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Friday 5: Is it time for NASCAR to take away wins for violations?

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NASCAR’s L1 penalty this week all but stripped the Texas win from Kevin Harvick, but years from now he’ll be listed as the victor of that race.

If NASCAR can take away all that goes with the win — that includes taking Harvick’s berth in the championship race in Miami — shouldn’t the sanctioning body take away the win and leave the winner’s spot vacant in the results? And shouldn’t NASCAR remove the win from the driver’s record?

NASCAR’s history started with a disqualification after all.

Glenn Dunnaway won the first NASCAR race on June 19, 1949 at Charlotte but the win was taken away because his car failed inspection after the race. Jim Roper was declared the winner and has been recognized as the first winner of a NASCAR race since — even though he finished three laps behind Dunnaway.

So it makes sense that as NASCAR looks at possibly increasing penalties that the time has come to take away wins.

Before taking away wins, though, consider one thing.

How does one deal with the past? Richard Petty was fined what was a record $35,000 and docked 104 points after his car was found to have an oversized engine and the team used left-side tires on the right side of his car at Charlotte in 1983. The victory was the 198th of his career.

If you’re going to take away Harvick’s win last weekend at Texas (and at Las Vegas early in the season), then what about Petty? Is the NASCAR Hall of Fame going to have to change all the references to Petty’s 200 wins?

2. Chevy looks to avoid repeating last year’s disappointment

Chevrolet has one last chance to put a car in the Cup championship race in Miami or face a second consecutive year without a competitor in the title race.

Chase Elliott is the lone remaining Chevrolet driver in title contention in Cup heading into Sunday’s race at Phoenix (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). He enters outside a transfer spot.

In January, Pat Suhy, Chevrolet’s NASCAR Group Manager, called it “unacceptable” that the manufacturer did not have a car competing for the Cup title last year and said “I expect us to have at least a car or two in the final four this year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.”

Elliott’s path to Miami was helped by NASCAR’s penalty to Kevin Harvick that leaves three spots in the championship field to be filled Sunday. Elliott trails Harvick by 17 points for the last transfer spot.

The debut season of the Camaro ZL1 has not gone as smoothly for Chevrolet and also came in a season where Hendrick Motorsports, the top Chevy team, struggled for much of the season. The result is that Chevrolet has won four races this year — Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and Chase Elliott won at Watkins Glen, Dover and Kansas.

Chevrolet last had fewer than four wins in 1982 when it scored three victories that season.

3. Heavy fines

With two races left this season, NASCAR has fined Cup teams a total of $850,000 for various infractions. That tops last year’s total of $815,000.

All the money goes to the NASCAR Foundation.

Fines are issued to the crew chief. Stewart-Haas Racing’s crew chiefs and Joe Gibbs Racing’s crew chiefs have each been fined a total of $215,000 this season.

Fines can be as little as $10,000 for not having a lug nut secure after a race to the $75,000 fine crew chief Rodney Childers received this week for the infraction with Kevin Harvick’s car at Texas.

4. New look

With ISM Racing moving its start/finish line to just before the dogleg, drivers anticipate restarts could be wild.

I would imagine that we will cross the start-finish line and be nine-wide going though the dogleg and then try to figure out how to get back to two-wide by the time we get to the new Turn 1,” Aric Almirola said. “That is a really flat, tricky corner. Running much more than two-wide is pretty difficult through there. I am sure it will fan out and get really exciting. I think when it gets down late in the race, the restarts will be really, really intense and chaotic with guys trying to make moves in desperation and trying to make that final round of four.”

Joey Logano says that the new Turn 1 (which was formerly Turn 3) provides another challenge for drivers.

“I can see a lot of cars making those big moves and how Turn (1) has that very inviting apron down there with no grip at all and there are a lot of cars that slide a lot on cold tires there,” he said. “It seems like with low pressure and cold tires that the tires really want to chatter on the race track. Once they start chattering it is hard to stop it. It is like a basketball. You will see a lot of cars slip up. If there is a car on the outside of them it will cause contact for sure. I think it is going to make restarts a lot crazier than they used to be.”

5. Will history repeat?

Kevin Harvick was penalized after his victory at Las Vegas in March for a violation with the rear window brace. The infraction cost Harvick 20 points and the seven playoff points he earned for winning both stages and the race.

The next weekend, Harvick won at ISM Raceway and punctuated his victory by exiting his car on the frontstretch and pounding the rear window.

“I’ve been pissed is what I’ve been,” Harvick said to Fox after that win. “I’ve been mad as all get out because this team does a great job. This organization does a great job and we’ve got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week. To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun and everyone was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp them. We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. What a badass team right there!

“This really felt more important than winning at Homestead, racing for a championship, just to drive it home for all those supporters out there. And all you haters … I see you.”

Can Harvick come back and win again at Phoenix after another severe penalty? If so, what will he say to the haters this time?

Toyota executive: ‘Potentially more’ than five supported cars in Cup in 2019

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Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson said there “absolutely is intent” for there to be “at least” five Toyota-supported cars in the Cup Series in 2019 and “potentially more.”

Wilson made his comments three weeks after Furniture Row Racing announced it will shut down at the end of this season.

Without the No. 78 Toyota, that leaves just the four cars owned by Joe Gibbs Racing. Last year, FRR fielded Erik Jones in the No. 77, giving Toyota six cars.

“We’re spending a tremendous amount of energy and focus on that, of course,” Wilson said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” of adding cars. “Nobody is happy. Nobody is pleased with losing Furniture Row. It’s something we’re all disappointed with. We at the same time respect the very difficult decision (owner) Barney Visser had to make.

“So as an OEM (manufacturer), we need to try and again put ourselves in the best competitive positioning going forward. That alliance we had going the past three years has been simply magical and something we’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount of success with. I’ve said this before, but we would not have won our first manufacturer championship without both Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing performing at the levels that they have been, let alone our second manufacturer’s championship we won last year.”

With Furniture Row Racing and JGR, Toyota has won two of the last four Cup titles and gone to Victory Lane 58 times since 2015.

A likely replacement for FRR in the Toyota camp is Leavine Family Racing, which fields the No. 95 Chevrolet that has been driven by Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith this season.

The team revealed in August during the Watkins Glen race weekend it would be exiting its technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing at the end of the year.

Team owner Bob Leavine told NBC Sports he has been speaking to the sport’s other manufacturers – Ford and Toyota – about making a transition.

“In our talking to the manufacturers this year, Toyota has been head-and-shoulders above the rest so far,” Leavine said.  “Everything we have investigated and done with Toyota has felt good from one end of the spectrum, the technical, to just the relationship basis.”

Joe Gibbs on Christopher Bell: ‘We have to keep him’

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Christopher Bell’s three consecutive Xfinity wins have raised questions of if he’ll move to Cup next year, but car owner Joe Gibbs said Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” that the youngster is “scheduled” to be in Xfinity next year.

Bell’s status has gained attention because there’s seemingly no place for him in a Toyota Cup ride next year.

Joe Gibbs Racing already has Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones in its four-car lineup. The only other high-profile Toyota team, Furniture Row Racing, has reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr., and seeks sponsorship for that team. That leaves the possibility of a second ride there less likely. Truex is a free agent after this season but indicated last month at Kentucky that “I don’t plan on doing anything different” for next season.

If Toyota added another organization, it could provide Bell with a path to Cup as early as next year.

“We have to keep him,” Gibbs said to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio of ensuring Bell remains in the Toyota and JGR fold. “Just put it that way. We have to. I think Toyota has a lot invested. We do. I really think he’s a future star. You never know when you step up to the next level, that’s a huge step. We think he’s well on his way. I think he’s showing everyone what his abilities are and his talents.”

Bell won the Camping World Truck Series title last year for Toyota-backed Kyle Busch Motorsports. He ran eight Xfinity races last year for Joe Gibbs Racing, winning in his fifth series start, before moving to that series full-time with JGR this year. Bell has four victories and 12 top-five finishes in 19 Xfinity races this season. He goes for his fourth consecutive Xfinity win — an accomplishment achieved only by Sam Ard in 1983 — Saturday at Watkins Glen (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Bell’s rise and the limited number of Toyota seats in Cup create a conundrum the manufacturer has faced before. Toyota’s driver development program goes from midget racing all the way to Cup, providing a ladder system for drivers to climb as they progress. But with limited seats in Xfinity and Cup, Toyota has lost some young drivers to other manufacturers and organizations.

Kyle Larson, who had been racing on dirt for a Toyota-backed team, signed with Turner Motorsports, a Chevrolet team, to drive in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2013. He later moved to Chevrolet’s Chip Ganassi Racing in Cup. After that, Toyota began to examine its development program to find more avenues for its young drivers.

Even with that in place, the manufacturer lost William Byron, who won a series-high seven Camping World Truck races in 2016 for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Byron moved to JR Motorsports, a Chevrolet team in the Xfinity Series, in 2017. He won the title before moving up to Cup with Hendrick Motorsports this season.

If there’s no room immediately at Joe Gibbs Racing in Cup for Bell, could the organization move him elsewhere as it did when Jones ran as a rookie last year at Furniture Row Racing before returning to JGR?

“Well, it’s so far in the future,” Gibbs said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think that’s what we’re all right now planning and looking at. I think it’s kind of up in the air right now. We’re kind of set next year. We want to keep him in Xfinity next year.

“I think he may have a chance to race a few other things. I think that’s kind of our plan. A year away, a lot can happen in a year. We’re just glad that we’ve got him under our banner.”

Friday 5: The race for points intensifies

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With only six drivers qualified for NASCAR’s postseason via wins so far, the Cup series could see half a dozen or more make the playoffs by points.

That will make every decision through the Sept. 9 regular-season finale at Indianapolis critical for drivers and teams. When to pit. If to pit. Take no tires. Take two tires. Take four tires. Such calls — and the hundreds of others made about setups and such — could have a lasting impact.

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. have combined to win 13 of the first 15 races this season. Joey Logano and Austin Dillon are the only other drivers who have won this year. The six total winners are the fewest at this point in a season since 1996.

What it means is that points — particularly stage points — could play a key role in who advances.

Alex Bowman holds what is the final playoff spot entering this weekend’s trip to Sonoma Raceway. He has 331 points, putting him four ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard.

Stenhouse and Menard are so close to Bowman, in part, because of stage points. Bowman has 14. Stenhouse has 37; Menard 35. Those stage points also have helped Stenhouse and Menard keep close to Erik Jones, who is 15th in the playoff standings. Jones has a 19-point lead on Stenhouse and Menard. Jones has 38 stage points.

Realistically, there will be a few more different winners before the 16-team playoff field is set. Even if there are four more winners, that would mean six drivers would qualify by points. There has never been more than five to qualify on points. That happened in 2015.

Jamie McMurray qualified for the playoffs that year on points and did so the following two seasons. He heads to Sonoma with 283 points, 48 points behind Bowman for what is the last spot at this time. McMurray has 13 stage points.

It’s not just at the bottom of the playoff standings where stage points could be significant.

Remember that the regular-season winner scores 15 playoff points, the runner-up scores 10 playoff points and on down to the 10th-place finisher scoring one playoff point.

Brad Keselowski (fourth in the standings with 514 points), Clint Bowyer (510), Martin Truex Jr. (506) and Kurt Busch (493) are within 21 points of each other.

That could represent the difference in up to three playoff points.

Keselowski has the advantage on those other three drivers because he has scored more stage points. Keselowski has 160 stage points to 121 by Bowyer, 113 by Truex and 121 by Busch.

The race for stage points will become more important as the series heads toward Indy.

Here is look at who has scored the most stage points this season:

197 — Kyle Busch

161 — Kevin Harvick

160 — Brad Keselowski

121 — Kurt Busch

121 — Clint Bowyer

119 — Joey Logano

117 — Ryan Blaney

113 — Martin Truex Jr.

107 — Kyle Larson

84 — Denny Hamlin

58 — Aric Almirola

52 — Jimmie Johnson

46 — Chase Elliott

38 — Erik Jones

37 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

35 — Paul Menard

2. NASCAR in 2019

All-Star winner Kevin Harvick approves of NASCAR’s decision to not run that package in any more Cup races this season but focus on making adjustments to run it in 2019.

“I think we just need to be very cautious about protecting the integrity of the sport and the things that happen behind the wheel of the car,’’ Harvick said Thursday night on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. “The other thing that I will say is the All-Star Race was a very short race. You had that caution in the first segment and you never really ran more than 20 laps at a time.

“The thing I’m most excited about is we’re going to vet this thing out and make sure that we get all the right things done to the car. I think a lot of the things that happened at the All-Star Race were covered up because the runs were so short. There’s definitely some work to do on the cars. I think we could probably make that package better.

“I’m glad we didn’t just jump right in. This is a big ship to turn. When you decide to start changing rules like that. You’re talking engines and transmissions, bodies and things like that. It’s not an easy process. It’s not like you just change the height of a spoiler. You’re basically changing the whole car, engine included.”

3. More of the same?

Four of the last six races at Sonoma have been won by this season’s dominant drivers.

Kevin Harvick won last year. Kyle Busch won in 2015. Martin Truex Jr. won in 2013. Clint Bowyer won in 2012.

The other two winners during that stretch? They’re no longer in Cup. Carl Edwards won at Sonoma in 2014. Tony Stewart won in 2015.

4. Change of scenery?

Will a road course help change Chevrolet’s fortunes this season? The car manufacturer has one win this year (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500). In six of the first 15 races, Chevy has had two or fewer cars finish in the top 10. Chevrolet has won twice in the last 11 years at Sonoma (Tony Stewart in 2016, Jimmie Johnson in 2010).

5. Back in the saddle

With Cup back in action this weekend, the series will race on 21 of the next 22 weekends. The lone weekend off will be Aug. 26 between Bristol and the Southern 500.

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Friday 5: A new way of thinking about NASCAR’s future?

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When examining NASCAR’s future are most people looking in the wrong direction?

There are those who say the schedule — 36 points races, two non-points races and the Daytona qualifying races in a 41-week stretch — is too long.

Maybe it’s not enough.

So said Brad Keselowski earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

While some says less is more for the sport, Keselowski suggests that the Cup schedule should have 50-60 races a year and no weekend off in the summer.

His plan is this:

Cup should race on Sundays and the middle of the week from February to early October (instead of ending the season in November). Keselowski also says that no track should host more than one weekend race. So, a track with two dates would get a weekend date and a midweek date.

One thing he notes is that any midweek race should take no more than three hours, meaning a number of races likely would need to be shortened

Keselowski’s idea is a novel concept and presents a new way of thinking when looking ahead in NASCAR. It’s always good to be forced to look at issues in different ways. But there are many challenges to his plan.

One question is what about the costs to teams. It would be easy to see teams saying such a schedule would cost them too much with the additional travel, expenses of preparing cars and repairing cars for example.

“The race teams will adjust, they’ll figure it out,’’ Keselowski said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Here’s what most people don’t understand. When a car owner complains about money, almost every race team out there has 20 or 30 engineers that don’t build the cars that make good wages and are smart people. What that tells me is they’ve got money and they’re just deciding to allocate it.’’

That might be a harder sell to teams. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing and chairman of the Race Team Alliance spoke during All-Star weekend about cost to teams.

“It’s a joint concern, so it will be a joint solution to come up with how it works,’’ Kauffman said of working with NASCAR. “To get something like that in place will require quite a bit of collaboration.’’

Another concern would be tracks. A reason why there hasn’t been a midweek race yet is because a track executive has not volunteered to be the first.

The challenge with a midweek race is that the track likely won’t draw as many fans. Track officials note that they still have a significant percentage attend their races traveling from a few hours or more away. Not as many of those fans would probably make such a trip in the middle of the week. That could be lost income for the tracks.

Those are just among some of the key issues. It is a tangled web of trying to appease, teams, tracks, media partners, sponsors and fans as NASCAR forges ahead.

While there are many challenges to Keselowski’s plan — making it seem unlikely — that doesn’t mean such thinking should be immediately dismissed. Keselowski could be right in that bold thinking is what the sport needs as it looks ahead.

2. Kyle Busch could have company

While Kyle Busch became the first driver to win at every Cup track he’s competed with his Coca-Cola 600 victory, a couple of other drivers are not far behind.

Kevin Harvick has won at all but two tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Kentucky (0 for 7) and Pocono (0 for 34).

Jimmie Johnson has won at all but three tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Chicagoland (0 for 16), Kentucky (0 for 7) and Watkins Glen (0 for 16).

3. Back in the Day

LeBron James made his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance Thursday night. The last time he wasn’t in the NBA Finals was 2010.

That season in NASCAR:

Jimmie Johnson was on his way to a fifth consecutive Cup title.

Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Charlotte fall race.

Denny Hamlin won a series-high eight races.

Kevin Conway was Cup Rookie of the Year.

Joey Logano had just turned 20 years old.

Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series title.

Kyle Busch won 13 of the 29 Xfinity races he started.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was Xfinity Rookie of the Year.

Kyle Larson finished 10th in the Chili Bowl Nationals (Cole Whitt was second to winner Kevin Swindell).

William Byron wouldn’t turn 13 until November of that year.

4. France Family Group adds to portfolio

In a recent SEC filing, International Speedway Corp. stated that the France Family Group owns 74.11 percent of the combined voting power of common stock.

The France Family Group owned 73 percent, according to ISC’s 2016 annual report.

The France Family Group owned 72 percent, according to the ISC’s 2015 annual report.

As a comparison, Bruton Smith and son Marcus own 71 percent of Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s common stock. They owned 70 percent, according to SMI’s 2016 annual report.

5. A year later …

There will be much talk this weekend about how Jimmie Johnson has gone a year — it will be a year on June 4 actually — since his last Cup victory, the longest drought of his career.

But something else to ponder: In the last 36 races (a full season’s worth), Toyota has 19 wins, Ford has 12 and Chevrolet has five.

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