of the biggest upsets of his career. He won the pole for the 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen because he received a tip from Said, who told him he was not getting deep enough into the corners because his brakes were not good enough.

“You talk about road course ringers: Boris Said and Ron Fellows and some other guys coming in,” Jarrett said. “One of the things that helped them, they were better because they did it all the time, but they also would tell the teams they were going to drive for, ‘hey, there’s a lot better braking and other things out there that you can do.’ They came in and they had better equipment, which made them look even that much better than what we were.”

For more, watch the video above.

Team Penske hires Robby Benton as NASCAR team manager

Change Racing website
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Team Penske has hired Robby Benton as team manager of its NASCAR operations, the team announced Monday.

Benton, a former owner in the Xfinity Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, will be responsible for administrative and competition-related duties for the team’s Cup and Xfinity teams.

He will report to Competition Director Travis Geisler.

Penske will field Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney in the Cup Series.

As an Xfinity owner, Benton fielded cars in 220 starts from 2008-15. The team’s only victory was in 2010 with Boris Said at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Benton himself made four Xfinity starts and three Camping World Truck Series starts.

Benton owned Change Racing in IMSA.

 “I’m very happy to join an operation like Team Penske,” Benton said in a press release. “Anyone that is involved in this sport has a tremendous amount of respect for Roger Penske. He has a world-class operation and expects nothing but the best from his people, and that shows on and off the track. I’ve emulated many of Team Penske’s values through my own programs, so it’s especially meaningful to now be a part of this team. I’m honored to receive this opportunity and I hope I can help the organization continue moving forward as they continue to expand their NASCAR operations.”

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Circle Sport parts ways with The Motorsports Group

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The Motorsports Group announced Tuesday that it is parting ways with Circle Sport, a “sudden” move decided upon by Circle Sport owner Joe Falk on Monday.

As Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group, the two managed the No. 33 Chevrolet primarily driven by Jeffrey Earnhardt in 2017. Boris Said drove it in two races.

TMG said it plans to field its own Chevrolet in 2018. It does not have a driver or sponsor attached yet.

“This is sudden for us, but we put a plan together rather quickly,” TMG owner Curtis Key Sr. said in a press release. “We’ve had discussions with potential drivers, but it’s only been a day since the news and we have more calls to make. We look to have a driver announce(d) in early January.”

Circle Sport owns the charter used on the No. 33. Circle Sport did not respond to a request for comment.

ESPN reports Earnhardt, the grandson of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and nephew of Dale Earnhardt Jr., was released from a contract extension by the team and is in search of a ride.

Eddie Pardue will stay with TMG as crew chief. He assumed the duties on the No. 33 following the July Daytona race.

Earnhardt’s best finish in 34 starts was 26th three times.

Before the teams merged for 2017, The Motorsports Group fielded the No. 30 Chevrolet in 2016.

Martin Truex Jr. has just enough gas to beat Matt Kenseth to win at Watkins Glen

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While Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch ran out of fuel or made late pit stops, Martin Truex Jr. saved just enough gas to win Sunday’s I Love New York 355 at Watkins Glen International.

Truex had saved fuel for the final 20 laps and had just enough to hold off Matt Kenseth‘s charge on the final lap to earn his fourth win of the season.

It was Truex’s 11th career Cup win and his first at The Glen.

“I’m a little bit lost for words, I’ve been thinking about this one a long time, all weekend, all day,” Truex told NBCSN. “Man, it’s so hard to let guys pass you for the lead, you just have to listen to your crew chief (Cole Pearn), and luckily for me, I have the best one in the business.”

Kenseth finished second, followed by Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.

“Overall it was a good day, good finish, but hate to be that close and not get it,” Kenseth told NBCSN.

Sixth through 10th were Kurt Busch, pole sitter Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger and Erik Jones. All four Joe Gibbs Racing cars made finished in the top 10.

Several incidents of note occurred early in the final stage, including:

It was an emotional win for the entire team. Not only was  Truex’s girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, on hand to watch him win, crew chief Cole Pearn dedicated the win to one of his best friends who passed away earlier this week.

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

STAGE WINNERS: Kyle Busch won Stage 1 (his ninth of the season).  Daniel Suarez captured Stage 2, his first stage win of 2017

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Matt Kenseth came close to earning his first win of the season. … Daniel Suarez led 14 laps and finished a career-best third place. … Clint Bowyer appeared in contention, but settled a fifth-place finish, his fifth top-10 finish in the last seven races.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his ninth finish of 30th or worse this season (40.9 percent). … Kevin Harvick had a decent day going until he slammed into Brett Moffitt on pit road. Harvick finished 17th.

NOTABLE: Sunday was Boris Said’s final race of his long and successful racing career. He finished 30th.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This is a dream come true. I used to walk around the garage here as a kid, dreaming of racing here. We’ve been coming here a long time, us Truex’s, and we finally got us one (a win).”

WHAT’S NEXT: Pure 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Sunday, August 13, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Busch leads all 20 laps to capture Stage 1 at Watkins Glen

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Pole-sitter Kyle Busch captured Stage 1 of Sunday’s I Love New York 355 NASCAR Cup race at Watkins Glen International.

Busch dominated, leading all 20 laps in Stage 1. It’s his fifth win in the last six stages and ninth stage win of the season. Busch is going for his second consecutive season win today, having won his first race of 2017 last week at Pocono.

Martin Truex Jr. was second, followed by Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has taken his car to the garage for a valve train issue.

Prior to the green flag, seven drivers were sent to the back of the starting lineup due to unapproved adjustments on their race cars: Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Gary Klutt, Boris Said, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman and Matt DiBenedetto.

UPDATED: Kyle Busch had to take his car back to pit road for a second time following Stage 1 due to a loose left wheel. He dropped back to 27th when Stage 2 began.

Also of note, veteran road course racer Boris Said is making the final start of his career in today’s race.

Follow @JerryBonkowski