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2020 Cup schedule features new finale, doubleheader weekend and more

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The 2020 Cup season will end at a different site for the first time in nearly two decades, one of many changes that includes a doubleheader weekend, date swapping among iconic tracks and the season concluding earlier.

The championship race moves to ISM Raceway near Phoenix. It replaces Homestead-Miami Speedway, which has been the season finale since 2002.

Next year’s finale at ISM Raceway will be Nov. 8, marking the earliest finish to the Cup schedule since 1998, which also ended Nov. 8.

Here are among the changes to the schedule:

# Homestead-Miami Speedway moves from its season-ending spot to March 22 and will be the sixth race of the season.

# Daytona’s second race will move from its traditional July date to Aug. 29 (a Saturday) and be the regular-season finale.

# Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s date moves from September to July 5 and takes Daytona’s spot.

# Bristol’s August dates moves to Sept. 19 (a Saturday) and will be in the playoffs. It will be the cutoff race for the first round.

# Martinsville’s fall race becomes the cutoff race for the third round of the playoffs on Nov. 1.

# Martinsville’s spring race moves from March to May 9 (Mother’s Day weekend) and will be held on Saturday. Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway, said in a statement: “This is a very exciting day for Martinsville Speedway. It’s a question we’ve gotten from fans literally every day since we installed the lights and we are now able to say, ‘May 9, 2020.’ So, this is a very exciting day for everyone involved.”

# Pocono will host a doubleheader weekend with Cup races on June 27 and June 28. Race lengths have yet to be announced for those events. Nick Igdalsky, president and CEO of Pocono Raceway, said in a statement: “Pocono Raceway will be a marquee, bucket-list event next year. We will be the first track to host two, points-paying Cup races in consecutive dates in NASCAR’s modern era (1972-present).”

# The West Coast swing — Las Vegas, ISM Raceway and Auto Club Speedway — will follow the Daytona 500.

# Atlanta Motor Speedway moves off its February date as the second race of the season to March 15 and will be the fifth race of the year.

# The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will begin the playoffs on Sept. 6.

Here is the 2020 Cup schedule:

DATE

RACE/TRACK

Sunday, Feb. 9

The Clash

Thursday, Feb. 13

Duel at Daytona

Sunday, Feb. 16

Daytona 500

Sunday, Feb. 23

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 1

Auto Club Speedway

Sunday, March 8

ISM Raceway

Sunday, March 15

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 22

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Sunday, March 29

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 5

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 19

Richmond Raceway

Sunday, April 26

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, May 3

Dover International Speedway

Saturday, May 9

Martinsville Speedway

Saturday, May 16

All-Star Race, Charlotte

Sunday, May 24

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, May 31

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, June 7

Michigan International Speedway

Sunday, June 14

Sonoma Raceway

Sunday, June 21

Chicagoland Speedway

Saturday, June 27

Pocono Raceway

Sunday June 28

Pocono Raceway

Sunday July 5

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Saturday July 11

Kentucky Speedway

Sunday, July 19

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Sunday, Aug. 9

Michigan International Speedway

Sunday, Aug. 16

Watkins Glen International

Sunday, Aug. 23

Dover International Speedway

Saturday, Aug. 29

Daytona International Speedway

PLAYOFFS BEGIN

Sunday, Sept. 6

Darlington Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 12

Richmond Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 19

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, Sept. 27

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 4

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, Oct. 11

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 18

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 25

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 1

Martinsville Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 8

ISM Raceway

 

NASCAR America: David Hoots on the chaos of calling a Cup race

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After wrapping up a 30-year career as the race director of NASCAR’s premier series with the 2019 Daytona 500, David Hoots was glued to his TV watching Sunday’s race.

“It was a different experience from watching on television, and I truly appreciate what television does for the races, but it was different and strange in the comfort of the recliner,” Hoots, who had watched every Cup race from the scoring tower since 1988, said in a rare interview Wednesday night on NASCAR America.

The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway featured a chaotic situation — a caution flag in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle — that Hoots is intimately familiar with handling. He explained to host Marty Snider what makes those circumstances so tricky.

“The only thing that would have probably added to it would have been a serious accident you were having to deal with that would have created the caution,” Hoots said. “But you’re having to check with both timing and scoring, the pit-out official with the camera, checking the start-finish line camera to make sure all this is right and all the scoring telling you who the free pass is …

“It’s a very chaotic period that can happen at any time you’re running through a round of green-flag pit stops.”

Hoots, who joked that he wasn’t talking to his TV during the broadcast but was texting with several friends “having a good time and enjoying the race,” also shared a humorous anecdote invovling NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty and team owner Felix Sabates from years ago.

Watch the full interview in the video above.

Kyle Larson: Top Chevy team can be impacted by who’s ‘cheating’

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CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson has started off the season faster than the Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevrolets, but he expects the competition soon will get to work on bending NASCAR’s new rules for 2019.

After having likely the fastest car at Atlanta Motor Speedway (where Hendrick’s four cars had a best finish of 15th), and with his No. 42 Camaro ranked highest in the points standings at fourth, Larson was asked Tuesday if his Chip Ganassi Racing team is the top Chevy in NASCAR’s premier series.

“Atlanta is so different than any other track that we’re going to go the rest of the year that you can’t jump to conclusions off one week,” Larson told NASCAR on NBC’s Rick Allen during an interview for NASCAR America’s Splash & Go feature (which is available for viewing above). “I feel like Hendrick plays games in a way with NASCAR. I feel like they always start the year off kind of bad to like show NASCAR that they’re being nice and cooperating and following the rules and stuff, and then it gets a couple of months in, and they start cheating and finding some speed.

“So I don’t know. But it was satisfying. It’s been satisfying the last few years to be considered the top Chevy team. That’s something that this race shop prides itself on, but we don’t need to be the best Chevy team. We want to be the best team.”

Late Tuesday night, Larson, whose team receives engines from Hendrick, tweeted an apology for the comment and said he meant it jokingly.

Larson went winless last season but had the best Chevy for much of the first half of the 2018 season. Chase Elliott broke through in August for the first of three victories for Hendrick, which qualified three cars for the playoffs in one of its worst seasons and opened 2019 by posting the top four speeds in Daytona 500 qualifying.

Larson also was the best for much of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, leading a race-high 142 of 325 laps at the 1.54-mile oval. He finished 12th after a speeding penalty on his final stop.

“We felt we had decent speed and handled OK,” Larson said. “I’ve just got to do a better job of cleaning up mistakes. I think I only had one speeding penalty last year, so I guess I got to go the rest of the year without one.”

After getting mired in the pack because of his penalty, Larson said it was the dirty air from heavy traffic at Atlanta that made it difficult to make progress. The scenario should be different at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile oval with a less abrasive surface.

“I think looking at Vegas and other tracks with a lot of grip, I don’t know if dirty air will be as bad,” Larson said. “I know when I got to the back (at Atlanta), it was a lot harder to get to the front.”

Sunday’s race at Vegas will be the second test of a new rules package for 2019 and the debut of aero ducts that should feature larger packs of cars in a draft.

It also kicks off three straight races in the western half of the country with Vegas, ISM Raceway near Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Larson will be racing Wednesday and Thursday in the World of Outlaws sprint car series, too.

“I love the West Coast swing,” said Larson, who has a win at Fontana and runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas. “The weather is always good, there’s lot of fans to race in front of with sprint cars, all those races. All three of those tracks rank up there with my favorites.”

NASCAR America: Turning Point in Atlanta Cup race

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The final restart of Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta was a little jumbled, but it adhered to NASCAR’s rule book, despite a sequence of green-flag pit stops that were interrupted by a caution with 51 laps to go.

It was that pit sequence that NASCAR America’s analysts identified as the turning point in Sunday’s race and led to Brad Keselowski‘s win.

According to the NASCAR rule book, this is how a restart order should go:

  1. Lead lap cars
  2. Cars one or more laps down.
  3. Free pass position (lucky dog)
  4. Wave around cars.
  5. Cars with penalties.

The only cars on the lead lap when the caution came out were Joey Logano and Kurt Busch, who restarted on the front row.

Immediately behind them were the lapped cars of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jimmie Johnson and then Bubba Wallace and Ty Dillon.

Keselowski was the beneficiary of the free pass as he was the first car a lap down when the caution came out. He restarted in third place but was in the fourth row on the inside.

On the ensuing restart, Keselowski was able to clear the four lapped cars, putting himself behind Busch and Logano. While Keselowski cleared the lapped cars, Martin Truex Jr. had trouble getting around Stenhouse. Truex said that kept him from winning the race.

“Ten seconds either way he would not have gotten the free pass,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said. “Because of that free pass, he pits (again), he takes tires, he lines up … in front of the wave around cars. That puts him into position.”

Letarte continued: “I want to call it a good strategy, I want to call it a little bit lucky, it was a little bit of both.”

Watch the above video for more.

Brad Keselowski beats flu to become winningest Penske driver

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Brad Keselowski was in a “daze” after Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The Team Penske driver led the final 33 laps to score the win, hours after he took two IV bags to help get over flu-like symptoms.

He missed a portion of Saturday’s final practice, handing the No. 2 Ford over to Xfinity Series driver Austin Cindric.

“I wouldn’t have made this race yesterday,” Keselowski said. “I was nowhere near good enough. I lost 6 pounds in less than 10 hours, and I was going the wrong way quick.

“Thankfully, it all turned around late yesterday afternoon, and I appreciate the help of those in the care center to make it possible.”

As a result of the win, any driver who pilots a race car for Roger Penske in the foreseeable future will be chasing Brad Keselowski.

He became the winningest driver in Team Penske’s 51-year history, earning his 60th for the team owner who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last month.

The victory broke a tie with Mark Donohue.

“All wins are special,” Keselowski said. “There’s no wins that don’t mean something, but some just mean more.  And this one means more for more reasons, whether it be the win record for Team Penske; that’s certainly very special to me.

“When you look at the list of drivers, it’s a pretty big list, and it’s big not just with the amount of drivers but big with the superstar power I guess you’d call it.  And just to be on that list as a winner means a lot, but to be on top of it means even more.”

Keselowski’s began competing for Penske in 2009 in the Xfinity Series and in Cup in 2010.

Of Keselowski’s 28 Cup wins, 27 have come with Penske. He also has 33 Xfinity Series wins for Penske.

He now leads Donohue, Rusty Wallace (37), Helio Castroneves and Will Power (32) and Joey Logano (31).

Of Donohue’s 59 wins, only one came in NASCAR, and it was Penske’s first, on Jan. 21, 1973 in a Cup race at Riverside International Raceway.

Here’s a series breakdown of Donohue’s wins:

Trans Am – 28

United States Road Racing Championship – 12

Can Am – 10

USAC (INDYCAR) – 3

F2000 – 2

Endurance – 2

NASCAR – 1

FIA Pro – 1

“I think when you go back and know what certainly Mark meant to our team as we were building it over time, it really set a mark that in some cases we thought nobody would ever beat it,” Penske said. “But Brad had that on his windshield.

“He’s been looking at that now for a year, and he said this was the year he was going to make it happen, so I congratulate everybody on the team. It’s in the record book now, and he’s going to make it tough for anybody in the future to get there.”

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