Chris Gayle

Penalty report from Bristol Motor Speedway

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NASCAR has issued its penalty report for the Bristol Motor Speedway race weekend.

The only penalty was a $10,000 fine for Chris Gayle, crew chief on Erik Jones‘ No. 20 Toyota, for having one unsecured lug nut after Sunday’s Cup Series race.

 

Erik Jones’s crew chief faces suspension over lug nut violation

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Six cars were found to have unsecured lug nuts following Sunday’s Cup Series race at Darlington, NASCAR announced afterward.

Among those violations was the No. 20 Toyota of Erik Jones, which had two unsecured lug nuts. The penalty for two unsecured lug nuts is a one-race suspension for the team’s crew chief and a $20,000 fine.

That means Jones will likely be without crew chief Chris Gayle for Wednesday night’s race at Darlington, three days after Jones finished eighth at the track.

Together, Jones and Gayle also won last year’s Southern 500.

The other five violations were for single lug nuts. They were on the cars of Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Matt Kenseth and race winner Kevin Harvick. The penalty for one unsecured lug nut is a $10,000 crew chief fine.

Friday 5: Will iRacing grudges carry over to track?

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It was supposed to be fun, but some of the hostilities between drivers during the Pro Invitational iRacing series could carry over to the track, some competitors say.

“I really, truly think a lot of these drivers, myself included, are going to be carrying grudges from the iRacing world over into the real world,” Tyler Reddick told NBC Sports. “I really do.

“I may just be the one crazy one, but how I’ve been raced on iRacing and unfortunately, probably not always on purpose, how I’ve raced others, is probably going to carry over as well. That’s just something you’ve got to think about.”

That virtual racing could elicit such feelings from drivers might surprise some.

Maybe it shouldn’t.

“We’re all very competitive,” Reddick said of the drivers. “Whenever we feel like someone does something wrong to us, it sticks with you, regardless of if it was on the highway or if it was in the grocery store or the parking lot.”

After a 71-day break due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cup drivers are back on track Sunday at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX). They’ll have no practice or qualifying. Their first lap at speed will be when the green flag waves. And fuel some of those restless drivers with memories of what others did to them in virtual racing the past two months. Then see what happens.

Every time a driver competes against another, whether in the virtual or real world, they add to their notes on that foe. Each slight is catalogued for potential payback.    

Ryan Preece wrecks Matt DiBenedetto during the Pro Invitational Series iRacing event at virtual Richmond Raceway in April. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“It could be another thing in your notebook that you carry over and remember about this guy like that,” Matt DiBenedetto told NBC Sports on what could carry over from iRacing. “Like Ryan Preece and I. You’re not going to go crash each other, and we joked a little bit about it after. But it’s also like, man, I’ve been frustrated with him a couple of times on track before, maybe not using his brain like I think he should have. And then that’s another note in the notebook when you’re racing around him.”

During the iRacing race at virtual Richmond Raceway in April, DiBenedetto and Ryan Preece had contact that wrecked Preece. He returned the favor. DiBenedetto retaliated. iRacing officials parked DiBenedetto.

Matt DiBenedetto wrecks Ryan Preece in retaliation for an earlier incident at virtual Richmond Raceway in April. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

That isn’t the only iRacing incident that quickly comes to mind for DiBenedetto that is bothersome.

“At (virtual) Dover at the last race, just trying to be smart, and I checked up for a couple of guys in front of me, Jimmie (Johnson) and Kurt (Busch),” DiBenedetto said. “They got stacked up a little, so I check up some and Ross Chastain is behind me. He tries to use it as an opportunity to dive under me. He drives right through me and crashed me.

“Well, again, that’s another one in the notebook. Everybody knows that Ross is insanely aggressive, has a bunch of talent but still has some things to learn as far as patience.

“From iRacing to that, yes, it can still put things down in your notebook that you remember about that guy. It was funny to see that some of those guys, for example Ross, not picking on him, he’s a talented guy, but those characteristics were the same on iRacing as in real life.

“Then you would have Kevin Harvick that was out there being very smart and giving room and all that. I’m like yep, that’s Kevin. You could see that Kevin may not be as experienced in iRacing, but he was the same as in real life, giving some room and being real smart about what he was doing and not trying to crash people.”

But not every driver thinks what happened in iRacing will make an impact on the track.

“iRacing it’s not real,” Christopher Bell told NBC Sports. “It’s not real money going into the cars. It’s not real resources going into the car. At least from my end, nothing from that will carry over.”

What about other drivers?

“I would hope not,” he said.

2.  Heated discussions during a pandemic

After 400 miles Sunday at Darlington, some drivers will be upset with fellow competitors.

In normal times, a driver might seek another on pit road to apologize to them. Or confront them.

Some discussions end peacefully. Others escalate, as happened last October between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin at Martinsville. In some cases, not much is said before drivers tussle, as Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick did after last October’s Xfinity race at Kansas. In rare cases, no words are spoken. Only a punch is thrown, as Kyle Busch did to Logano after the 2017 Las Vegas race.

But with social distancing guidelines, what is the protocol for drivers in such matters after a race?

Will they stand 6 feet away and yell at each other? Will they stand much closer to argue and risk being fined as much as $50,000 for violating NASCAR’s COVID-19 guidelines? Or do they go back to their motorhome and text each other?

“I don’t think you really know until that moment happens,” Brad Keselowski told NBC Sports.

Matt DiBenedetto knows what he’d prefer to do.

“I’ve always been the guy to where I want to talk to that guy right now as soon as I get out of my race car and settle this immediately — and it’s not necessarily about any physical harm or anything,” he said. “I want to talk to this guy face-to-face right now and let him know that, hey, I mean business and I’m not going to tolerate this. I’ve always been a very stern guy. I try to give respect to everybody, and you want to get that respect as well.

“That (post-race scenario on pit road now) will actually be a weird one. I thought about that, if I want to address something with somebody. I don’t like doing it over texts. I only like face-to-face conversations because in a text message, things can get misconstrued.”

Denny Hamlin has a possible solution to having an issue with another driver.

“Meet them at the exit,” he joked.

“That’s the only thing I can think of. I don’t know. I actually thought about that, as well. If there’s ever a time to be aggressive, probably ruffle some feathers, this is probably the time to do it because you don’t have to face consequences right after the race.”

3. “Epic race”

Drivers have raced without practicing or qualifying before. It last happened at Indianapolis in 2018.

But that race can’t compare to the challenges drivers will face Sunday at Darlington after a 10-week layoff and temperatures expected to be near 90 degrees.

“It’s going to be a daunting challenge this week,” said Brad Keselowski, who won that 2018 Indy race and starts Sunday’s race on the pole. “There’s no doubt about it. I think it’s an opportunity for a team to rise to the top, so I’m cool with it.

“It’s going to be incredibly hot. South Carolina is another level of hot. I don’t know why South Carolina hot is hotter than hot everywhere else, but it just is.

“Then you’ve got the racetrack, one of the faster racetracks on the circuit. You’re right up against the wall, very little room for error. You have tires that wear out a lot. You get late in a run and you’re really sliding around, a huge opportunity to make a mistake. You’ve (also) got all the downtime for the drivers (since the last race). Perhaps even more dangerous than that is a lot of time spent on simulators, so an abundance of overconfidence, which always causes issues.

“No practice. No rubber on the track. You have an entire list here of reasons why this race (could) be a calamity. A lot of pressure in this race. You want to get back going and have a great race. There’s going to be a lot of eyes on this race, so you expect the pressures that come with that. This is going to be an epic race. There’s no way around that. That’s what NASCAR needs, an epic race.”

Add to the list of issues for drivers Sunday is that with no practice, they won’t have a chance to practice entering pit road. Darlington’s pit road entry is tricky. Keselowski missed pit road while running seventh in last year’s race. Ryan Blaney missed pit road in the 2017 race there after hitting the wall. Denny Hamlin missed pit road while leading the 2017 race with 54 laps to go and rallied to win.

Even though Sunday’s race is 400 miles instead of the typical 500 miles at Darlington, there’s a likelihood of multiple green-flag pit stops. With the way tires wear, as soon as one prominent car pits for tires, it will drag the rest of the field to pit road for fresh tires. That can bring trouble.

“Darlington, in my opinion, is the most challenging pit road entry of the entire year,” Matt DiBenedetto said. “I think of all things, that might be one of the most nerve-racking parts of the race. Doing that cold turkey is a lot harder than just firing off for the green flag and racing.”

So what makes Darlington’s pit road entry so hard?

“Pit road entry there is so far down the racetrack,” DiBenedetto said.  “So you enter the corner and you’re on the racetrack and you start slowing down. It feels like you have to park just to hang a really, really hard left and go way down across the apron where you can’t even see. You’re on the racetrack and you can’t even see the pit road entry. You’re going by more of marks on the racetrack.”

4. Picking teams

With NASCAR limiting the number of team members for upcoming races, crew chiefs and competition directors had to decide who will go to Darlington this weekend and who stays behind.

Typically, teams have 10 road crew members, which includes the crew chief and spotter.

NASCAR now limits teams to six road crew members, including the crew chief and spotter. So that left four spots. Nearly every team brought its car chief, leaving three spots.

Top teams each have two engineers. What to do with those engineers was a point of debate for some teams.

“We have deliberated on this quite extensively,” Kevin Kidd, competition director at Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports.

Each of Roush’s two teams will take only one engineer to the track.

“The job on the pit box is a pretty busy one,” Kidd said. “To really just rely on the crew chief and quite frankly to have the bandwidth to process everything that you need to process live and in real time is probably asking too much. Can you support things from home and can you do things? Yes. And we will. … We feel like an engineer to assist the crew chief is a critical part of the race.”

Each of Hendrick Motorsports’ four teams will have one of its engineers at the track.

“I feel honestly, that the preparation at the shop is what’s going to really be the key,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief for William Byron. “So, we wanted to keep a good, strong, staff of mechanics at the shop with good and recent racetrack experience to try to make sure that when we unload the race car that we’re absolutely race ready.”

None of Joe Gibbs Racing’s teams will have an engineer at the track Sunday.

Crew chief Chris Gayle, who helped lead Erik Jones to the Southern 500 win at Darlington last year, said he wanted an extra mechanic at the track over an engineer.

“I wanted to make sure that I had enough (mechanics) so that if we had damage, we had the correct people who could work on things,” Gayle told NBC Sports. “I didn’t want to sacrifice that. … It pretty much left you where you didn’t have too many options.”

5. So many unknowns

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I asked several competitors what they were curious about Sunday, whether it was on the track or off the track. Here’s what some said:

Kevin Harvick: “I think with all the meetings that I’ve been a part of at home and iRacing and the way that the teams are functioning, there’s going to be some things that come out of this situation that are permanent and what those things are will start this weekend. I don’t really know what it is or what they will be, but I think this weekend will be the start of a process that you kind of have to look around and say: ‘You know what? That wasn’t a bad idea. We did it out of necessity to go in this racetrack and race and put on a show, but is that something we can carry forward?’ And I think that question is going to be asked a lot as we do things going forward.”

Cliff Daniels, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson: “What I’m really curious to see is going to be the evolution of any given competitor throughout the race. … It’s going to be really curious if you see somebody unloads and is blazing fast for the opening run, the track takes rubber, things evolve and change for the behavior of the track. Maybe they don’t keep up with it as well. Does that same guy that is blazing fast end up 12th? Or do you have somebody that barely struggles to stay on the lead lap by the end of the first stage? Do they come in and make an extended pit stop … and then they end up third. That’s what I’m curious to see. … Given that we don’t have practice and given that there’s no qualifying and we don’t have time to really tune to the track for the given weekend, I’m curious to see that. That’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to.”

Cole Custer: “That first lap will be interesting to see how aggressive everybody will be. I think how the team, all of us kind of work together to get prepared for the race. Those are really the only two things. I think for me, I’ve been trying to just focus on what I’m preparing myself for, and I don’t really worry about everything else.”

Ryan Sparks, crew chief for Corey LaJoie: “I’m curious who is going to be the first person to take their mask off and get a $10,000 fine. I pray that it’s nobody on our race team. It’s a new normal. It’s going to be a pain in the butt when you have a mask on your face and its 80 degrees and you’re trying to talk on the radio and it’s muffled. It’s going to take some getting used to, following NASCAR’s guidelines. We want to keep everybody safe. We don’t want to get anybody sick or anything like that. … I’m curious to see how everything is going to go, non-racing, everything affected by COVID-19. I think NASCAR has got a pretty good plan to get us in and out of there. It’s going to be interesting once you get there and see how it works.”

John Hunter Nemechek: “I’m curious about the viewership that we’re going to have. … I’m just kind of curious about the whole weekend, how it flows, how the racing goes.”

Brad Keselowski: “I think there are two things that really stand out me. One, the 88 car (of Alex Bowman) has been the best car on a mile-and-a-half (tracks). It left California as the fastest. It was probably the car that should have won Las Vegas. I’m curious if they have that speed (this weekend). I’m curious because I entered the season effectively with a new team, and we finished California with a top-five car and had a long list of areas that we thought we could to improve. I’m curious if we do just that this weekend at Darlington and find that level of speed like the 88 car had.”

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Storylines: What’s changed in the NASCAR Cup Series?

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Ryan Newman is back. So is Matt Kenseth. And the NASCAR schedule? It’s evolving.

Much has changed since Cup last raced March 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

When the season resumes Sunday at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX), Newman will compete for the first time since he suffered a bruised brain in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500.

Newman was injured when his car was hit from behind while racing for the win and veered into the wall. His No. 6 Ford went airborne and turned upside down before Corey LaJoie’s car slammed into it. Newman’s car skidded upside down along the frontstretch, coming to rest past the exit of pit road.

MORE: Storylines – Where Cup Series left off

MORE: NASCAR reveals competition rule changes 

Newman said in a March 11 interview with NBC’s “Today” show that the car’s cage “was compromised.”

NASCAR revealed technical changes May 1 in response to Newman’s crashWith the COVID-19 pandemic suspending the season, Newman will miss only three races. NASCAR has granted Newman a waiver should he need it to qualify for the playoffs. He enters this weekend 29th in the driver standings, 54 points out of a potential playoff position.

“We certainly recognize that the easiest path to make the playoffs is win a race,” Kevin Kidd, competition director for Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports. “We’re going to do everything in our power to accomplish that.”

Newman, though, is ahead of Kenseth in the standings. Chip Ganassi Racing hired Kenseth after the team fired Kyle Larson on April 14 for saying a racial slur during an iRacing event.

Kenseth’s last start came in the 2018 Cup finale in Miami.

Even so, former teammate Denny Hamlin is confident Kenseth will succeed.

“From my standpoint, I’m like, I don’t want him back,” Hamlin joked. “I know he gives great information. He can give an organization information. It’s another voice that that organization will hear that’s different than what they’ve had over the last few years. Not better or worse but just different. So, I think he’s probably going to lift that program up, similar to what he did to Roush toward the end (of the 2018 season).

“He’s my buddy, but I prefer him just to stay home at this point. I mean that jokingly.”

Kenseth also didn’t expect to be racing in Cup again before Ganassi officials reached out to him.

“You just never know what life is going to throw at you,” Kenseth told NBC Sports.

NASCAR also has granted Kenseth a waiver should he need it to make the playoffs.

One thing that keeps changing is the schedule.

This much is known: the Cup Series will race May 17 and 20 at Darlington Raceway and May 24 and 27 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

No other races have been announced at this point, although Cup teams are preparing cars for Bristol Motor Speedway, signaling that the high-banked, half-mile track could be the site of the next Cup race after Darlington and Charlotte.

Atlanta Motor Speedway also appears likely to happen soon. And even with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to ease restrictions, it doesn’t appear likely that NASCAR will race at Martinsville until late June at the earliest.

NASCAR announced May 8 that the Richmond spring race, the Chicagoland race and Sonoma race were realigned to the two Darlington and one extra Charlotte race this month. This year will mark the first time since 1958 that Richmond has hosted only one Cup race in a season. Cup had raced once a year at Sonoma since 1989 and at Chicagoland since 2001.

NASCAR stated that further schedule adjustments will be released in the near future.

Another change for teams is that they will have fewer crew members at the track in upcoming races. Cup teams could have as many as 10 crew members, including the crew chief and spotter, along with five pit crew members, three organizational team members and a couple of hauler drivers. That didn’t include additional senior level executives and the team owner, among others. For some teams, that was more than 20 people per team per race.

Now, teams are limited to no more than 16 individuals, with no more than six road crew members (including the crew chief and spotter). The reduced list also includes one driver, one competition director, one IT support person, two hauler drivers and five pit crew members.

Some teams are not taking either of their two engineers to the track. Instead of sitting atop the pit box next to the crew chief, they’ll be working from home or the shop. Crew chief Chris Gayle, who guided Erik Jones to the Southern 500 win last year in the most recent race at Darlington, will leave his engineers behind.

“I can have them connected to me wherever they are,” Gayle told NBC Sports. “I think the (crew number) is so limited, like if you look at what you really need behind the wall for pit stops and then from the standpoint of running the race. The race is going to be the same protocol as a normal race, meaning the (Damaged Vehicle Policy, which limits what type and how long teams can spend on repairs) and all the rest.

“I wanted to make sure that I had enough people that if we had damage we had the correct people that could work on things. I didn’t want to sacrifice that.”

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Long: Will 500 be Great American demolition derby (again)?

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Let’s be frank. Blocking will continue at Daytona and Talladega. It will happen in Thursday’s Cup qualifying races and it will take place in the Daytona 500.

And yes, there will be wrecks because of it.

“Product of what happens when you get out front because you know if you can keep the lead, nobody can pass, so you just try to do what you can with all the blocks,” Kyle Busch said after he was blocked by Joey Logano before they made contact and crashed in Sunday’s Busch Clash.

Blocking has become hairier since the larger rear spoiler was added to cars last year. That gives trailing cars an aerodynamic boost to close faster on to the back of the leading car.

The increased closing speed decreases the reaction time a driver has to block. Even if they defend the spot, they often force the car behind to slow quickly, creating an accordion affect that can lead to an incident deeper in the field.

Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski collide in Turn 4 during Sunday’s Busch Clash. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

“By the time the spotter sees (a trailing car making a move), keys the mic, says it … it’s too late,” two-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin told NBC Sports after Sunday’s Clash. “Live to race another lap in my opinion, but, hey, if they want to keep crashing, I just hope I’m not in it.

“There’s no guarantee that the guy is going to clear you. Let them get beside you, who cares? You’ve got a chance to stay up there, but it’s when we chop each other’s nose and stuff like that, you just continue to see it with a lot of the same guys who do the same things and they’re not successful with it.”

Brad Keselowski was livid at Logano after Keselowski was collected in the incident between Logano and Busch.

“You would think these guys would be smarter than that,” Keselowski said. “We all cause wrecks. I get in wrecks all the time and I cause them. … It’s the same thing. Somebody throws a stupid block that’s never going to work and wrecks half the field and then goes ‘eh’. Maybe we need to take the helmets out of these cars and take the seat belts out. Somebody will get hurt and then we’ll stop driving like assholes.”

Busch acknowledges there is a benefit to blocking, which is why drivers will do it despite the risks.

“If you can get the block done enough times, then that bubble of air (between the cars) pushes you out … and that’s what (Logano) was trying to do, but I was too close,” Busch said. “I was on him. You’ve got to accept the repercussions in those situations when you throw that many (blocks).”

Understandably there’s some concern about blocking after what happened in the Clash and recent Daytona 500s. Thirty-six of the 40 cars in last year’s Daytona 500 were in accidents, according to the NASCAR race report. In the 2018 race, 27 of the 40 cars were listed as in accidents. In the 2017 race, 33 of the 40 cars were listed as in accidents.

Put another way, 80% of the cars in the last three Daytona 500s were involved in an accident.

The Great American Race has become a demolition derby.

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Overlooked in Erik Jones’ dramatic last-lap victory in the Busch Clash was how teammate Denny Hamlin pushed him for most of the final lap, a la tandem racing — which was prevalent at Daytona and Talladega a decade ago until NASCAR rules made it unfeasible to do.

Teams started experimenting with tandem drafting last year but could only do it for part of a lap. A few teams tried it in Cup practice last weekend and saw benefits.

Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin in a tandem draft on the final lap of the Busch Clash at Daytona. (AP Photo/Darryl Graham)

“I think it’s typically a straightaway or half a lap that it seems to work,” Byron said of the tandem draft before the Clash. “Based on the radius of the corners at Daytona, it’s kind of hard to carry it through off the corners, especially as fast as we’re going, but I think there’s definitely some pushing that will influence the race.

“That’s what it’s going to take for the race win, honestly. I think it’s going to be about blocking that run and forcing them to push you and hoping they push you out and you guys can race it out. I think it’s going to come down to pushing, looking at how guys are doing it in practice. It’s only going to get more aggressive in the race.”

Hamlin was a lap down in the Clash so his only motivation was to stay locked on the back of Jones’ car and push his teammate to the win in the exhibition race.

Jones said the tandem is starting to return because “the cars just punch such a big hole in the air, you can get all the way to people’s bumpers with pretty minimal effort from both drivers.  As long as the lead guy gives you a little bit of a brake drag, you lock on, you stay locked on for a long time.

“If you’re in a situation late with a restart, you could see some tandem racing.”

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Daytona International Speedway made the surprise announcement Monday that the 2021 Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 14.

NASCAR has not announced the 2021 schedule and is not expected to do so until April. But with Daytona already selling tickets for the 2021 Daytona 500, don’t expect the date to suddenly change.

That leads to a bigger question. What happens to the Busch Clash?

Easy, it’s the weekend before the Daytona 500. Yes, but the Super Bowl will be Feb. 7 in Tampa, which is about two hours from the track. Maybe it could work running the Clash in the day and finishing well before the Super Bowl begins.

Or, with the possibility of bold changes for the 2021 schedule, would it make sense to shorten Daytona Speedweeks and have the Clash on Wednesday night, four days before the 500? That leads into the qualifying races on Thursday, Truck race on Friday, Xfinity race on Saturday and the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Certainly, there could be other options. Shortening Speedweeks has been a topic discussed before. 

Another question, though, might be is the Clash still necessary? With NASCAR seeking to help owners save money, has the Clash outlived its usefulness?

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David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, was adamant in an interview Friday on “The Morning Drive” that his cars wouldn’t be a contender for the Daytona 500 pole.

“I wouldn’t put us at the top of the board for qualifying at Daytona,” Wilson told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s just not going to happen.

“I don’t know that many people appreciate what it takes to sit on the front row of the Daytona 500. I have an immense amount of respect for what the Hendrick camp does to that end and for what (Ford engine builder) Doug Yates does. It’s a massive effort just to sit there. We’ve been very intentional to focus our time and our resources and our energy on building cars that race well and that goes for the Daytona 500 and frankly goes for the rest of the season.”

The result last year was that Toyotas won 19 races and the championship but only four poles.

Even with such a strategy, what happened Sunday was interesting. Toyotas showed more speed. Toyotas were fifth (Denny Hamlin), sixth (Kyle Busch), ninth (Christopher Bell) and 10th (Erik Jones).

It was a marked significant improvement from last year. Only one Toyota was in the top 10 in qualifying at Daytona or Talladega last year.

“I think it goes back to Talladega last fall,” said Chris Gayle, crew chief for Jones, about the increase in speed. “We didn’t feel like we had as good of cars as we needed as a group.”

Jones qualified 11th at Talladega in the playoffs last year. No other Toyota was in the top 15 that day.

We kind of found something we thought we could tweak on in the off‑season and improve,” Gayle said. “The faster cars win, right? They may not always win, but the numbers are going to show they win. They’re going to be in better positions in the race to use runs and clear somebody when they’re faster.”

It will be worth watching the Toyota cars in the qualifying races Thursday. Handling remains key at Daytona. The question will be did Toyota sacrifice handling in race traffic for single-car speed? If not, then watch out for those cars this week.

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Hendrick Motorsports saw its streak of five consecutive Daytona 500 poles end Sunday but the engine shop’s streak continued.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (right) celebrates his Daytona 500 pole with fellow front-row starter Alex Bowman. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Hendrick Motorsports supplies engines to JTG Daugherty Racing. So when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. grabbed the pole for Daytona 500, he ended Hendrick’s streak of having its cars on the pole but not the engine shop’s streak.

“I want to see those guys do well but they did a little better,” Hendrick said, laughing before he finished his sentence.

“Being on the front row and having them all up there is a great job for our company. I’m real proud of those guys (at JTG). They work hard. They’re good friends. We’ve worked with them on chassis and motors.”

Hendrick Motorsports will still have one of its drivers on the front row for the 500, though. Alex Bowman will start alongside Stenhouse.

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After being let down in the search for sponsorship often, Bubba Wallace is less prone to get excited about possible deals as Richard Petty Motorsports looks to fill out space on the No. 43 car this year.

Asked how optimistic he was of those gaps being filled, Wallace said: “I don’t carry optimism anymore. I’m just a realistic person, so we’ll get though Daytona and go on to Vegas and see how it goes.”

As for why he’s a realist instead of an optimist in regards to sponsorship, Wallace said: “I’ve been let down so many times in my life with sponsorship efforts, so just realistic. I told everyone at RPM, you work your tails off in the office but don’t call me with updates, call me when it’s done.”

Bubba Wallace seeks to recapture the magic of his runner-up finish in the 2018 Daytona 500. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Wallace’s runner-up finish in the 2018 Daytona 500 didn’t lead to the swell of sponsorships that some thought could happen. But Wallace has experienced that often.

“They told me winning a Truck race would get me sponsorship,” he said. “I’m still looking for a sponsor. That was (2013). You can carry optimism for that long, it will kill you.”

Wallace says his focus is on each day.

“It’s a new day every single day,” he said. “You try to give your 110% effort each and every day. Whatever happens, happens. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t meant to be.”

But Wallace does admit to having good vibes at Daytona. 

“I do get excited coming to the speedway stuff just because our program has been so solid,” he said. “For all the small teams, you get excited about these because anybody can win these races.”

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The World Series of Asphalt Racing at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida features nine nights of racing through Saturday, including seven nights of Super Late Models.

Fifteen-year-old Sammy Smith won opening night last Friday driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Super Late Model team. It was Smith’s first start with the team.

Busch will get to race with Smith next week at Las Vegas when Busch jumps into a Super Late Model and that will give a better chance to gauge Smith.

“I’m looking forward to that,” Busch said of the Super Late Model race in Las Vegas. “But what’s going to turn (Smith) and make him viable or successful to move on to the next level is going to be the same as it was with all the rest of the drivers. If they are running up front, if they are competitive and winning races, parts aren’t falling off the cars and cars are prepared well and they are fast, that will obviously show that they’ve got the opportunity to get to the next level.”

On Saturday night, the Super Late Model winner was Jesse Love, who, like Smith, is 15 years old and a Toyota Racing Development driver.

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