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Why Las Vegas test is so important

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While nearly two dozen Cup and Xfinity teams will take part in this week’s two-day test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, at least one new driver-crew chief combination is putting its significance into perspective, particularly due to the new rules package that will mark the first time teams experience the new aerodynamic and horsepower elements.

“It’s almost at the very top (of all-time tests), obviously, because this is our one chance to work on communication and the new package, and we have some new players in the shop too, engineering-wise,” Matt McCall, crew chief for Kurt Busch at Chip Ganassi Racing, told a media gathering earlier this week.

“We’ve got a lot of different stuff we need to communicate on, not just between me and Kurt, but also the team and Kurt,” McCall added. “So, it’s pretty high up there, for sure.”

Busch, who won the 2004 Cup championship, is looking forward to the test at his hometown track and to work on car-to-team on-track communication. Busch owns LVMS’ speed record of 196.328 mph (set in 2016), but given the new package’s horsepower limitations, it’s unlikely he’ll come close to that speed in the test.

“For me, it’s just to get behind the wheel and to feel the Chevrolet and feel the drivetrain and to go through a few setup changes,” Busch said. “I think the most important thing is radio communication and how we want to mock-up certain pit stop sequences for changes as we’re out on-track and just having that banter back and forth so when we roll into Daytona, we’re best prepared.

“That’s a big reason why Chip Ganassi Racing is having the No. 1 car go do this test is to work the bugs out of it and just work those sequences into how we’re going to go attack things in Daytona.”

Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials are also touting the significance of the test on Thursday and Friday, issuing a media release with this headline: “Elite drivers ready for one of the most important tests in NASCAR history.”

The data teams collect from the test will go a long way towards adapting early in the season to 1.5-mile tracks such as Atlanta Motor Speedway and LVMS, which host the second and third races of 2019 – Feb. 24 and March 3, respectively – after the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.

In addition to Busch and McCall, the Las Vegas test will also be the first on-track interaction between several other driver/crew chief combinations including Jimmie Johnson and new crew chief Kevin Meendering, Chad Knaus and William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan Newman and Scott Graves at Roush Fenway Racing.

The test will be open to fans with free admission. Also, NASCAR.com will be streaming parts of the test.

Here’s the list of drivers and teams that will be taking part in the Las Vegas test:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
0 Landon Cassill, Starcom Racing, Chevrolet
1 Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet
2 Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford
3 Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet
6 Ryan Newman, Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
13 Ty Dillon, Germain Racing, Chevrolet
14 Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford
18 Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
21 Paul Menard, Wood Brothers Racing, Ford
43 Bubba Wallace, Richard Petty Motorsports, Chevrolet
47 Ryan Preece, JTG Racing, Chevrolet
48 Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet
51 Cody Ware, Rick Ware Racing, Chevrolet
95 Matt DiBenedetto, Leavine Family Racing, Toyota
Chevrolet W
heel Force car Ross Chastain, Chevrolet Racing
Ford W
heel Force car David Ragan, Ford Motor Company
Toyota W
heel Force car Drew Herring, Toyota Racing Development

NASCAR Xfinity Series
8 Zane Smith, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet
9 Noah Gragson, JR Motorsports, Chevrolet
18 Riley Herbst, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
98 Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford

Event schedule (all times Eastern Time):
Thursday, Jan. 31

11 a.m.–Practice begins; LVMS gates, grandstands and pit road (via infield tunnel) open to the public
2 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
3-4 p.m.–Driver’s lunch break, driver group interviews in media center
6 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
8 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
10 p.m.–Track secure

Friday, Feb. 1
11 a.m.–Practice begins; LVMS gates, grandstands and pit road (via infield tunnel) open to the public
Noon –Drafting practice on track
2 p.m.–Drafting practice on track
3 p.m. –Track secure

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Drivers to take part in Cup Las Vegas organizational test

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Las Vegas Motor Speedway has announced a roster of 14 drivers who will take part in the first Cup organizational test of the year on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.

The test on the 1.5-mile track will be one of the first opportunities for teams to test the 2019 rules package that includes a tapered spacer.

The drivers who will take part:

Brad Keselowski (Team Penske)

Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports)

Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing)

Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing)

Ryan Newman (Roush Fenway Racing)

Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing)

Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing)

Landon Cassill (StarCom Racing)

Matt DiBenedetto (Leavine Family Racing)

Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing)

Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing)

Ross Chastain, David Ragan and Drew Herring are also scheduled to be at the track. They will be driving manufacture wheel force cars.

The test will be the first on-track time for Kurt Busch, Newman, Preece and DiBenedetto with their new teams.

The test is tentatively scheduled to run from 11 am to 9 pm ET on Jan. 31 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET on Feb. 1.

A section of the main grandstands and pit road will be open to fans at the test.

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Cup teams taking part in two-day test at Richmond Raceway

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NASCAR is holding a two-day organizational test at Richmond Raceway Monday and Tuesday ahead of the Sept. 22 night race at the short track.

One car from each team is permitted to take part in the test.

Drivers taking part in the test: Jimmie Johnson, Bubba Wallace, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Blaney, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, David Ragan, Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, and Drew Herring.

Grandstands are open Monday from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. ET and Tuesday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET.

Fans can enter the track via the Main Gate at the corner of Laburnum Ave. and Richmond-Henrico Turnpike.

Coolers are permitted into the grandstands.

Kligerman: Why the essence of Jimmie Johnson is ‘They won’t outwork me’

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CONCORD, N.C. – Recently, I had the opportunity to test a Monster Energy Cup car at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was the first time I’ve had the chance to wheel a car at the top level of NASCAR in just more than four years.

A lot has changed in that time but in my case, the most important was the car itself.

Setup styles, digital dashes, vastly lower downforce levels and lower horsepower.  It’s almost a different car.

This test was for the Coca-Cola 600. Thankfully, the person I leaned on for advice in my first taste of Cup racing at the end of 2013 is still there for advice.

Except he has two more championships to his name. (During the same time, I’ve been yapping into cameras and occasionally racing.)

That person is seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2013, I was lucky enough to be able to use Jimmie’s spotter, Earl Barban. So when my Cup debut was upon me, Earl gave me Jimmie’s number, and he was gracious enough to not only text me back but take time to talk to me as he fought for a championship.

To this day, it’s one of the highlights of my career. Per his advice, I earned the team its best qualifying position of the year and best finish on a 1.5-mile track.

Preparing for my first Cup start since April 2014, I wasn’t expecting to have the same chance to talk to Jimmie this time around. Mostly because I would be too shy to reach out.

Yet call it fate: It happened on the day of this manufacturer test for wheel force cars (which are outfitted with million-dollar telemetry equipment to validate and assess tires for their simulation programs).

“Jimmie is driving the wheel force car,” Drew Herring, Toyota’s simulation and wheel force driver, said to me. “Can you believe that?”

“I’m not surprised,” I replied.

Drew was shocked.

Wheel force testing is usually reserved for the drivers who draw the short straw or a talented young driver such as Drew who is happy to have the work.

It’s the closest that driving a race car will seem like a chore. It is monotonous, systematic and doesn’t require you to always go as fast as you can but instead hit certain parameters the engineers need to gather data.

But the job doesn’t end there. The wheel force driver is also required to turn laps in the manufacturer simulator, so the engineers can validate the data. It is a multi-day commitment to working on racecars as if they are a new line of code in an app.

After speaking to Drew, I walked by the Chevy pit area to get to my team’s pit area. Jimmie didn’t look too busy, so I seized the opportunity to strike up a conversation and get his advice on what I was struggling with in my Cup car.

I started by asking the simple question, “What are you doing here?”

He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “They won’t outwork me.”

It was this answer as to why I am not surprised he was there.

Earlier, Drew also suggested to me that someone asked Johnson to do the test. But Jimmie’s answer all but confirmed he wanted to be there.

Jimmie and I talked about current Cup cars and how they drive. Just as in 2013, he was very gracious with his time and knowledge to help guide me in the right direction with my own driving (much of what I won’t go into as that is driver-to-driver talk).

As we talked, I’m sure he noticed that I couldn’t stop my eyes from being drawn to the Monster Energy Cup Series logo on his suit. A “Champion 7x” patch is stitched directly below.

That assures him a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In my eyes, he is the greatest NASCAR driver of all time. The sheer sight of that simple patch is intimidating, to say the least.

Yet the conversation I was having with the person behind the patch was as if we were two buds hanging out.

At one point, he thought the lap times they were doing were 29.3 seconds, and he then asked an engineer if he was right. “Nah, we are not that fast. More like 29.6s”

It didn’t matter. They weren’t there to set blistering lap times. It’s all about gathering data in an effort to stop the bleeding.

He is in the midst of the longest losing streak of his career – 35 races (if he comes up short in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the drought will be as long as a full Cup season). Last Saturday night at Kansas Speedway, the No. 48 team radio underscored the tension building as Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus hunt for performance.

His race team, Hendrick Motorsports, is struggling to build the speed into their new Chevy Camaros that he needs to win.

He went into the facets of what he is struggling with handling-wise and the ways he was trying to adjust his driving style to fix them.

And all the while going through these issues, his face appeared to light up, and a smile came across as he said, “This is fun!”

I joked that it would be boring to just be winning every week. He chuckled and said, “Not exactly!”

As our conversation continued, his eyes filled with the enthusiasm and vibrancy of a young kid getting his first shot by doing the grunt work. Not a seven-time champion who many keep asking how many years he has left.

After a couple minutes, it was time for us both to get back in our cars and do our jobs. In his case, it was working with the multitude of Chevy engineers to make sure the data they were gathering was useful to improve their chances in the battle against the pointy end of the Cup field.

And in my case, it was to lament that I didn’t take notes.

As I was working with a small team that has only a handful of starts, Jimmie’s advice was once again invaluable to me. When we take the green flag at the Coca-Cola 600, it will be my team’s seventh start – the same number as Jimmie has championships.

The thing is, often in my other job, I am asked what makes Jimmie Johnson so good. People want to know what makes one driver better than another.

Usually, I’ll name a couple of his attributes and his incredibly unassuming nature. But on this fateful day at Charlotte, I finally saw the answer.

What makes Jimmie tick is a challenge. He loves, relishes and searches for a challenge. And right in front of him is maybe the largest he has ever faced.

But I’m not betting against him.

As he said, “They won’t outwork me.”

Kyle Larson posts fastest lap on final day of Las Vegas test

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Kyle Larson led the way again on the second and final day of the Cup organizational test Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, posting a lap of 191.259 mph.

Brad Keselowski won the pole last spring at Las Vegas with a lap of 193.68 mph.

Chevrolets posted the two spots overall Thursday with Larson and Ryan Newman (190.027 mph). Chevrolet cars had the top three speeds overall in Wednesday’s session. The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is making its debut this season.

“I feel good about it, and it’s been good to get back in a stock car after a couple months,” Larson said. “It felt like we had good speed, especially on that last long run we made. I feel like it was a good test, and it’s nice to know we still have a lot of speed in our cars with all the changes to the new Camaro.”

Sixteen drivers took part in the test.

“I feel like we got a good start with the new Camaro ZL1,” Newman said. “We’ll go through our notes and see how good we can do on our homework. The guys definitely want loads of data with the new car, and we definitely collected that.”

The only other driver to top 190 mph Thursday was Erik Jones, whose Toyota went 190.007 mph. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was next with a lap of 189.827 mph, the fastest lap for a Ford in this test.

THE DAY’S FASTEST SPEEDS FROM BOTH SESSIONS COMBINED:

191.259 — Kyle Larson (Chevrolet), afternoon session

190.027 — Ryan Newman (Chevrolet), afternoon session

190.007 — Erik Jones (Toyota), afternoon session

189.827 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Ford), afternoon session

189.281 — William Byron (Chevrolet), morning session

189.009 — Kasey Kahne (Chevrolet), afternoon session

188.745 — Brad Keselowski (Ford), morning session

187.754 — Kurt Busch (Ford), morning session

187.500 — Paul Menard (Ford), morning session

187.500 — Ty Dillon (Chevrolet), morning session

187.318 — Chris Buescher (Chevrolet), afternoon session

187.298 — Darrell Wallace Jr. (Chevrolet), afternoon session

186.761 — Cole Custer (Ford), afternoon session

184.319 — Drew Herring (Toyota), morning session

183.824 — Justin Allgaier (Chevrolet), morning session

180.542 — David Ragan (Ford), morning session

NOTE: Herring, Allgaier and Ragan were driving wheel force cars for their respective manufacturers. Custer was in the No. 32 Go Fas Racing car.

TOP SPEEDS IN AFTERNOON SESSION

191.259 — Kyle Larson (Chevrolet)

190.027 — Ryan Newman (Chevrolet)

190.007 — Erik Jones (Toyota)

189.827 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Ford)

189.009 — Kasey Kahne (Chevrolet)

TOP SPEEDS IN MORNING SESSION

189.281 — William Byron (Chevrolet)

189.129 — Kyle Larson (Chevrolet)

188.745 — Brad Keselowski (Ford)

188.686 — Ryan Newman (Chevrolet)

187.754 — Kurt Busch (Ford)

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