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NASCAR, ARCA announce new format for 2020; ARCA to take over K&N Series

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NASCAR and ARCA announced Wednesday the addition of a new format that will include four championships beginning in 2020, as well as ARCA’s acquisition of what has been the K&N Pro Series East and West, which will be rebranded ARCA Menards Series East and ARCA Menards Series West.

Per a joint NASCAR and ARCA media release, the four championships for 2020 will be:

* Replacing the existing NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, the new ARCA Menards Series East and ARCA Menards Series West will continue the traditions established by the Busch North Series (founded in 1987) and Pacific Coast Late Model Series/Winston West (1954), as well as the K&N Series. The two series will feature an annual schedule of six to eight races each and the crowning of separate regional champions.

* ARCA Menards Series – The 20-race ARCA Menards Series, founded in 1953, a mix of national-series combination events at venues such as Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, as well as short tracks like Madison International Speedway in Wisconsin and the Illinois and DuQuoin State Fairgrounds mile dirt tracks.

* ARCA Racing Series Showdown – The new championship will see 10 races within the larger ARCA Menards Series — essentially a championship within a championship — that will feature the best of the three series (competitors from the Menards Series as well as Menards East and Menards West) coming together to crown a Showdown champion.

We cannot be more excited about 2020,” said Brandon Thompson, Managing Director, NASCAR Touring Series. “Both NASCAR and ARCA have worked extremely hard over the last year (NASCAR acquired ARCA in April 2018) to provide a rules package and schedule that will serve as the foundation for the preeminent series for racing at this level. It was important for us to move the series forward while creating an environment inclusive for both the current long-term owners and drivers in the series as well as aspiring competitors.”

Added ARCA President Ron Drager, “What first started as a friendship between Bill France Sr. and John Marcum nearly 70 years ago took a momentous step forward today. The amount of history and tradition these series are bringing together to form four elite championships for drivers is an amazing testament to the strength of this sport.

We are proud and honored to be able to bring the ARCA sanction to the East and West Series; and we are looking forward to working with the race teams, tracks, media partners, fans, and sponsors that have helped those series achieve their long term success.”

In addition to ARCA being a development step for young drivers aspiring to reach the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series or NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, ARCA will also continue to provide a highly-competitive professional avenue for veteran short-track drivers.

NBCSN will continue to carry the ARCA Menards Series East and West as part of its extensive NASCAR coverage. MAVTV and FOX Sports will share televising of the 20 ARCA Menards Series races, including the 10-race Showdown.

As for other highlights of Wednesday’s announcement:

* The 2020 ARCA Menards Series begins Saturday, Feb. 8 at Daytona with the Lucas Oil 200. It will mark the 57th annual ARCA visit to Daytona.

* The Showdown begins with ARCA’s inaugural visit to ISM Raceway in Phoenix on March 6.

* The ARCA Menards West Series begins at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Other West dates also include traditional events at Irwindale Speedway and Sonoma Raceway, and will crown its champion at ISM Raceway in November.

* The East will race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, as well as Toledo Speedway, Watkins Glen International, and again be part New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s annual Full Throttle Fall Weekend. The East season will culminate with the championship race at Dover International Speedway.

* In addition to Daytona and Charlotte, the ARCA Menards Series schedule will include Talladega Superspeedway, Michigan International Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Pocono Raceway, and finish the season at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 16.

* The Showdown 10-race schedule features Salem Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Minnesota’s Elko Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and will crown its first Showdown champion at Memphis Motorsports Park on Sept. 26.

Complete schedules for all four championships will be announced shortly.

NASCAR also announced if a current K&N East and West or current ARCA Menards Series car owner has a car that meets the 2019 rulebook, there will be a rules package that will allow them to compete in 2020.

Friday 5: Can anyone beat Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske?

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Maybe it will happen this weekend.

Or maybe the streak will keep going. If it does, the question becomes when will someone beat Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske to win a Cup race? It might not be until well into July. Or later.

NASCAR has seen its share of dominance through the years from Richard Petty winning 10 consecutive races in 1967 to Hendrick Motorsports winning nine of 10 races in 2007 with four different drivers.

That level of dominance has returned. Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have combined to 15 of the first 16 races. JGR has 10 of those wins, including seven of the last 10.

As the series heads to Chicagoland Speedway for Sunday’s Cup race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske will look to continue their reign on 1.5-mile tracks.

The two organizations have won all five races on 1.5-mile races this season. Brad Keselowski won at Atlanta and Kansas, Joey Logano won at Las Vegas, Denny Hamlin won at Texas and Martin Truex Jr. won the Coca-Cola 600, the most recent race at a 1.5-mile track.

JGR and Team Penske have combined to win nine of the last 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks, dating back to Kyle Busch’s last-lap win a year ago at Chicagoland Speedway.

OK, that’s what has happened but look at what could happen in the coming weeks.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s current drivers have won the past four races at Chicagoland Speedway. Add Team Penske and those two organizations have won six of the last seven Chicagoland races. That other race? Since retired Matt Kenseth won for JGR.

If not at Chicagoland, maybe some other team can win at Daytona on July 6. They’ll race the same package that was run at Talladega. Chase Elliott won there, giving Hendrick Motorsports its only victory of the season. While it was with a different package, the last time Cup raced at Daytona, Hamlin was celebrating his second Daytona 500 triumph.

If not at Daytona, what about Kentucky on July 13? Don’t count on it. Current JGR drivers and Team Penske drivers have won seven of the eight races there. The exception? Kenseth won in 2013 for Joe Gibbs Racing.

If not at Kentucky, what about New Hampshire on July 21? Kevin Harvick did the bump-and-run on Kyle Busch in the closing laps to win that race last year and end JGR’s run of five wins in six races there.

OK, if not New Hampshire, then it is back to Pocono on July 28. Busch won there in June for the fourth consecutive win by a current JGR driver.

So when?

Of course, some other team may win this weekend at Chicagoland or in the coming weeks, but even if they do, good chance it won’t turn into a streak.

2. What about Kevin Harvick?

If there is a favorite to topple the reign of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske, it is Kevin Harvick, who continues to search for his first victory of the season.

Harvick is due. Only one other time since 2013 has he failed to win by the season’s 16th race (this weekend marks the 17th race of the year).

He has had his chances this season, particularly on 1.5-mile tracks. Harvick has scored the most points (214) on such tracks this season. Chase Elliott is next at (185). Denny Hamlin is third at 175.

Harvick has two top-five finishes and four top-10 results in the five races on 1.5-mile tracks. Maybe it’s his time?

3. Stranger than fiction

Ross Chastain was the guest on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan. Among the topics was how star-crossed Chastain’s career has been.

He’s fought to climb the ranks in NASCAR and got his best chance in a three-race Xfinity stint with Chip Ganassi Racing last year. Chastain was battling Kevin Harvick for the lead at Darlington when they had contact. Chastain came back to win the Xfinity race at Las Vegas. He signed a deal to drive for Ganassi’s Xfinity car this season but the ride went away after DC Solar declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy after a raid by the FBI.

That left Chastain scrambling for a ride this season. He started the year by running every race in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks until the June 9 Cup event at Michigan International Speedway.

During that time, Chastain changed his declaration for points from Xfinity to the Truck Series. His win at Iowa seemed to have set him for the playoffs until his truck failed inspection and was disqualified. No problem, Chastain went out and won last weekend at Gateway.

“It’s definitely not the way I would have written it,” Chastain set on the podcast about his up-and-down path. “ I don’t think they would ever make a movie about this or write a book, it would have to be a fictional book because no one would believe it.”

4. Manufacturer scorecard

Since the start of the 2018 season, Ford has 24 Cup wins, Toyota 23 and Chevrolet five.

Four of Chevrolet’s five wins are by Chase Elliott. The other victory was by Austin Dillon in the 2018 Daytona 500.

5. Another win but …

Ty Majeski scored his third ARCA victory of the season Thursday night at Chicagoland Speedway.

After a humbling Xfinity season last year at Roush Fenway Racing where Majeski was eliminated by a crash in four of his 12 starts, to rebound and win in ARCA has been meaningful to him.

“This is personally what I needed,” Majeski said of his success.

But his summer will be spent mainly racing Late Models. He said he “highly doubts” he’ll do any Xfinity races this season. The only ARCA race he’s scheduled to run is the season finale Oct. 18 at Kansas Speedway.

Friday 5: Xfinity driver’s quest for success goes one call at a time

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“Hey, my name is Brandon. What do you think of NASCAR?”

That’s not how Xfinity Series driver Brandon Brown starts every phone call looking for sponsorship, but sometimes it’s not too far off.

While other drivers watch film, run laps on iRacing, work out or fulfill sponsor obligations during the week, Brown often is on the phone looking for sponsorship for his family’s team.

That’s life in the middle of the field in the Xfinity Series where the chassis are older, sponsorships harder to find, pit crew members interchangeable and results are overshadowed by the dominance of Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

Through it all — and that includes Brown moving from his family’s primary car to another ride twice because someone else brought sponsorship money — Brown is 14th in points heading into Sunday’s Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway.

He is 97 points out of the final playoff spot, held by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones. While the playoffs would be quite an accomplishment, it will be difficult for a team such as Brown’s to top many of the better-funded organizations ahead.

Even so, Brown is reaching one of his goals for the season.

Brandon Brown (right) races Jeremy Clements (51), Justin Haley (11) and Jeffrey Earnhardt (18) at Charlotte last month. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“Our focus this year was to crack the top 15,” he told NBC Sports. “Getting a top-10 finish would be great. I don’t want it to be because the leaders wrecked. Superspeedways, we can count them if we want, but that’s like a crapshoot. We want to earn a top 10 this year.”

He hasn’t gotten there yet. Brown finished a career-best 13th this season at Atlanta, Dover and Pocono.

It’s not easy to get into the top 10 with a fleet of older chassis that includes those once driven by John Wes Townley at Athenian Motorsports. Brown said the team also added some Richard Childress Racing chassis when RCR downsized its program.

There have been other changes throughout the season. Brown has had seven different pit crew combinations in the first 13 races because not everyone they’ve used is always available. With tenths of a second often the difference between gaining or losing spots on pit road, the less a crew and driver are familiar with each other, the longer it can take to complete stops.

“When you’re switching to new guys, I don’t think they know what to expect (from the driver) until after the first stop,” he said.

Brown’s biggest challenge, though, is money, especially for a team with fewer than a dozen full-time employees. Even Brown has a dual role. The team’s website lists him as marketing director/driver.

That means the 25-year-old makes a lot of phone calls.

“The goal is obviously to search for any company that has expressed any interest in motorsports at all, whether it is circle track racing, road course racing, dirt bike, whatever,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Also, it kind of comes down to who do we know, who do any friends and family know, try to make some sort of a connection so that it’s not a complete cold (call), ‘Hey my name is Brandon, what do you think of NASCAR?’

“It’s going through everybody’s rolodex in the shop because a lot of the guys come from different areas, try to pull from each one of them.”

For every phone call that provides hope, there are many more rejections or calls that aren’t returned.

Brandon Brown has finished in the top 20 in 11 of the season’s first 13 Xfinity races. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“It’s definitely tedious,” said Brown, who graduated from Coastal Carolina University in December. “It’s not the most fun at all. I understand that each and every team in the garage in some shape or form has gone through something similar. I just kind of throw it up to growing pains and just kind of look forward to … a day where I can just go to the track and come home and just focus on watching film or doing a simulator.”

Until then, he’ll keep looking for money for Brandonbilt Motorsports, which is running its first full-time season in NASCAR.

Brown ran the season’s first seven Xfinity races without a primary sponsor. He has had a sponsor in five of the past six races. Vero True Social is back as a sponsor this weekend at Iowa after it served in that role at Charlotte and Michigan.

“It all comes down to the dollar that keeps the race team alive,”  Brown said.

He will remain in the No. 86 for the foreseeable future since no one has purchased any more races at this time.

Even with all the challenges, Brown has made gains. His season-worst 26th-place finish last weekend at Michigan ended a streak of five consecutive top-20 finishes. Despite not having sponsorship early in the season, he opened with six top 20s in a row.

“We want to peg up the ladder,” Brown said. “We understand as a team where we are in comparison to the rest of the garage.”

That doesn’t mean he’s satisfied with staying there. So he keeps calling, searching for the money that will help this team climb higher.

2. Familiar foes

Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer have combined to win each of the last seven Xfinity races heading into Iowa Speedway this weekend.

Reddick has three wins during that stretch, while Bell and Custer each have two wins.

Reddick notes how competition between helps make each better.

“Every single week and every single lap I feel like, if say I’m leading and they’re catching me, I push harder, if I’m catching them, they push harder,” Reddick told NBC Sports of Bell and Custer. “Most people I’m able to run down and catch and make something happen, but those two are definitely the hardest to pass. They work the hardest to keep you behind them. It’s a lot of fun battling with them.”

3. Wanting to scream!

Chase Cabre did just that after winning his first K&N Pro Series East race June 2 at Memphis International Raceway. The win came in his 33rd career series start.

Chase Cabre celebrating his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East win June 2. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP, NASCAR)

Cabre, in his third season in the series, had three runner-up finishes, including two this year, before the win.

OK, so once the celebration in victory lane is done, the car passes inspection, and it’s time to leave, then what?

Cabre drove back to the Charlotte area with his mom and brother but first they stopped for dinner at a Red Robin restaurant.

“It’s funny how the emotions change so fast,” Cabre told NBC Sports. “You get out, you’re screaming and the next thing you know you want everybody to realize I won. (At the restaurant), nobody here knows you won.

“They have no clue. ‘What are you so excited about?’ “

If only they knew.

4. Truck debut

Sixteen-year-old Chandler Smith makes his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut this weekend at Iowa Speedway. He’ll be in the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports. The Toyota development driver has three ARCA wins and six poles in 13 starts. His most recent ARCA victory was May 19 at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway.

Smith also is scheduled to drive for KBM on June 28 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Aug. 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway and Nov. 7 at ISM Raceway. He will drive the KBM Super Late Model Oct. 13 at the Winchester (Speedway) 400, Nov. 3 in the All-American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and Dec. 2 in the Snowball Derby.

5. Chastain’s chase

In his first Truck series race since declaring for Truck points, Ross Chastain scored 38 points for his 10th-place finish last week at Texas Motor Speedway.

He must be in the top 20 in points to be eligible for a playoff spot should he win. His Kansas victory does not count toward playoff eligibility because he had not declared for Truck points at the time.

Chastain enters this weekend 64 points out of 20th place in the season standings. Anthony Alfredo is 20th with 102 points.

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Randy LaJoie’s crusade to keep grassroots racers safe

Photos courtesy Randy and Lisa LaJoie
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Randy LaJoie is a man on a mission. He wants to keep race car drivers – particularly those in grassroots racing – as safe as possible.

For more than 20 years, the two-time Busch Series champion (1996-97) has dedicated his post-racing life to keeping drivers safe, with special emphasis on sportsman and amateur racers who oftentimes race with inferior safety equipment … if any at all.

Because of the cost involved, many grassroots tracks and local series don’t require some of the same equipment found in the higher levels of stock car racing, particularly in NASCAR.

That’s where LaJoie comes in.

Since forming his business, The Joie of Seating, in 1998, as well as forming a non-profit foundation, The Safer Racer Tour, in 2007, LaJoie has become one of the most prolific advocates of safety, particularly with the type of race car seats he builds and sells.

Since I put the helmet on the shelf, I’ve been concentrating on keeping short track America safe,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “I go to race tracks, talk at the driver meetings, show videos. I’ll also inspect cars, look in the driver’s cockpit and besides that, trade shows, race tracks.

By the end of this year, I’ll have visited 175 race tracks since 2006. We’ve been educating the short track world on seat safety.”

Randy LaJoie with his two Busch Series championship trophies and one of the first driver seats he built.

Since he began racing in his native Connecticut (he now resides in North Carolina) nearly 40 years ago, LaJoie has seen how important safety is in the dangerous world of racing. He’s seen a number of close friends, including the late Dale Earnhardt, killed in racing incidents.

One would think that safety, particularly given Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500, would be on the forefront of every racer’s mind.

In the grassroots world, when it comes to deciding what to spend their limited funds on, drivers spend their money on tires, car parts, new race cars – but not safety equipment

The safety business is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” LaJoie said. “Sometimes it just amazes me when I go out to these race tracks and talk to these people.

It’s both very humbling but it’s also very aggravating. You can be told ‘no’ umpteen different ways and it’s simply amazing that some people say, ‘Oh, you just want to sell a seat.’ Yes, I do want to sell a seat, but I also tell them I don’t want to read about them in the obituaries. No race track wants to lose anybody. If the information is there, let’s just use it.”

To illustrate his dedication to safety, LaJoie estimates he’s invested more than $350,000 into his business. But to him, it’s money well spent.

I’m very lucky I have the best aluminum seat in the marketplace and I’ve educated the aluminum seat builders,” he said.

He adds with a laugh, “Years ago, I used to call myself a crash-test dummy. But now, with today’s technology, my son (Cup driver Corey LaJoie) uses them and they say it’s rude if you call him a crash test dummy, so I call him a ‘data acquisition technologist.’”

But safety is no laughing matter to LaJoie. He admits he can be a pain to drivers and sanctioning bodies at times, but that’s because he doesn’t want to see any more drivers killed or suffer traumatic permanent injury from the sport they love.

Safety has been on a back burner and I think I pushed it to the front of some people’s minds and some sanctioning bodies to have them look at it, because I’ve been a stickler for it,” LaJoie said.

Two of the current race seats LaJoie’s firm, The Joie of Seating, produces.

The reason LaJoie has been a stickler is simple. Within 18 months, from May 2000 through October 2001, NASCAR lost five well-known drivers, guys LaJoie either was good friends with or had competed against in his career.

That list included Adam Petty (May 12, 2000), Kenny Irwin (July 7, 2000), Tony Roper (October 14, 2000), Dale Earnhardt (February 18, 2001) and Blaise Alexander (October 4, 2001 in an ARCA crash).

I looked at them and I wrecked just like that and how come I’m still here and they’re not?” LaJoie said.

While there have not been any additional deaths in NASCAR’s three top series since Earnhardt was killed, there have been several fatalities in the grassroots racing ranks.

I felt it was my call to duty to the short track world to give them all of the information I can on safety,” LaJoie said

A life’s a life and it doesn’t matter if they race on Sunday, Saturday or Friday night. These guys need to be taken care. With as much knowledge as we’ve learned in the last 15-plus years in terms of safety, these guys are still 15-plus years behind on short tracks.”

LaJoie’s mission has been quantified countless times over the 20-plus years he’s been in business.

When you get a phone call from a mom or dad and they say, ‘My kid just flipped all the way down the backstretch last night and he’s okay, thank you,’ that’s like my new victory lane,” LaJoie said.

The LaJoie family, from left, Corey, Casey, Lisa and Randy.

Safety is also important to LaJoie for a more personal reason: his son Corey, is a full-time driver in the Cup Series (their other son, Casey, works as an announcer for MAV-TV and also as social media director at Kaulig Racing).

Any time when there’s 40 guys on a Sunday in Cup racing, and your son is one of them, I’m so damn proud of him,” Randy said of Corey. “I’m glad he’s gotten the chance.”

LaJoie, 57, is also very proud of the seats he produces, not just for their design and ability to keep drivers safe behind the wheel, particularly when they’re involved in crashes, but also for their durability. His seats are all certified by the SFI Foundation Inc., the leading overseer of safety in motorsports.

Some of my seats from 15 years ago are still in use,” LaJoie said, adding proudly, “that’s why my seats are better than everyone else’s. I built them the right way. I haven’t junked many of them.”

The foundation LaJoie established in 2007, the Safer Racer Tour, is a further extension of his dedication to safety in grassroots racing. That’s why he visits so many short tracks and tries to talk sense into drivers who have a “it’ll never happen to me” mindset.

I’d say 99.7 percent of short track drivers don’t pay attention to safety,” LaJoie said. “But short track America still is much safer today mainly because of Dale Sr.

Do you know how many lives that man saved? It’s sad that we lost him, but the industry needed to lose a hero so they could save other heroes.”

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Todd Gilliland scores Talladega ARCA victory

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Todd Gilliland held off the pack to win Friday’s ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Gilliland, who is competing full-time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports, earned his second career ARCA victory. His previous ARCA win was in 2015 at Toledo Speedway.

“Coming up is a really busy stretch for us in Trucks,” Gilliland said. “This is really big for us. My confidence has been down a little bit.”

Kyle Busch was outspoken in February about Gilliland’s performance, saying “his career is on the line,” referring to Gilliland not yet winning in a KBM truck.

“When I come to the ARCA Series or the K&N Series I have so much confidence,” Gilliland said. “I need to be able to take that to the truck and have confidence in myself.”

Riley Herbst, who is scheduled to run eight NASCAR Xfinity races for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, finished second. Gilliland and Herbst were followed by Brandon Lynn, Ty Majeski and Michael Self.