Sam Mayer

Friday 5: Silly season off to a late start, leaving many questions

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — The anticipation of NASCAR’s Silly Season has been building because of its late arrival.

Wednesday’s announcement that David Ragan would not run full-time in Cup next year and Thursday’s announcement that Matt DiBenedetto was out at Leavine Family Racing after this season kickstarted Silly Season, making it the latest start to the ride-changing season in recent years.

Also Thursday, Erik Jones left little doubt he’ll be in the No. 20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing next season and a report stated that Christopher Bell will take over the No. 95 at Leavine Family Racing.

Many questions remain. Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer could be headed to Cup next season but have not announced where they’ll be. Clint Bowyer’s contract expires after this season, and while there are indications he’ll remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, nothing official has been announced. Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing for this season and said after he won in July at Kentucky that “it would be stupid not to keep this group together.”

Those are just among some of the questions this Silly Season. There are other moves that could take place.

But until this week, there had been a lot of talk but little action. 

That’s much different than when Cup teams arrived at Bristol Motor Speedway two years ago for the August race. By that point, it had already been announced that:

— Matt Kenseth was out at Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2017 season.

Erik Jones would replace Kenseth in that ride in 2018.

Alex Bowman would take over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ride in 2018.

Brad Keselowski had signed a contract extension with Team Penske.

Ryan Blaney was moving to Team Penske in 2018.

Paul Menard was taking over the Wood Brothers ride with Blaney moving

William Byron would drive the No. 24 in 2018

Matt DiBenedetto would remain with Go Fas Racing.

When Cup teams arrived at Bristol Motor Speedway last August, there were few moves that had been completed. The only announcements to that point were:

Bubba Wallace to remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through 2020.

— Kasey Kahne was retiring from full-time Cup racing.

Wallace’s announcement was in July. Kahne’s announcement was in August.

The decline in announcements to this point is partly on the complexity of completing deals. It’s not just the driver that has to be signed. There has to be enough sponsorship. Until there is, some deals won’t be done. At this rate, actual movement in Silly Season could continue to go deeper into the season. Of course, the talk is always there, even early in the year.

2. Life in the Fast Lane

Bristol Motor Speedway is notorious for nabbing speeders on pit road. And that could play a key role in Saturday night’s Cup race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

There have been at least six speeding penalties in each of the last 10 Cup races at the half-mile track. There were 11 speeding penalties in April’s race, the most at the track since 17 speeding penalties were called in the April 2016 race.

Those racing for the final playoff spots have had their troubles with speeding on pit road at Bristol.

Daniel Suarez, who is six points out of the final playoff spots, has been penalized for speeding in each of the past two Bristol races. Jimmie Johnson, who is 12 points out of the final playoff spot, also has been penalized for speeding in each of the past two Bristol races.

Ryan Newman, who has a 10-point lead on the final playoff spot, was penalized for speeding at Bristol in the 2018 night race.

Bristol’s pit road speed is 30 mph, the same as Martinsville Speedway but Martinsville has not had as many speeding penalties in recent races.

So what makes Bristol more troublesome for drivers?

The track has pit stalls on both the frontstretch and backstretch. On pit stops during cautions, drivers must enter pit road at the exit of Turn 2 even if their pits are on the frontstretch, meaning, they must drive down the backstretch pit road and then run below the apron in the corners before entering the frontstretch pit road. It is the turn where drivers can get in trouble with speeds by cutting it too sharply.

“You’re just trying to get everything you can,” Newman said. “You’re cutting that radius and it’s kind of an unspecified science, I guess, of trying to guess the distance and the speed and you only got some much time to practice it and when you get somebody racing you, you push it a little bit and you get caught.”

3. Sure bet (almost)

Kyle Busch has won six of the last 12 short track races in Cup. No one else has won more than once in that time.

He’s finished in the top three in eight of those 12 races. He’s finished eighth or better in all but one of those races. The exception was a 20th-place finish in last year’s night race at Bristol. He spun on Lap 2 and was hit by multiple cars in that race. Later, he had contact with Martin Truex Jr. and then spun with a flat tire with less than 20 laps to go in the race.

Here is a look at his recent finishes on short tracks (wins in bold):

8th — Richmond (April 2019)

1st — Bristol (April 2019)

3rd — Martinsville (March 2019)

4th — Martinsville (October 2018)

1st — Richmond (September 2018)

20th — Bristol (August 2018)

1st — Richmond (April 2018)

1st — Bristol (April 2018)

2nd — Martinsville (March 2018)

1st — Martinsville (October 2017)

9th — Richmond (September 2017)

1st — Bristol (August 2017)

4. A budding rivalry?

Sam Mayer and Chase Cabre have seemingly built quite a rivalry in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

It’s been cooking for a bit among the title contenders.

In a story Thursday in the Bristol Herald Courier, Cabre said of Mayer: “I think he’s arrogant. Sam and I have talked, and he knows where I stand.”

Cabre also said in the story: “We have an ongoing rivalry, so things will happen and I’m not afraid to voice my opinion. There’s a good guy and bad guy element now between us. Nobody wants to tear up a race car, but it looks like Sam and I are going to be mashing heads for a while.”

It didn’t take long for them to make contact Thursday night.

Cabre spun on the opening lap after contact from Mayer. NASCAR penalized Mayer for the incident, forcing him to restart at the rear. Mayer went on to win the race and had plenty to say afterward about Cabre.

“He just keeps racing me like … you know what,” Mayer said. “I can’t say the word that describes him right now. He definitely does not race me clean. I did not appreciate it at all. It started at Memphis, all the way back there (June 1 in a race won by Cabre). I waited until it really mattered to finally do something and unfortunately I did it big. I wouldn’t want to call it a rivalry.”

Cabre finished eighth. Medics came to his wrecked car after the race and helped him on to a stretcher. After being checked in the infield care center, he was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation. He later tweeted he was suffering from back pain.

5. Leading the way

Since NBC took over broadcasting the Cup races, beginning June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway, no driver has scored more points than Denny Hamlin.

He has scored 273 points in those seven races. He’s followed by Martin Truex Jr. (262 points), Kyle Busch (250), Kevin Harvick (249) and Erik Jones (237).

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Truck Series practice report from Bristol Motor Speedway

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Austin Hill, who won last weekend’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Michigan, posted the fastest lap in Thursday’s final practice session at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Hill led the way with a lap of 126.328 mph. He was followed by Sam Mayer (126.095 mph), reigning series champion  Brett Moffitt (125.789), Stewart Friesen (125.617) and Johnny Sauter (125.469).

Click here for final practice results

Moffitt had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 122.594 mph. He was followed by Friesen (122.532 mph) and Matt Crafton (122.407).

Harrison Burton ran the most laps in the session at 73. He ranked ninth on the speed chart with a top lap of 125.060 mph.

OPENING PRACTICE

Tyler Ankrum was fastest in the first of two Gander Outdoors Truck Series practice sessions Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Ankrum, one of the eight Truck Series playoff drivers, posted a top speed of 126.420 mph around the half-mile track.

He was followed by Ross Chastain (125.831 mph), Matt Crafton (125.354), Raphael Lessard (125.036) and Brett Moffitt (124.930).

Sheldon Creed, who was eighth on the speed chart, recorded the most laps with 78. He also had the best 10-lap average at 123.983 mph.

The final Truck practice is scheduled for 11:05 – 11:55 a.m ET.

Click here for the practice report.

Ty Gibbs, grandson of Joe Gibbs, wins first career ARCA race with last-lap pass

World Wide Technology Raceway Twitter
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Ty Gibbs, the 16-year-old grandson of NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs, won his first career ARCA Menards Series race Saturday with a last-lap pass at Sam Mayer at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Gibbs made contact with Mayer as he passed him for the lead and went on to beat Christian Eckes. Mayer finished third.

On the cool-down lap, Mayer showed his displeasure with Gibbs by bumping his car, but Gibbs was able to keep control of it.

The race ended in a six-lap shootout. During the final caution, Gibbs was among the drivers who pitted. Mayer and six others stayed out.

Gibbs restarted eighth and was in second within one lap.

The win comes in Gibbs’ sixth career ARCA start. He has finished in the top two in four of those races.

Gibbs told MAV TV his contact with Mayer was fair game after Mayer made contact with him in a race earlier this year at Salem Speedway.

 

JR Motorsports, GMS Racing partner on driver development program

Photo: Dustin Long
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JR Motorsports and GMS Racing have established Drivers Edge Development, a program presented by Chevrolet and aimed at grooming the next generation of drivers through a tiered pipeline coupled with comprehensive off-track education.

The program will give drivers the opportunity to race in five types of development series with JRM or GMS-fielded entries. The program also provides added training to enhance professional growth off the track.

Although mainly performance-based, there are no set criteria for selection into the program.

The six drivers in the program this year are:

Noah Gragson (Xfinity driver at JR Motorsports)

John Hunter Nemechek (Xfinity driver at GMS Racing)

Zane Smith (Xfinity driver at JR Motorsports in eight races)

Sheldon Creed (Truck driver at GMS Racing)

Sam Mayer (Truck/ARCA/K&N driver for GMS Racing and Late Model driver for JR Motorsports)

Adam Lemke (Late Model driver for JR Motorsports)

The relationship between JR Motorsports and GMS Racing is not new. They have a technical alliance in the Xfinity Series.

 

Brett Moffitt joins GMS Racing to defend Truck title

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GMS Racing announced Thursday that reigning NASCAR Truck champion Brett Moffitt will drive the team’s No. 24 ride in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. GMS Racing made the announcement a day after stating that Johnny Sauter would not return to the team.

“I’m excited to be given the chance to defend my 2018 championship,” Moffitt said in a statement from the team. “I have to thank the Gallagher family and everyone at GMS for this opportunity. I can’t wait to start working with Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) and the guys to kick off the season at Daytona in a few weeks.”

Moffitt needed a ride after he was replaced by Austin Hill at Hattori Racing. Despite winning the championship, Hattori Racing struggled to find sponsorship throughout the season. Moffitt said after winning the title in November he didn’t know where he would drive this season.

The 26-year-old Moffitt won six races last year. He has seven career Truck wins in 36 starts.

“Brett will be an excellent addition to the GMS organization,” GMS team president Mike Beam said in a statement. “Last year he showed the racing world the amount of talent and determination he has, especially while facing some adversity throughout the season. We look forward to helping him win his second championship and ours as well.

“We have a strong driver lineup in every series we’ll compete in this year. Maury Gallagher has given us the tools and personnel we need to compete for several championships.”

In a Thursday afternoon teleconference, Moffitt called the signing an “11th hour” deal and said discussions between him and GMS started “in-between the holidays. They just wanted to see what I could bring to them and what they could for me and if I was still available.”

Moffitt said “a few existing partners” that have been with him through the years will be on the No. 24, but he’s not sure how often.

Even with those partners, Moffitt said staying with Hattori was “never an option.”

“Quite frankly, I don’t think it would have been enough to move the needle,” Moffitt said. “I think GMS has given us a really good platform where we can take some of our current partners and their current partners and help build it all.”

Before the GMS opportunity arrived, Moffitt said he “had options open.”

“None of them that would necessarily lead to me being in race-winning equipment, which is what I wanted ultimately,” Moffitt said. “A few opportunities in less than impressive Cup stuff. We had talked with some Xfinity teams as well. The biggest thing for me is to go out and try to compete for a championship and win races. I was kind of holding out and hoping a deal like this would come together.”

Moffitt said he considered at one point settling for opportunities to run limited races in winning equipment.

He said the deal from GMS was the “best deal out there by far and I think it’ll be one of the best positions I’ve been in in my career.”

Moffitt cited a relationship with GMS that originated in one Xfinity Series start for the team in 2017 when he finished 11th at Iowa Speedway.

“Just kind of always been in talks on-and-off,” Moffitt said. “When this opportunity opened up to them, I believe I was the first person they called about it. I’m just glad we were able to make it happen.”

The rest of the GMS Racing lineup for 2019 features:

  • Rookie Sheldon Creed in the No. 2 Truck with Doug Randolph as crew chief.
  • John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 23 Xfinity car with Chad Norris as crew chief.
  • Sam Mayer in the No. 21 K&N Pro Series East ride. He’ll also run limited ARCA and Truck races.

GMS Racing also stated that Halmar Friesen Racing renewed its technical alliance with GMS Racing to field the No. 52 for Stewart Friesen.

Daniel McFadin contributed to this report