Corey Lajoie

Photos courtesy Randy and Lisa LaJoie

Randy LaJoie’s crusade to keep grassroots racers safe

Leave a comment

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.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Friday 5: Elliott Sadler excited to be back in a car at Richmond

Leave a comment

Elliott Sadler doesn’t look back on his decision to step away from full-time racing with regret.

“It is 100 percent the best decision I made,” he told NBC Sports this week.

But he’s also looking forward to his return to the Xfinity Series tonight for Kaulig Racing at Richmond Raceway. This is one of two races Sadler is scheduled to drive this season (the other is Sept. 14 at Las Vegas). 

Sadler, 43, said it became clear last year that it was time for him to step back.

“A few things helped in my decision,” said Sadler, who has 13 Xfinity and three Cup victories. “I know what it takes to race at this level. I understand the homework you have to do, the videos you have to watch, the notes you have to take, the simulation you have to study, the working out that you have to do, the whole mental and physical part of it.

“I was at the point last year where I did not and just could not do all the things that I wanted to do. I lost that drive to do it 100 percent. I couldn’t make myself go to the gym, every day, every night. I couldn’t make myself watch videos … all the time. So I lost a little bit of that drive. I didn’t want to half-ass it. I’m not that kind of person.

Elliott Sadler’s best finish at Richmond Raceway in the Xfinity Series is second in this car in May 2005. (Photo By Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“I knew that if I was not going to do everything that I knew I needed to do to compete at a 100 percent level like some of these other guys, like Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch, some of these guys that I know work their butts off to stay in the shape they’re in and live on the edge, there was no need for me to do it.”

Sadler said another key factor was being more involved with his family and children, 9-year-old Wyatt and 7-year-old Austyn.

“I think that is why I lost some of my drive to do this every weekend,” Sadler said of racing. “It’s hard to race 33 weekends a year when you’ve got kids at home. I’m not singing the blues by no means. I was in a good point in my life where if I had to make a decision or wanted to make the decision to stay at home more and be a part of my kids’ life I could and that’s the decision I ended up making.”

Sadler is coaching his kids in sports and noted that earlier this week their team won a baseball tournament championship in extra innings in Richmond.

“I told my wife, after the game we were driving home, I said, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “This is one of the happiest days of my life, watching all these kids fight through what they did to win the championship. That’s what it is all about.”

Sadler admits he is excited to get back into the car this weekend. Although he’s missed the first seven races, he isn’t worried. He looks to friend Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ran in Richmond’s Xfinity race in September in his only start of the year and finished fourth, leading 96 of 250 laps. Sadler seeks his first career Xfinity win at Richmond.

“I’m not putting a uniform on to go ride around and be fan,” Sadler said. “I could just buy a ticket if I wanted to be a fan. I want to be a part of the race and a part of the action.”

2. Heavy on the gas

Denny Hamlin acknowledged this week on Twitter that his pit road speeding penalties are “frustrating for me … frustrating for the team.”

Hamlin was caught speeding on pit road last weekend at Bristol after he exited first with less than 85 laps to go. He restarted outside the top 15 and went on to finish fifth.

The speeding penalty was his third of the season, tying Hamlin with Ty Dillon, Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie for most in Cup in the first eight races of the season.

Such penalties are not new to Hamlin. His 23 pit road speeding penalties since 2016 rank third in the series. He’s recorded a pit road speeding penalty in 19.8% of the 116 Cup races run since 2016, according to Racing Insights.

The drivers with the most pit road speeding penalties (and how many they’ve had) since 2016 are:

27 – Michael McDowell

24 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

23 – Denny Hamlin

16 – Austin Dillon

16 – David Ragan

15 – Kasey Kahne

14 – Corey LaJoie

14 – Kyle Busch

14 – Paul Menard

Hamlin is a bit better in the playoffs the past three years. He has five speeding penalties. He’s recorded a pit road speeding penalty in 16.7% of the 30 playoff races run since 2016.

Here are the drivers with the most speeding penalties (and how many they’ve had) in playoff races since 2016:

11 – Michael McDowell

9 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

6 – David Ragan

5 – Daniel Suarez

5 – Denny Hamlin

5 – Kasey Kahne

5 – Landon Cassill

5 – Matt Kenseth

4 – Corey LaJoie

4 – J.J. Yeley

4 – Jimmie Johnson

4 – Paul Menard

3. How much more change is needed to qualifying?

NASCAR told Cup teams Thursday that it was reducing the first and second round of qualifying from 10 minutes to five for today at Richmond Raceway. The final round will remain five minutes.

NASCAR stated that this is not the new qualifying format moving forward. The change was made after all 24 cars did not go on to the track in the first five minutes of the second round last weekend at Bristol.

NASCAR has made it clear it doesn’t want to go back to single-car qualifying. Officials still have to figure out what to do about qualifying at bigger tracks where drafting plays a role.

But changing the rules time after time and spending so much time discussing qualifying — instead of the race — makes it seem as if the sport has fallen into a rabbit hole on this matter.

If the sport is against single-car qualifying and officials need to keep tweaking the format time after time, the question becomes is qualifying necessary?

Want to make setting the lineup simple? Fine. Make the starting lineup based on how drivers finished in the previous race.

Finishing order from the previous race also determines the pit stall picks. If the car didn’t race the week before, it starts behind all those that ran that race. If there are more cars than spots, then have single-car qualifying among the cars that did not compete the race before.

Problem solved. Now the sport can move on to something else.

4. Working together (finally)

It took a while but Michael McDowell got Drew Blickensderfer to be his crew chief. Blickensderfer was someone McDowell had targeted previously.

“When I was at (Leavine Family Racing), I tried really hard to get Drew, and the biggest reason is watching him from the garage and two, I became good friends with Carl (Edwards),” said McDowell, now with Front Row Motorsports. “And Carl and I would have fun conversations, and Carl is an intense guy, and I said, ‘Hey if you were going to go to battle, who would you go with?’ He’s like, ‘I’d take Drew with me.’

“So that was always ingrained a little bit in my mind, and then just seeing Drew, and I see him from afar, and I felt he’s always overachieved and always had that leadership and that intensity. Yeah, it’s just like one of those things where you just know when you know, and so I fought hard for years to try to get him, and it just never really worked out, and opportunity became available kind of late in the game and late in the (off)season and really thankful to get him over there.”

McDowell saw firsthand how Blickensderfer battled when he stepped in after McDowell went to the ground in his confrontation with Daniel Suarez at ISM Raceway in March. Blickensderfer pinned Suarez against the hood of McDowell’s car on pit road.

“The battle part wasn’t a reference to Suarez, but you know, you can tell if you look at Drew and look at his ears, they’re closed up for a reason,” McDowell said. “He’s been on the mat and on the floor a lot. And him and I kind of joked about that because he obviously stepped in there, and you could just see it was instincts. He’s got that fire about him. I didn’t want him because he can take care of all the drivers for me … but that intensity is what you’re looking for.”

McDowell enters this weekend 28th in points. He finished fifth in the Daytona 500 but has had one top 20 since, placing 15th at Texas.

5. Bounty award for fans

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman noted on Thursday’s NASCAR America that he’d like to see a bounty paid to any driver that can beat Kyle Busch, who has won three of the first eight races this season. Kligerman noted it’s an old short-track promotion done when someone dominates.

It’s a good idea, but why not include the fans? If someone beats Kyle Busch – or better yet, if any team can win other than Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske – then maybe that track takes the number of the winning car and deducts that much from the ticket (with a ceiling as to how much those tickets can be reduced). Make the fans a part of something like that.

And tracks could still win by offering some sort of special ticket price if Busch wins or a JGR car or Team Penske car does.

No, this isn’t going to suddenly pack every track’s grandstands. That’s not the intent. It would be a way to have a little fun and maybe help fans with the cost of tickets and encourage a few others to purchase them.

Friday 5: What Cup teams with new drivers are better off?

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
1 Comment

Some moves were made by teams. Others were made by drivers looking for better opportunities. Whatever the reason, there were a number of driver changes after last year.

Four races into this season, one can get a glimpse of how those changes are working out. In some cases, the comparisons may look unkindly on who was in the car last year — think about Chevrolet teams and the struggles many had early with the Camaro last year or how a team has switched manufacturers since last year — but here is a look at how some of the moves have gone.

Five of the eight full-time teams that had driver changes for this season are showing an uptick in performance in the first four races of this season compared to the same time last year.

No surprise that former champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn have raised the level of the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex has two runner-up finishes this season and has scored 140 points — 73 points more than Daniel Suarez had with that ride in the first four races last year.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing also has seen a 73-point gain in the first four races this season with Kurt Busch compared to the same time with Jamie McMurray last year. Busch has three finishes of seventh or better in his Chevrolet Camaro to score 126 points.

Also making gains this year are the No. 6 team at Roush Fenway Racing with Ryan Newman. He has three finishes of 14th or better this season and has scored 25 more points than Trevor Bayne had in that car at this time last year.

Corey LaJoie and Matt DiBenedetto also have helped their teams to more points than last year at this time. DiBenedetto took over Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 — which also changed to Toyota and aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing after last year — and has scored five more points than Kasey Kahne had in the first four races last year when that team was with Chevrolet.

LaJoie replaced DiBenedetto in the No. 32 at Go Fas Racing and has a top finish of 18th. LaJoie has scored five more points than DiBenedetto had in the first four races last year with that team.

The teams that have not seen an increase of points so far compared to last year include two teams with rookies. Rookie Daniel Hemric replaced Newman at Richard Childress Racing and has scored 48 fewer points in the first four races than Newman did for that group last year. Rookie Ryan Preece has scored 12 fewer points in the No. 47 car for JTG Daugherty Racing than AJ Allmendinger had at this time last year.

The other driver move was Suarez taking over the No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and replacing Busch. Suarez has one top 10 so far but Busch had two top 10s at this time last year. Suarez has scored 40 fewer points than Busch did at this time last year.

2. Kyle Busch’s race to 200

A few numbers to digest in Kyle Busch’s quest for 200 NASCAR wins and more. He comes into this weekend with 199 and is entered in both the Xfinity and Cup races.

— Busch has 199 NASCAR wins in 996 starts (a 20 percent winning percentage)

— Busch has 494 top-five finishes in those 996 starts, scoring a top five in 49.6 percent of his starts.

— Busch’s 199 career NASCAR wins have come on 28 different tracks. Among the tracks he’s won at that are no longer on the NASCAR circuit are Lucas Oil Raceway (three wins), Nashville Superspeedway (three) and Mexico City (one).

— The most victories Busch has had in one season in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks was 24 in 2010.

— Busch has won a NASCAR race in 21 different states and Mexico. The most victories Busch has had in any one state is Tennessee. He’s won 24 races there.

3. So far so good on inspection

This year marks the first time in the past three seasons that a Cup car was not penalized for an inspection violation after the race.

NASCAR announced before the season that any car that failed inspection would be dropped to last in the order. Any winning car that fails inspection will have that victory taken away.

So far, no team has been given such a penalty in Cup, Xfinity or the Truck series.

That’s quite an accomplishment in Cup. Each of the past two years saw at least one team penalized for a violation discovered after the race in the first four events of the season.

In March 2018, NASCAR fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000, suspended car chief Robert Smith two Cup races, docked Kevin Harvick 20 points and the team 20 owner points for a violation with the rear window brace that was discovered after Harvick’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Harvick also lost all seven playoff points he earned — five for winning the race and two for each stage victory.

In March 2017, NASCAR suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined him $65,000 when Brad Keselowski’s car failed inspection after the race at ISM Raceway. NASCAR also docked Keselowski 35 points and the team 35 owner points. NASCAR penalized the team for failing the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station.

NASCAR also penalized Harvick’s team after that same race for an unapproved track bar slider assembly. NASCAR suspended Childers one race and fined him $25,000. Harvick was docked 10 points and the team lost 10 owner points.

4. One or the other

Since NASCAR created the West Coast swing in 2016, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. have managed to win at least once in those three races.

They’ll need to win this weekend at Auto Club Speedway to keep that streak going. Joey Logano won at Las Vegas to begin this year’s swing. Kyle Busch won last weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

5. Extra work

ThorSport Racing drivers Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Myatt Snider will be racing this weekend even though the Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off.

They’ll compete for Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports in Friday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Sebring International Raceway. Crafton and Enfinger will be paired on the No. 22 team, while Snider and Rhodes will drive the No. 15 entry. Their race lasts two hours.

 and on Facebook

Clint Bowyer posts fastest lap in final Cup practice at Atlanta

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

HAMPTON, Ga. – Clint Bowyer recorded the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bowyer’s top speed was 179.104 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (178.873 mph), Austin Dillon (178.712), Michael McDowell (178.672) and Corey LaJoie (178.436).

Click here for final practice results

“I feel like we learned quite a bit,” Bowyer said. “You have to check the boxes off. I was talking about the balance of this thing and the ability to work on balance with the drag vs. downforce. You know it is going to be different at this racetrack than it will be at Vegas or any other racetrack. You are going to have that adjustability built into the car and the understanding of where you are at and where you need to be.

“There will be teams (Sunday) that drastically miss this, and ones that hit it. The ones that hit it are going to have a lot of fun. The ones that don’t are going to be miserable. There isn’t a whole lot you can do in the race to change that.”

Busch went to a backup car after he hit the wall less than 10 minutes into the session. He did not return to the track after the incident. Busch had the best average over 10 consecutive laps (177.302 mph) before he hit the wall. Kyle Larson was next at 176.534 mph over 10 consecutive laps.

“The corner speeds are higher so when you do have an issue, the issue happened really fast, happened faster than it typically would because of the corner speeds are higher,” Busch said. “The crash was harder to save. In the past, I feel I would have been able to do a better job (of saving the car).”

Austin Cindric filled in for Brad Keselowski, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms. Cindric drove the car 13 laps. Keselowski got in the car late in the session and ran 23 laps.

Kevin Harvick ran the most laps at 75. He was 21st on the speed chart with a top lap of 176.932 mph.

Erik Jones suffered a power steering problem during the session. Bowyer said that Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Daniel Suarez also had power steering problems a day after Harvick did.

“It is very weird,” Bowyer said of the steering problems this weekend. “(Suarez) had one, too. It is something that is a gremlin that people are fighting, yeah.

“You get out there on this long race, and I guarantee you that you are going to be sawing on the wheel (Sunday) if you are up front and asking a lot of that steering component. Hopefully, it will be fine. I know there were more cars than just (Harvick) that had issues, so it is a concern across the board, but I don’t think there is anyone better than our group at figuring things out.”

Friday 5: Daytona Speedweeks proves costly for Cup car owners

1 Comment

Restrictor-plate racing and crashes have always been tied together, but last weekend’s Daytona 500 saw something that has rarely been seen.

The 36 cars listed in NASCAR’s race report as involved in an accident is believed to be among the most in the event’s 61-year history. Racing Insights, which provides statistics to NBC Sports, listed 37 of 40 cars in accidents — Racing Insights included Corey LaJoie’s car after a tire damaged the front of that car.

What happened in last weekend’s race matches what happened in just one incident in the 1960 Daytona 500. That race had a 37-car crash. 

The Daytona 500 has been tough on car owners the past three years. An average 32.7 cars (out of a starting field of 40) have been involved in accidents in the race. It is the largest three-year average going back to at least 1980.

Last weekend’s Daytona 500 concluded one of the costliest Daytona Speedweeks for Cup car owners. A total of 60 cars were listed as involved in accidents in practice, the Clash, the qualifying races and the Daytona 500. Since 2010, only one year has seen more Cup cars in crashes during Speedweeks — 2015 when 61 cars were involved. 

The 60 Cup cars in a crash in Speedweeks is an increase of 16.7 percent from last year and up 28.3 percent from 2016 and 2017.

Here’s a look at the number of Cup cars listed in a crash during Daytona Speedweeks in recent years:

Even with all the Cup cars in crashes — and 26 trucks in crashes in that race — this year’s Speedweeks saw a decline in the total number of vehicles in incidents. The total for Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series for all of Speedweeks was 88 vehicles. That is down 9.3 percent from last year and 15.4 percent from 2017.

Here is how many vehicles in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series were listed in a crash throughout Daytona Speedweeks in recent years:

Kevin Harvick has suggested doing away with the Clash, the exhibition race held a week before the Daytona 500. Seventeen of the 20 cars in that race were involved in a late crash. That came a day after a four-car crash in practice. Eliminating that race could be one way to help teams save money.

2. What to expect at Atlanta?

A sampling of what some drivers anticipate this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which features the debut of NASCAR’s new aero package that includes limiting the engines to 550 horsepower at tracks that are 1.33 miles and larger:

Austin Dillon: “I think this year restarts are probably going to be more fire than usual. It’ll be more amped up. I feel like you’ll see guys spread from top to bottom trying to make time, and you’re hoping that your line moves forward. So, it’ll be impressive, I think. Once you get to Atlanta, it’ll be a good show and then Vegas will really be wild on these restarts.”

Chase Elliott: “I really don’t know what to expect.”

Jimmie Johnson: “I think when handling comes into play, you’re going to need clean air (at Atlanta). When you’re at Michigan and the tires don’t wear out, you can be in dirty air and it doesn’t affect the car. Same thing I think for Vegas. When you get to Fontana, Atlanta, you’ll have a short window of time to really dice it up, but you need clean air to plant your car on the ground.”

Kyle Larson: “I was excited talking with Erik Jones the other day. He said the top was really fast at Atlanta. I think that there will be a lot of places where now you’ll be able to run the top, but, then again, I think that hurts me because everybody will be able to run the top. I feel that as we’ve taken spoiler away from the cars it’s just made it harder for other people, so it kind of opens up a lane for me up there. So, I think the tracks where I’ve had my own line up around the wall, I think it will be easier for other people to run up there. But it could benefit me more than others. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Martin Truex Jr.: “When we go to Atlanta, it’s going to look a lot different than it did at Charlotte. When we go to California, it’s going to look a lot different. It’s going to be certain tracks it looks one way and certain tracks where it looks another way. There’s no way to make the same exact racing at all the different tracks because they’re just so different. We’ll have to wait and see I think and wait a little while to kind of make a judgment on this thing and what it looks like and whether we’re happy with it or not.”

3. Who to watch?

One of the beliefs from NASCAR has been that even with the new rules package, the best teams still will be expected to race at the front.

If that’s the case, there will be six drivers to watch Sunday at Atlanta — since they were the only drivers to win on a 1.5-mile track last season.

Kevin Harvick, the defending Atlanta victor, won four of the 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks last year. Kyle Busch won three times at such tracks. Winning once at these tracks were Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.

Those six drivers have combined to win the last 17 races on 1.5-mile tracks, dating back to Austin Dillon’s 2017 Coca-Cola 600 win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

4. Looking ahead

Toyota Racing Development driver Chandler Smith, who is 16 years old, will compete in four Truck races for Kyle Busch Motorsports this season.

Chandler Smith. (Photo: Kyle Busch Motorsports/Toyota)

As a 15-year-old, he won a record four consecutive ARCA poles and won his first race in his fourth series start last year. He will compete in Truck races at Iowa Speedway (June 15), Gateway (June 28), Bristol (Aug. 15) and Phoenix (Nov. 7).

KBM is a key step in the development of several Toyota Racing Development drivers.

Raphael Lessard, 17, will drive in three races for KBM: Martinsville (March 23), Dover (May 3) and Bristol (Aug. 15).

Christian Eckes, 18, started on the pole for the Daytona Truck race but was eliminated by a crash and finished 22nd. He’ll drive six more Truck races for KBM: Gateway (June 22), Pocono (July 27), Las Vegas (Sept. 13), Martinsville (Oct. 26) and two races to be announced.

Of course, Todd Gilliland, 18, is competing for the full season this year after running 19 of 23 races for the organization a year ago, and Harrison Burton, 18, also is running the full season for KBM. Burton ran in eight races for the team last year.

5. Can history repeat?

Kyle Busch will make his 500th career Cup start this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Only twice in the sport’s history has a driver won in their 500th start. Richard Petty did it in 1970 and Matt Kenseth accomplished the feat in 2013.

 and on Facebook