Friday 5: Toyota looking for more with Fords dominating first third of season

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Although Toyota is ahead of pace for wins compared to last year when the manufacturer scored 16 Cup victories, the president of Toyota Racing Development isn’t satisfied.

Toyota has four wins this year — three by Kyle Busch and one by Martin Truex Jr. — but Ford has scored a series-high seven victories.

“I always use laps led as an indicator of performance because if you’re not leading laps than something is not right,” Toyota’s David Wilson told NBC Sports. “I think Dover, for the first time since Atlanta of 2017, a Toyota did not lead a lap. That was an alarm bell. That’s not acceptable. We recognize that we need to be better and we’re on it.”

Only one Toyota driver (Busch) ranks in the top five in laps led this season. Kevin Harvick has led 21 percent of all laps run this year. Busch is next at 12.7 percent.

Toyota won 14 of the final 19 races last year and scored the championship with Martin Truex Jr. So, why isn’t Toyota as dominant this year?

“We make no bones about it, Fords, the Ford camp … the No. 4 camp in particular is out front right now and kudos to those guys,’’ Wilson said, noting Harvick’s success. “I think what happened in the offseason with the flat splitter and the (Optical Scanning Station) clearly brought the field closer together, but our MO isn’t one to whine about it or complain about it.’’

Wilson admits Toyota had found advantages with the splitter and now that is gone with the rule change for this season.

“We were doing some really clever things with the front of our cars and year over year, we just lost some front downforce,’’ he said. “That’s why you hear a lot of our guys complaining about having tight race cars.’’

Wilson also spoke to NBC Sports about a couple of other topics.

On the need for a fourth manufacturer in Cup, Wilson said:

“When we came into this sport, we had four manufacturers with Dodge being the fourth. As soon as Dodge left, one of our first agenda points with NASCAR (was) to start beating the drum to get another manufacturer on board.

“With the size of the field, given the investment that each of us make, the sport will be healthy with another manufacturer, so again I know and trust that NASCAR is out there looking.’’

On the aero package run with restrictor plates run at the All-Star Race and what adjustments need to be made, Wilson said:

“I don’t think we want the drivers to be flat-footed all the time. We have the best drivers in the world and we’re putting them in a situation where some of them equated it to a video game. Most of them had fun. It was fun, but it was also the All-Star race and it wasn’t a points race. Again, these are the best drivers in the world. These cars should be hard to drive.”

2. Falling behind

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 marks the halfway point in the 26-race regular season.

Kevin Harvick already has 24 playoff points — and that’s after he was penalized at Las Vegas and lost all seven playoff points for his victory ands stage wins. Kyle Busch is next with 17 playoff points.

No one else has more than seven playoff points.

Those points could mean the difference in advancing in the playoffs or going all the way to the championship round in Miami.

Denny Hamlin, who has one playoff point, understands the deficit he could be facing. Should Harvick and Busch continue to collect playoff points, they could give themselves a big enough advantage to make it to Miami provided they don’t have major issues in any of the rounds.

Martin Truex Jr. had such a large playoff point advantage last year that he qualified for Miami with one race left in the third round, leaving only one spot left in the championship field when the series headed to Phoenix for the final race of that round.

“That’s a continued concern for us,” Hamlin said. “That’s really what made us press so much in the second-to-last playoff stage last year. We knew there was essentially one spot available after those three had locked themselves in.

“We’re trying everything we can. We really have struggled with stage points. We’re finishing well. I’ve made a few mistakes on pit road this year and that has set us back on stage points. I think we’ve got to focus on stage points first then we worry about playoff points.”

3. Betting on NASCAR

Kevin Harvick is an interested observer in what will happen after a Supreme Court decision earlier this month struck down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting.

Delaware is on pace to be among the first states to have sports betting outside of Nevada. Dover International Speedway has a casino next to the track. NASCAR fans attending the Oct. 7 Dover playoff race could have their first chance to legally bet on a NASCAR event while attending that event.

Harvick has had segments on sports betting each of the past two weeks on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. So what has he learned?

I have more questions than answers just because of the fact that we have a couple of race tracks that have casinos on the property already,” Harvick said, alluding to Dover and Kansas Speedway.

“It seems like there’s a very good opportunity to get creative with a place like Dover that has that casino sitting there to have some creative betting during the race to really intrigue the fans – things that you could do from your phone or in the casino or just random stuff,” Harvick said. “Could you turn that track and race into an atmosphere like a horse race? I think there’s just a lot of questions and a lot of answers that need to be individually solved. That’s the interesting part is it’s going to come state by state, so who is going to lead that charge? Is it race tracks or is it NASCAR?”

Harvick stressed finding a way that some of the money bet filters back to the sports. The NBA seeks what it calls an “integrity fee” for all bets related to its events. Whether that is possible, remains to be seen.

Harvick also noted that a change that needs to be made is how TV money is distributed in NASCAR. Tracks keep 65 percent of the money from broadcasters, teams get 25 percent and NASCAR collects 10 percent. According to International Speedway Corp.’s 2017 annual report, broadcast and ancillary media rights accounted for 50.2 percent of total revenues for that year. 

4. Special Day

Wednesday’s Hall of Fame selection proved poignant with Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison, who were killed within months of each other 25 years ago, joining the Class of 2019.

There are many special connections between those. One was a special observer. Tom Roberts is a long-time family friend of the Allisons. He served as Bobby Allison’s p.r. person for several years. He also worked with Kulwicki as his p.r. person. Roberts also has helped spearhead the Kulwicki Driver Development Program to help young drivers climb the ranks of racing.

Roberts had never attended the Hall of Fame announcement but came up from his Alabama home to witness Wednesday’s proceedings.

“It just felt right,” he said of seeing both make the Hall. “It will take a while to soak in (that both made it together).”

5. New winner?

An interesting stat for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is that the top 11 qualifiers have never won this race.

Austin Dillon scored his first Coca-Cola 600 — and first Cup win — last year.

Kyle Busch starts on the pole and will be joined on the front row by Joey Logano.

The other drivers in the top 11 who have never won the 600 are: Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Coke 600 preview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5 – 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview this weekend’s racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Krista Voda hosts with Kyle Petty in Stamford, Connecticut. Dave Burns, Parker Kligerman and Landon Cassill join them from Charlotte Motor Speedway.

What to expect from today’s show:

  • Coca-Cola 600 weekend has begun at Charlotte Motor Speedway. We’ll have highlights from today’s opening practice sessions for the Monster Energy Cup & Xfinity Series, along with first reactions from drivers. And can the All-Star Race’s surprise contenders, like Daniel Suarez and AJ Allmendinger, challenge the usual suspects in the 600?
  • We’ll recap yesterday’s exciting reveal of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019, headlined by first-time nominee Jeff Gordon.
  • Our “Mission 600” series – showcasing NASCAR drivers and the members of our country’s Armed Forces – continues today with Brad Keselowski visiting Navy sailors at the world’s largest naval station in Norfolk, Virginia.

If you can’t catch the announcement on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Practice holds for Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, North Carolina — Ten Cup teams will serve practice holds today at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The teams of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt DiBenedetto, AJ Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne will sit out 15 minutes of the first practice for failing pre-race inspection twice at Kansas Speedway.

Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Daniel Suarez, David Ragan and Jimmie Johnson will sit out 15 minutes in the first practice for failing inspection twice last week at the All-Star Race.

Ross Chastain will sit out 15 minutes for missing the rookie meeting.

In the Xfinity Series, 10 teams will also receive practice holds stemming from the series May 5 race at Dover.

Chastain, Chad Finchum, Josh Bilicki and Brandon Hightower will have 15 minute holds for getting out of the garage late.

Michael Annett, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Joe Nemechek and David Starr will have 15 minute holds for failing inspection two times.

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Charlotte in last three years

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The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is the longest Cup race on the schedule and can be one of the most challenging. The extra 100 miles over the length of most of NASCAR’s endurance races puts an added strain on drivers as well as the parts and pieces of their car.

The added distance can also change a team’s strategy. The 2011, 2015 and 2017 races were decided by fuel mileage. Two tire stops, green-white-checkered finishes and other special circumstances have also changed the late running order, which can make this one of the least predictable events on the calendar.

This is a good week to take some risks on dark horses when setting the NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster and fantasy players want to choose from drivers with a proven record of success.

1. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 9.67)
Truex has been overshadowed by Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch this year because he does not have the same number of wins. Even so, he has seven top fives in 12 races this year, which has made him extremely fantasy relevant. He’s been almost perfect at Charlotte in the past three years with two victories and five top fives in six starts.

2. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 8.50 in 2 starts)
Suarez has only two starts at Charlotte, but he came close to sweeping the top 10. By finishing 11th in last year’s Coke 600 and sixth in the Bank of America 500, he has shown an affinity for this track that was confirmed by a second-place finish in the All-Star race. NASCAR America Analysts Jeff Burton and Landon Cassill thinks that gives him added confidence that could result in another strong run.

3. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 9.17)
Only three drivers swept the top 10 at Charlotte last year: Truex, Harvick and Hamlin. Finishing fifth in the spring and fourth in the fall, Hamlin’s streak is significant because it backs up a near-perfect record since the end of 2010. Beginning with a fourth-place finish in the Bank of America 500 that year, Hamlin has scored 13 top 10s in his last 15 races on this track.

4. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 9.50)
Busch entered last fall’s Bank of America 500 with a five-race streak of top-10 finishes. He left his fantasy owners disappointed with a 22nd in that event, but he has a better-than-average chance of starting a new streak this week. In 12 races this year, he has six top 10s, another pair of 11ths and a 14th. If he misses the single digits, it is not going to be by much.

5. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 10.33)
If not for a blown engine on lap 155 of the scheduled 334-lap distance in the 2016 Bank of America 500, Harvick would most likely enter the weekend with a 10-race, top-10 streak. If one mentally discounts that finish, Harvick boasts an average finish of 3.8 since the start of the 2013 season. Couple that with his current momentum and there is no reason that a player should not build their lineup around the No. 4.

6. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 11.67)
Last week’s KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway was brutal for Kenseth. He didn’t expect much in his return, but one has to suspect he thought the car would perform better than it did. The good news is that he has a feel for Charlotte — a track on which he scored his first Cup victory — and he has an extra 100 miles to figure things out what’s wrong with the No. 6 this week.

7. Erik Jones (three-year average: 12.00 in two starts)
There are a couple of reasons to recommend Jones this week. His seventh-place finish in last year’s Coke 600 was an impressive debut on a tough track. More important, he has been great on similarly configured, 1.5-mile tracks since finishing 10th in last fall’s AAA Texas 500. In his last five attempts on this track type, he has a worst finish of 11th and an average of eighth.

8. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 12.83)
Nearly every time he makes the top 10 list, McMurray’s consistency is noted. He rarely posts such remarkable numbers that everyone expects him to land with the leaders, but once the checkers wave, no one is ever surprised to see him in the front half of the pack. McMurray has not finished outside the top 20 at Charlotte in 11 races although he came close on a few occasions with four 19th-place results.

9. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 13.67)
Keselowski may be one bad finish away from falling out of the lead pack. He swept the top 10 in both 2015 and 2016, but crashed on lap 19 of last year’s 600 and could manage to record only a 15th in the fall. With only one top five in his last eight Charlotte races, Keselowski is a questionable fantasy value.

10. Austin Dillon (three-year average: 14.00)
Dillon won last year’s Coke 600 after gambling on fuel. In the fall 2016 Bank of America 500, he finished 32nd. Fantasy owners can toss out the high and the low and are left with an average finish of 12.75. And once the player gets rid of the peak and valley, they are left with a consistent pattern of results of seventh to 16th. Chances are good that is where he is going to finish again this week.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Picking the pole winner has become a difficult proposition. The standard speedsters this year have been Harvick, Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Keep those drivers on your radar screen, and make the final decision based on Thursday practice.

Segment Winners: This is a good week to vote the straight Harvick ticket. When he finds the right groove, he is hard to pass and even though the All-Star Race was contested under a different rules package. The strength he showed in it is going to transfer to Sunday’s Cup race.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

NASCAR America: Daniel Suarez’s success in All-Star Race provides 600 confidence

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The rules package used in last week’s All-Star Race did not provide technical assistance to any of the teams since it will not be implemented for this week’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but Daniel Suarez gained more from his second-place finish in it than perhaps anyone else, according to the NASCAR America analysts on Tuesday.

Racing at NASCAR’s top level takes confidence that can only be earned with success.

“I don’t think a lot applies from a technical standpoint, but I think that momentum is important,” Jeff Burton said. “Daniel Suarez got moved up to the Cup series probably a year before they really wanted him to with Carl Edwards’ departure.

“He still is playing catch up a little bit. And that’s OK. He’s a young driver, he has time to catch up, but at some point you’ve got to have some success. … I think for Daniel, this race was exceptionally important because it reminded him he can drive a race car. Reminded him what it feels like to battle for the win.”

Suarez finished 11th in last year’s Coke 600 and finished sixth in the fall Bank of America 500.

“Daniel’s going to get a lot from the All-Star Race going into the 600,” Landon Cassill said. “Maybe because of his experience and because he’s a sophomore driver, he might get more out of it than Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick. Getting those reps in and restarting next to Kevin Harvick … racing side-by-side with those guys. More so than just the confidence. There are actual things that Daniel learned on Saturday night that is going to help him for the Coke 600.

For more, watch the above video.