Friday 5: David Ragan says gap between ‘haves and have-nots’ has grown

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It started with a tweet.

Isn’t that often the case?

It was a few days after Travis Pastrana successfully recreated three of Evel Knievel’s iconic Las Vegas jumps earlier this month. Pastrana, who ran full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2013, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he enjoyed his racing experience except for losing his own money.

“The best way to end up a millionaire,” Pastrana told the newspaper “is to start with two and go racing.”

David Ragan, who has made 417 career Cup starts, responded to the comment with a tweet:

In a conversation with NBC Sports a few hours before last weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, Ragan praised the racing, the safety of the cars and NASCAR’s marketing of drivers, but reiterated his concerns about the financial gap between Cup teams.

“The gap has gotten larger from the haves and have-nots,” Ragan said. “A team like Jasper Motorsports in the early 2000s, they could have a good weekend and a good setup and a good pit crew and they could go and run in the top five. Can Front Row Motorsports run in the top five at Kentucky on a normal weekend? No. There’s no way.

“A team like Roush Racing, they’re off right now, they can’t do it. So the distance between the haves and the have-nots are as great as they’ve ever been.”

How to solve the problem, Ragan admits he isn’t sure. He says the sport needs to be cheaper so teams don’t require as much sponsorship money to be competitive.

Richard Petty Motorsports stated before last weekend’s race at Kentucky that it continues to look for sponsorship this season for rookie Bubba Wallace. The businesses of car owners Richard Petty (Petty’s Garage) and Andrew Murstein (Medallion Bank) were the sponsors on Wallace’s car last week and will be on his car this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“Now a team owner, when they hire a driver, the first question is ‘How much money do you have?’ or ‘Can you sell a sponsor for me?’ ” Ragan said.

Ragan admits that there are some such cases that have worked out well for team and driver.

“You look at Matt Tifft and … Brandon Jones, they bring money to the team and it’s a rent-a-ride and those kids are deserving of a ride,” Ragan said. “They do a good job, but it’s not always like that because you do have some kids – and I don’t need to name names – but there are some kids just having a good time spending their daddy’s money and that doesn’t help our sport.

“They don’t have the passion. There’s probably late model drivers, (Camping World Truck Series driver) Jordan Anderson who is passionate about our sport, who drives his truck and trailer all around the country. He deserves a top-tier ride. It all boils down to expense.”

Ragan says it is important for new people to enter the sport and the Cup level.

“What creates interest in our sport, someone from an owner or a driver that says, ‘Hey I can come in and pay my dues and be successful in a reasonable amount of time,’ ” Ragan said. “(I) think that was possible 25 years ago. I think that Bill Davis or the owner of Jasper Motorsports … someone like a Robert Yates, who is not a billionaire but who is hard worker, who is a good team leader and who has good people surrounding them, they could come and be successful. I think like Morgan-McClure, but we’ve run those teams out because this is a rich man’s hobby. If you don’t have a half a billion net worth or more, you don’t have a chance of making it in NASCAR.”

The Race Team Alliance, which Ragan’s Front Row Motorsports team is not part of by choice, has sought to help teams reduce costs through shared expenses. NASCAR repeatedly has stated that one of its prime objectives is costs and that it works with teams on cutting expenses.

One recent example is NASCAR deciding not to run the All-Star package at any other track this season after concerns from teams about the expense of a mid-season change.

Rob Kauffman, chairman of the Race Team Alliance, said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast earlier this month that the purpose of the RTA “is to promote and grow the sport of stock-car racing and pursue the long-term (common) interests of the teams.”

Kauffman said the RTA worked on cutting costs for teams. That included travel costs, working with carriers to ferry teams to tracks instead of teams needing to have their own jets (although some still do).

Still, the sport faces challenges. That’s among the reasons the charter system was created. Kauffman said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast that the RTA was involved in the negotiations on the charter system and “how the rule process works: When, how, when do changes get implemented. The teams are not against changes. I think in general they’re in favor of evolution and trying to promote and grow the sport, just change needs to be done in a reasonable and planned out and sensible fashion.”

The charter system helps Cup teams budget for a season based on an estimated earning per race. Teams still need to secure sponsorship to fund all that they want or need. A hope among owners is that as the charters mature, they will grow in value so if an owner ever decides to sell, they won’t be losing money just like Pastrana said he did.

2. Playoff battle among teammates

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman hold the final three playoff spots heading into Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Johnson leads Elliott by 15 points and Elliott has a 42-point point advantage on Bowman, who is coming off a last-place finish at Kentucky after a brake rotor failed that caused his crash last weekend.

Bowman admits “it’s definitely crossed my mind” on how to race his teammates if they’re also battling for the final playoff spots.

“I would imagine at that point you just become competitors,” he told NBC Sports. “You’re still going to help each other. The teams are going to share information, but when it comes down to Sunday afternoon, you’re just going to become competitors and can’t race each other easy like teammates at that point.

“Hopefully it doesn’t come down to that and all three of us get in, but it will be an interesting experience and a learning process for me because, you’re right, I haven’t had an experience like that, I don’t know what to expect with that.”

3. Roval concerns

After Cup drivers tested the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the past two weeks, the consensus is that playoff race there Sept. 30 should feature a lot of bumping and banging — crashing.

Over the past couple of weeks, minor adjustments were made to the track. The first test day, additional curbing  and a tire barrier were put near the backstretch chicane to keep drivers from cutting through the exit and shortening the distance to Turn 3 on the oval.

During the test this past week, rumble strips were removed from Turn 8, a left-hand turn that leads cars from the infield portion back on to the oval.

Joey Logano has another change he’d like to see but knows he likely won’t.

“I think the goal should be to try to get rid of the bus stop on the back,” Logano told NBC Sports. “Just get rid of it. Just go. Hell with it. We don’t need it any other time we’re here. There’s no passing zone there. It’s kind of hodge-podge in a way.

“It’s going to cause accidents, and there’s no room for error. Someone is going to hit the tire pylon on exit and knock the radiators out of the car. We’re going to have a big caution and a  big cleanup. It would just be better if we didn’t have it.”

That chicane is intended to prevent cars from carrying too much speed into Turns 3 and 4 on the oval. The challenge with a road course that also has high-speed banked turns is for teams to have the proper setup and Goodyear to provide the proper tire that can handle those speeds and the demands of a road course.

That’s not the only concern.

Aric Almirola noted that for the start and restarts, drivers will come down the frontstretch instead of going through the chicane. He worries about the speed drivers will carry into Turn 1, a sharp left-hand turn into the infield road course.

“Turn 1 is very sketchy, and on the restarts I think that’s going to be a really, really sketchy spot,” Almirola told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be going faster because we’re going to be restarting from the oval instead of from the chicane. That’s going to be an interesting thing to watch and see how it develops throughout the weekend. I just don’t know.

“It’s fun to do something different. I enjoy that. I wish it wasn’t a playoff race. I would love for this to be an exhibition race or to run here in May when it means a little less, but to come here for a playoff race to do something this extreme, I’m not totally in favor of it.”

Alex Bowman said that his team considered simulating a restart during their test last week but ran out of time after having parts failures that limited their track time.

4. Something new?

Martin Truex Jr. has 16 wins since the beginning of the 2016 season but he’s not won back-to-back races. Will that change this weekend?

5. Will the domination continue?

Toyota drivers have led 97.2 percent of the laps run in the last four Cup races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Toyota drivers won three of those four races. Will anyone else challenge those cars this weekend?

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GMS Racing names Chad Norris as Spencer Gallagher’s crew chief in Xfinity Series

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Chad Norris has been named crew chief of Spencer Gallagher‘s No. 23 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series next year, GMS Racing announced Thursday.

Norris, who has spent the last two seasons as crew chief for Brennan Poole at Chip Ganassi Racing, replaces Joey Cohen.

In Gallagher’s rookie season, the 28-year-old driver recorded one top 10 (Richmond I), eight DNFs and finished 19th in the standings.

Norris and Poole earned four top fives and 17 tops 10s in each of their two seasons together. The No. 48 team advanced to the second round of the playoffs this season and finished sixth in the standings.

“Chad will bring a lot of good and solid knowledge to this Xfinity program,” said General Manager Mike Beam in a press release. “Spencer showed a lot of improvement last season, and I feel like Chad can take him to the next level. With Chad’s veteran knowledge and experience, I know Spencer and this No. 23 team will succeed and excel.”

Norris has been a crew chief for 215 Xfinity races since 2005, working with drivers including Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne, Travis Pastrana and Darrell Wallace Jr. He’s earned three wins. The most recent was with Bayne in the fall 2011 Texas race.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing for the 2018 season,” Norris said in the press release. “We have all of the assets to build this Xfinity team into a top-tier competitor every weekend at the track. With Mike Beam and myself there is a lot of veteran knowledge to continue to not only help Spencer to grow as a driver but the Xfinity program as a whole.”

William Byron announces spotter for rookie Cup season

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William Byron announced Tuesday that Tab Boyd will serve as his spotter next year during his rookie season in the Cup Series.

Boyd will spot for Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 Chevrolet after having worked with Joey Logano on the No. 22 Ford and with Johnny Sauter in the Camping World Truck Series.

Boyd will be replaced on the No. 22 by TJ Majors, the long-time spotter for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It was also announced that Byron, 19, has signed with sports and entertainment marketing agency, Wasserman.

The company represents 1,600 athletes, including Russell Westbrook, Andrew Luck, Alex Morgan, Giancarlo Stanton and Travis Pastrana. Byron is the only NASCAR driver represented by Wasserman.

Ben Rhodes earns first career Truck win, advances to second round of playoffs

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Ben Rhodes blocked a last lap challenge by Christopher Bell to win his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in Saturday night’s Las Vegas 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Rhodes made his win look easy, but it was far from it. With seven laps to go, Rhodes ran low around the first three trucks on a restart, got past and then held on to take the checkered flag.

In so doing, Rhodes — a native of Louisville, Kentucky — gets an automatic berth into the second round of the Truck Series playoffs.

Bell finished second, followed by Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala.

MOREResults from Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race in Las Vegas

MORE: Christopher Bell holds dominating lead in Truck playoffs

John Hunter Nemechek looked like he might win, but ran out of gas with 14 laps left while in the lead after Austin Wayne Self wrecked on Lap 133, then stalled twice on pit road and was never able to catch back up. Nemechek, who is at risk of elimination in the playoffs, finished eighth.

Stage winners: Stage 1 (Chase Briscoe), Stage 2 (Ben Rhodes)

Who else had a good race: Christopher Bell gave it everything he had, but passed on a chance to wreck Rhodes on the last lap. “That was some intense racing right there,” Bell said. “Really happy for Ben, he’s been long overdue for that win. He earned it tonight.”

Who had a bad race: Myatt Snider’s race didn’t even last a full lap, spinning and hitting the wall in Turn 3. … A big wreck occurred on Lap 23 when Austin Cindric got into the rear of Johnny Sauter, spinning him into the wall. Kaz Grala was also involved. All three were able to continue, but were never able to get back up in the field to challenge.

Notable: There have now been 11 different winners in the last 11 Truck races. … Noah Gragson was penalized twice for speeding on pit road. … Making his first NASCAR start since 2015, Travis Pastrana finished 22nd.

Quote of the day: “I used every play in my playbook. That was the most nervous thing I’ve ever done in my life. This is the biggest high of my life. I just never thought it would come after so many things went wrong, and now it did.” – Race winner Ben Rhodes

What’s next: The series is off next weekend but returns Saturday, Oct. 14, with the Fred’s 250 at Talladega Superspeedway. That will also mark the first cutdown race of the Truck playoffs.

Little brother does good: Ryan Truex takes Truck race pole at Las Vegas

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Like big brother, like little brother.

On Friday, 37-year-old Martin Truex Jr. won the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Dover.

Roughly 24 hours later and over 2,500 miles away, younger sibling Ryan Truex, 25, won the pole for tonight’s Las Vegas 350 Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a run of 177.194 mph.

“I was confident in this truck,” Ryan Truex told Fox Sports 1. “It’s the same one we sat on the pole at Chicago, so I had no worries going in.”

Tonight will be Ryan Truex’s 37th career start in the Truck Series. He’s enjoying his best season ever with seven top-5s, 11 top-10s and now two poles.

Now, Truex said, there’s one more detail left:

“I’ve gotta win still,” he told FS1. “That’s the last box I need to check. We’ve got stage wins, led laps and earned poles, we just need to put this Tundra in victory lane.”

Defending Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter was second (175.916 mph), followed by Chase Briscoe (176.881), Christopher Bell (176.713) and Matt Crafton (176.655).

Also of note, Travis Pastrana qualified 18th in his first Truck start in two seasons and third overall of his career.

The race takes the green flag shortly after 8 p.m. ET and will be televised on FS1

Click here for the qualifying results.