Photo: Dustin Long

Inside look at Richard Petty Motorsports’ Bristol game plan

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dustin Long is spending this week with Richard Petty Motorsports to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at how a team prepares for a race. He will be with the team at the shop and at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Watch for his stories beginning today and running through Sunday.

WELCOME, N.C. — Tuesday’s competition meeting could have been held anywhere at Richard Petty Motorsports and often is.

Sometimes it is held in crew chief Drew Blickensderfer’s cozy office where a picture of Richard Petty and Dale Inman from Martinsville in 1971 watches over the room.

Cars on the shop floor at Richard Petty Motorsports. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Sometimes the meeting can be held on the shop floor where some of the team’s 12 cars are in various stages of dress, including the car — still in its primer black — that Bubba Wallace will race Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Tuesday, the meeting took place in a conference room in the front of the 20,000-square foot building that sits on the Richard Childress Racing complex.

Outside the room along a narrow hallway is a picture of a young Petty from about 60 years ago. NASCAR’s Elvis stands with his right hand in his back pocket and left hand leaning on the hood of a No. 43 convertible that Inman, who walks by, says is from Darlington in the late 1950s. Petty wears a white open-face helmet and the driver’s uniform of the day, a striped button down shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows, jeans and boots.

Just a few feet from that picture, Wallace — the future of RPM — leans back in a leather office chair in his uniform of the day, a blue Air Force T-shirt, dark jeans and sneakers. Blickensderfer sits across from Wallace in the conference room. Engineer Derek Stamets is to the right of Blickensderfer, who looks over notes on his laptop.

Sometimes there are a few more who sit in on the meeting but not many for this single-car team, which has 12 people working on the cars at the track and nine who solely work on the cars at the shop.

This is a pivotal time for Richard Petty Motorsports. While it has had sponsorship from World Wide Technology, STP, Click n’ Close and the U.S. Air Force, among others, the team does not have a primary sponsor for seven of the remaining 13 Cup races, including this weekend at Bristol. For those races, the car will be adorned in the team’s Petty blue and Day Glo orange with the logos of Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage, companies operated by team owners Andrew Murstein and Petty.

Mechanic Joey Forgette (left), car chief Jason Sheets and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer talk as they stand over the car Bubba Wallace will drive at Bristol this weekend. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Trying to compete against teams with bigger budgets is not easy — Wallace has an average finish of 22.6 this year. But Bristol can be an equalizer because success at the high-banked short track is not as reliant on aerodynamics and dollar signs.

Wallace drove to the front and led six laps — the first laps the 24-year-old rookie had led as a Cup driver — at Bristol in April. A blistered left front tire relegated Wallace to 16th that day, but that doesn’t dampen the anticipation in the shop for this weekend. A similar run, without the tire blistering, would be a great way to showcase the team to potential sponsors it will have as guests Saturday night at the track.

So it is with that at stake the team’s weekly competition meeting takes place.

Blickensderfer gives Wallace a flash drive at the start of the meeting for his homework.

“That’s got (Kyle Larson’s) in-car (video),” Blickensderfer says. “I got that for you, at the end of the day when we had the struggle with the left front tire, we were never really able to get to the top (groove). Those guys could so I thought was worth watching.

“Yep,” Wallace said, nodding.

“That’s got qualifying on it, just to review what everybody did.”

Blickensderfer tells Wallace they will stick with their base setup from the spring race but will try three or four things to try to “tighten entry and … help that left front tire. We’ll try those in practice and see if we can figure out things.”

The blistered left front tire ruined a performance that could have rivaled Wallace’s runner-up finish in the Daytona 500, a result that left Petty smiling broadly and the now 81-year-old hustling through the crowd to bear hug his driver.

Knowing how close he had come to such a strong finish at Bristol, Wallace said he was “absolutely devastated, dejected, defeated” in a video he posted on Twitter shortly after that race.

Wallace was 12th on Lap 256 in the spring, climbed to sixth by lap 273 and worked his way to second on Lap 368 when he passed Kyle Busch. Wallace passed Brad Keselowski for the lead on Lap 375, holding it until Busch, who went on to win, got back by him six laps later.

Wallace soon fell back. As the left front tire blistered, it kept Wallace from running the bottom line because the car wouldn’t turn as well. By the time the caution came out on Lap 471, Wallace had fallen outside the top 10 and was no longer a factor for the win.

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer and Bubba Wallace discuss their game plan for this weekend’s race at Bristol. (Photo: Dustin Long)

It was with that in mind that Wallace asked Blickensderfer what happened to the tire that day.

“Do you think the setup was the cause of the left front?” Wallace asks.

“I don’t think so,” Blickensderfer says. “I don’t know if it’s chicken or egg. I don’t know if the left front got worn because of the (traction compound was put down in the corners of the track) differently than it should have. There were other teams that had a similar left front issue. Us and (Keselowski) were running in the top five and 40 laps later we were getting lapped.

“It could have been brake related. Did we have something go on where you had to dial more front brake in because you were loose in?

“Yeah,” Wallace says.

“Then all of a sudden when tires wear, you locked up the left front one time.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“It takes some tread off and then from then on it gets worse.”

“Yep.”

“Or did the tread start coming up, which caused it to lock up more.”

“Gotcha.”

Blickensderfer notes that tire was worn in the center. Had it been worn on the inside edge or outside edge, it would have been a sign of a camber issue. Also, Blickensderfer says they had run further earlier in the race without an issue.

Blickensderfer also tells Wallace that they’ll have a 15-minute penalty at the end of the first practice Friday morning because they went through inspection twice before last weekend’s race at Michigan. The plan is to do a couple of mock qualifying runs in Friday’s morning session. Wallace was 16th in the first round of qualifying and 20th in the second round there in the spring. Wallace’s car had been loose in the corner in the first round and “really loose in” Blickensderfer notes in the second round.

“We’ll make sure to give you a couple of mock runs, especially on older tires to see if that loose in gets worse as it goes,” Blickensderfer says.

“OK,” Wallace says.

They discuss more about the race, go back to qualifying with Blickensderfer noting other videos he’s placed on the flash drive of drivers for Wallace to study, mention the weather and how that could impact their plans and make final notes. They end for lunch but the discussions won’t stop. The search for speed doesn’t take breaks.

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NASCAR America: Scan All from Michigan International Speedway

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It was another Cup race and another win for Kevin Harvick Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver scored his series leading seventh win of the season after sweeping each stage.

Relive the race with the latest edition of Scan All from NASCAR America.

Here are some highlights.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Scan All, Bristol preview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to turn the page to this weekend’s racing in Bristol.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty in Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton joins them from Burton’s garage.

On today’s show:

  • We will re-live all the sights and sounds of Kevin Harvick‘s dominant victory to re-affirm the “Big 3’s” grip on the 2018 season with today’s edition of Scan All: Michigan.
  • We’ll make the turn from the Irish Hills to Thunder Valley as we begin to preview Saturday’s Night Race at Bristol. Our panel of experts will talk about Kyle Busch‘s recent mastery of the World’s Fastest Half-Mile. Plus, we’ll examine several drivers seeking their first victory of 2018 and a highly coveted ticket to the Playoffs.
  • And, our own Kyle Petty will hop into the iRacing Simulator for some hot laps in Thunder Valley. How will he handle Bristol’s high banks, along with some distractions that we will throw his way?

If you can’t catch today’s show 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.

Who is hot and not entering the Bristol night race

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The Cup Series heads to Bristol, Tennessee, for its annual night race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30p.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN).

There are only three races left in the regular season and anything can happen on the half-mile track.

Here’s who is hot and not entering the race courtesy of Racing Insights.

Who is Hot

Kevin Harvick
• Won at Michigan (1st in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 108 laps led)
• Won 7 of last 22 races
• Won 12 stages in 2018 (had 6 in all of 2017)
• Finished in Top 5 in 8 of last 10 races
• In 23 races in 2018, 19 top 10s (including 7 wins) & 4 finishes of 19th or worse
• Finished 8th or better in 6 straight Bristol races, including win in Aug. 2016 (7th in April)
• Started 29th, 11th in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2, finished 8th in this race one year ago
• Finished 7th or better, including 3 Top 5s, in the last 4 short track races
• Finished 8th or better in 7 of last 8 short track races

Chase Elliott
• Finished 9th at Michigan (34th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2); pit on Lap 37 due to vibration while running 20th
• Top 10 in the last four races
• Finished in Top 10 in 7 of last 10 races
• Finished 15th or worse in 3 of last 4 Bristol races (29th in April)
• Two top 10s in 5 career Bristol starts
• In last year’s race started 4th, 4th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2, 2 laps led, finished 18th; spun on
backstretch while running 6th on lap 396
• Top 10 in two of three short track starts in 2018

Kyle Busch
• Finished 3rd at Michigan (2nd in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, 22 laps led)
• Won 6 of last 17 races
• Finished in top 5 in 10 of last 11 races
• Michigan was his 17th top-five finish in 2018, tying his most top 5s in a single season
• Finished in the Top 5 in 17 of 23 races this season
• Won last 2 Bristol races
• Finished 29th or worse in 5 of last 8 Bristol starts (4 DNFs)
• Leads active drivers with 7 wins and 2,233 laps led at Bristol
• Started 18th, 1st in Stage 1, 8th in Stage 2, 156 laps led, won this race one year ago
• Won 4 of last 6 short track races
• Top-two finishes in five of the last six short track races
• Average finish of 1.3 on short tracks in 2018

Kurt Busch
• Finished 6th at Michigan (4th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2)
• Top-10 in the last five races of 2018
• Finished 22nd or worse in 3 of last 4 Bristol races (22nd in April)
• Started 25th, 14th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2, finished 5th in this race one year ago; hit the wall on lap 276
while running 11th
• Finished 11th or worse in the last four short track races

 

Who is Not Hot

Jamie McMurray
• Finished 21st at Michigan (18th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2, 1 lap led)
• Finished outside the top 10 in 8 of the last 10 races of 2018
• Finished 15th or worse in 18 of 23 races this season
• Finished 12th or worse in 3 straight Bristol races and 11th or worse in 6 of last 7 Bristol races (19th in April)
• Started 11th, 17th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2, finished 12th in this race one year ago
• Has not had a top 10 in the last six short track races

Clint Bowyer
• Finished 12th at Michigan (13th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2)
• Finished outside the top-10 in the last six races of 2018
• Finished top 10 in 4 of last 6 Bristol races (8th in April)
• In last year’s race started 9th, 15th in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2, finished 19th
• Top 10 in the last four short track races including a win at Martinsville in April

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
• Finished 18th at Michigan (15th in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2)
• Finished outside the top 10 in 10 straight races
• Finished 14th or worse in 19 of 23 races in 2018
• Top 10 in three of the last four Bristol races
• Six Top 10s in 11 career Bristol starts
• In last year’s race, started 14th, 12th in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2, finished 14th; scraped wall on
lap 201 with flat right-front tire while running 9th; penalized for speeding exiting pits on Lap 418
• Finished 14th or worse in 4 of last 6 short track races

Paul Menard
• Finished 16th at Michigan (19th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2)
• Finished outside the top-10 in 8 straight races and 9 of last 10
• Finished outside the top-10 in 7 straight Bristol races (13th in April)
• In last year’s race started 27th, 26th in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2, finished 16th
• No top 10s in 14 straight short track races

Bubba Wallace
• Finished 23rd at Michigan (25th in Stage 1, 23rd in Stage 2)
• Finished 14th or worse in 16 straight races
• Finished 20th or worse in 16 of 23 races in 2018
• Started 20th, 21st in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2, 6 laps led, finished 16th at Bristol in April, his only start
at the track
• Finished 16th or worse in 3 career short track starts

Bump & Run: Favorite Bristol memories

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What is your favorite Bristol memory?

Kyle Petty: Watching Harry Gant show those high school boys in Grand National/Busch series how to get it done at Bristol. We would sit on the hill on the backstretch and cheer him on!

Parker Kligerman: My first race there was in 2010. We wrecked in qualifying at the spring race because of a mechanical issue and missed the race. I was doing a part-time schedule in NXS & had good runs but failed to get a top 10. So when we came back in August I really wanted/needed a good run and we had an awesome race and finished in the top 10 for my first time. This was the start of many good races for myself there including second place in trucks in 2012. … Some of my favorite memories growing up were the onboard cameras looking backward at the cars following where at Bristol you could see how much undulation the car was going through and how close they would get to each other’s bumpers. It was awesome and really made me want to race there one day. I miss the old track and think I would have been really good on it. 

Nate Ryan: The first night race I ever covered there, when Jimmie Johnson flipped off Robby Gordon, an angry Elliott Sadler punched the side of an ambulance, and Ward Burton threw his heel pads at Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then said he wished he would have had “something else to have shot” through his window. Oh, and Jeff Gordon bumped Rusty Wallace aside with two laps remaining to end a 31-race winless streak. All that happened on Aug. 24, 2002.

Dustin Long: The 1999 night race when Dale Earnhardt “rattled the cage” of Terry Labonte and spun him out of the lead. What was so memorable wasn’t the incident but the reaction. Several minutes after the race ended, they played the radio call of the final lap on the track’s pa system and the fans — it seemed more than half were still in the stands at the time — booed the moment Earnhardt’s hit wrecked Labonte. Incredible atmosphere.

Daniel McFadin: Covering my first race there last August. The track sneaks up on you, as there’s not much in the town to suggest one of NASCAR’s most famous tracks is located there. It suddenly appears around a bend as you approach it. Then walking up out of the tunnel in the infield was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Bristol is a wonder.

Dan Beaver: The 1996 Night Race. Until this year, that race always fell on or near my father’s birthday. That year the race landed on his birthday and I got a chance to take him for our first trip to a track that had always been one of our favorites. 

We know who the Big 3 are. Who would be your pick to make it the Big 4 right now?

Kyle Petty: There is no Big 4 … and it’s too late for someone to join the Party. Harvick, Busch and Truex are in a league of their own. Someone would have to win 40% of the remaining races (5) for me to consider them a part of this group.

Parker Kligerman: Brad Keselowski. I’ve been saying it for months, that the 2 car is the best at executing and using strategy to steal track position from faster cars. As of this time, barring disaster, they are the fourth best team. 

Nate Ryan: If forced to pick a fourth who will race for the championship, it would be Kurt Busch based on his recent results and veteran experience. But after Michigan, the separation between Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. and the rest of the field seems as wide as ever. There is little confidence in picking a fourth driver to join them.

Dustin Long: Although he hasn’t won this year, I’d make Kurt Busch as the fourth based on recent performance. His sixth-place finish at Michigan was his fifth consecutive top-10 result.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Chase Elliott. His win at Watkins Glen is one of four consecutive top 10s. My midseason pick, Kyle Larson, has basically disappeared since his runner-up finish at Chicagoland with just two top 10s in the last six races.

Dan Beaver: I don’t think anyone belongs in their league or is likely to get there. The way the playoffs work, someone will join them with a theoretical chance for the championship at Homestead, but no one is going to seriously challenge. 

What is a racing event that you’ve never attended but is on your bucket list and why?

Kyle Petty: Isle Of Man TT races! If you know what it is, you know why … nuff said.

Parker Kligerman: 24 Hours of Le Mans. Apparently it’s an incredible festival and there is just something sacred about that race. Though I don’t want to just attend but definitely race in it … one day … one day. 

Nate Ryan: The 24 Hours of Le Mans because of its history, tradition and fan appeal. Having written about the race so many times from afar (through advance stories about American teams preparing for the spectacle), I’d love to see it in person.

Dustin Long: Growing up in the Midwest and attending numerous sprint car races with my dad, I’ve always wanted to attend the Knoxville Nationals and experience what makes that event special.

Daniel McFadin: I could say the Daytona 500, but I’ll go all out and say Speedweeks. Give me a RV and a prime spot in the Daytona infield for two weeks. Seems like heaven.

Dan Beaver: The Hell Tour: DIRTcar’s Summer Nationals that feature almost 30 races in a span of 30 days during the summer. It may well be racing’s last true endurance event.