Eddie Gossage

Friday 5: Kyle Larson focused on Texas and ‘best chance to get a win’

Leave a comment

Kyle Larson hinted in September at what was to come in the Cup playoffs, but it was easy to overlook with the focus on Joe Gibbs Racing’s stable and if anyone could keep all four JGR drivers from advancing to the title race in Miami.

Even though Larson had yet to win at that time, he said in Las Vegas that he felt his cars were better than what he had in 2017 when he entered that postseason second in points and with four wins.

“I think this is as good of a shot, minus I don’t have as many playoffs points as that year,” Larson said a few days before this year’s playoff opener.

Larson was eliminated in the second round in 2017 but is among the eight remaining playoff drivers this year.

Although he goes into Sunday’s race at Texas Motors Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) outside a transfer spot to the championship race in Miami, this could be the weekend he earns a spot in that race with a win. If so, it would be his first career Cup victory on a 1.5-mile track.

No remaining playoff driver has a better average finish than Larson’s 7.0 in the past four races on 1.5-mile tracks (Chicagoland, Kentucky, Las Vegas and Kansas). Chase Elliott, who is essentially in a must-win situation after his mechanical woes last weekend at Martinsville, is next among remaining playoff drivers with an 8.0 average over those four races.

While Denny Hamlin won two weeks ago at Kansas, the most recent 1.5-mile track before this weekend, Larson led 60 laps before some sloppiness on pit road by him and his team and contact with a lapped car led to a 14th-place finish.

Even after that finish, Larson remained upbeat.

Crew chief Chad Johnston and Kyle Larson. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“Texas will be our best chance to get a win,” he said of the Round of 8 races at Martinsville, Texas and ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

Larson survived Martinsville, notable as one of his worst tracks. He finished ninth but scored the sixth-most points in that race thanks to crew chief Chad Johnston’s call not to pit shortly before the end of stage 2. That move gave Larson the lead and he finished the stage in second, collecting nine points.

After finishing the race, Larson said on the radio to his team: “Survived. It’s what we needed to do.”

Larson is 24 points behind Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot to the championship round but these playoffs have already have had moments of upheaval from Ryan Blaney’s Talladega win to Elliott racing his way to the Round of 8 at Kansas while Brad Keselowski failed to advance.

A key for Larson will be have a clean race. He overcame a pit road penalty to finish eighth at Las Vegas. He was penalized one lap for pitting outside the box at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and placed 13th. A penalty for an uncontrolled tire at Kansas played a role in him finishing 14th.

While Larson acknowledged after Kansas that he had a points deficit to overcome, he noted “a win could fix all that.”

It could this weekend for him and his Chip Ganassi Racing team.

2. Gaining traction

Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, admits he was hesitant to use the PJ1 traction compound on his track in March because “I’m more of a traditionalist than people would guess I am.”

The track again will have the traction compound this weekend.

MORE: Texas Motor Speedway makes its case for IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader 

Gossage explained to NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan his hesitation with the traction compound previously:

“I was like, look, the asphalt will come in in time. You just got to stomach out the first couple of years. That kind of thing. I don’t know. I just didn’t see the need to do it. Others did and wanted to do it, and you’ve got to trust your people and listen to what they say. I’m talking from experience and pure gut instinct. They’re talking to me about all these friction coefficients and these devices they use to measure it. And so there’s a difference there.

“Most of the time they’re right when they use those devices. Sometimes they’re wrong. The key is to know when science is right and when your gut is right.”

Asked if the traction compound seems like a crutch that detracts from more important things, Gossage told Ryan:

I look at it like there’s so much noise from a few people, the vocal minority, about so many things related to the sport, that it’s hard to know when to stick your fingers in your ear and ignore it. Because you want to listen to fans. It’s another one of those judgment things you’ve got to make. Yeah, I hear all the time from the detractors, and I thought Kansas was a watershed moment in NASCAR, but you hear these detractors, and you want to say, ‘Look, we’re not running a stock car off the showroom floor with an 8-inch bias-ply treaded tire anymore.’

“That’s not what we do. That’s not what this sport is. It’s evolved. It’s changed. The forward path is not a bad thing. It’s a tough line to straddle to stay in the old days where certain things were great because the way they were, and you also have to advance or die. So what do you listen to and who? The good old days for me are different from the good old days for you and somebody else. If I listen to most detractors, the good old days … the first Cup race I saw in person, Darrell Waltrip beat Bobby Allison by a lap. I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. Well if you did that today, they’d tear the place down. So you got to grow.”

As for Kansas being a “watershed moment,” Gossage said: “I thought Kansas was the first time where all the things that the playoffs bring about in every sport: Intrigue. Intensity. Mayhem. Nerves. Who’s in, who’s out. On and on. Great things. That was the story. That is what each playoff race needs to be like.”

3. Right tracks at the right time

Kevin Harvick enters this weekend at Texas having finished in the top 10 each of the past 10 races there, tying Greg Biffle for the longest steak of consecutive top 10s at that track.

No other drivers have had more than six consecutive top 10s at Texas. Since the track was repaved and reconfigured in 2017, Harvick has a 3.2 average finish in five races. He won two of those races. 

But this is just the beginning for Harvick with some of his best tracks.

After Texas, the series heads to ISM Raceway. Harvick has 12 consecutive top-10 finishes going into that race.

The season finale is in Miami and Harvick has scored 11 consecutive top 10s there.

4. Moving closer to record

Martin Truex Jr.’s win last weekend at Martinsville gave Joe Gibbs Racing its 17th victory of the season.

The record for wins in a season by one organization in the modern era (since 1972) is held by Hendrick Motorsports, which won 18 of 36 races in 2007.

JGR has three races left to tie or surpass Hendrick Motorsports’ accomplishment.

5. F1 announces cost cap for 2021

Formula 1 announced several changes this week for the 2021 season, including a cost cap. That’s something that could be in place in NASCAR by 2021.

The F1 cost cap will limit teams to $175 million for the calendar year and is based on 21 races. The cap will not include wages for drivers, the team’s three highest paid personnel, marketing costs and travel costs. A NASCAR team cap is not expected to include driver salaries.

Auditors will be appointed to provide independent oversight of the F1 teams. Penalties for exceeding the cap could be a financial penalty, loss of constructors and/or driver points, ban for a certain number of races, limitations on testing and/or reduction of the team’s cost cap. In the most serious cases, penalties also could include exclusion from the World Championship.

This has been something team owners have been working on with NASCAR and will be interesting to see in what ways a NASCAR cap might mirror the F1 cap and other ways it might not.

 

Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard news lights up social media

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tuesday morning’s announcement that Paul Menard will retire after this season and Matt DiBenedetto will replace him next season in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford certainly lit up the twitterverse.

MORE: Paul Menard to retire from NASCAR; Matt DiBenedetto will drive No. 21 in 2020

Here’s some of the top posts we found:

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Racing at Texas Motor Speedway leaves some frustrated

3 Comments

FORT WORTH, Texas — Chase Elliott questioned the “entertainment factor” of Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, but a NASCAR official said that the 2019 rules package, which features less horsepower, could enhance the action there next year.

Drivers talked after this weekend’s races about the challenges of passing at the high-speed 1.5-mile track.

Martin Truex Jr., who started at the rear of the Cup race after an engine change and finished ninth, said passing was “unbelievably impossible.”

Elliott was more blunt.

“I don’t know what genius decided to pave this place or take the banking out of (Turns) 1 and 2,” he said after finishing sixth. “Not a good move for the entertainment factor, in my opinion.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said next year’s rules package should work well at the track. Teams will have 550 horsepower at Texas next year, along with aero ducts, a larger spoiler, new splitter and radiator pan to help with aerodynamics.

I don’t want to take away from anything Kevin Harvick did,” O’Donnell told the media after Sunday’s race. “Having said that, I think we would all agree on the race entertainment quality between Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there’s a difference. I think we also know that we’ve got a new rules package in place next year that again some of you have not too been too positive about but there’s a reason we’ve got to that, and I think this would be one of the reasons.

Denny Hamlin suggested on Twitter that that is another key ingredient to improving the racing.

Winner Kevin Harvick, who led 177 of 335 laps but had to pass Ryan Blaney late to win, was diplomatic about the challenges of Texas.

“Look, repaves are difficult,” he said. “I think they put in as much effort here as anywhere that we’ve gone. Two years in a row we’ve won a race on the high side. It’s just one of those things where you just have to give it time.

“It’s a really fast racetrack that they came and changed the tires from the first race (this year), so we kind of fixed that problem from the tires blowing out and everything that we had happen in the spring race.”

Texas Motor Speedway was repaved and the banking in Turns 1 and 2 dropped four degrees to 20 degrees. The changes were made before the track’s 2017 races and were a result of issues drying the track that led to a 76-day postponement of the IndyCar race in 2016 and the delay of the 2016 Cup playoff race.

Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, responded on Twitter to fan complaints about the racing Sunday and asked fans for patience.

Texas Motor Speedway president blasts F1 for 2019 scheduling

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
3 Comments

For the second time in five years, a Formula One and NASCAR Cup race will fall on the same day in the same state.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage remains just as stridently opposed to the head-to-head concept as he was in 2014.

“Shame on Formula One for doing this to the fans,” Gossage said in a statement Friday a few hours after Formula One announced a Nov. 3, 2019 race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin that will coincide with the second annual Cup race in Fort Worth. “Fans have recognized this as the NASCAR date on this weekend since its inception long before Circuit of the Americas was built.

“I would think a lot of fans – myself included – would enjoy going to both races. Now Formula 1 is making fans choose only one. Yet another bad call by Formula 1 showing their infamous indifference toward the fans.”

It will mark five years and a day since the last time NASCAR and Formula One raced on the same day 220 miles apart. The Formula One race in Austin on Nov. 2, 2014 began just after 3 p.m. — a few minutes before the green flag fell at Texas Motor Speedway.

Gossage also pushed back then against the F1 race, saying “it’s not good for us” to have both series racing the same day because “race fans shouldn’t have to choose.”

Formula One’s 2018 race in Austin will take place on Oct. 21, ahead of the Nov. 4 race at Texas.

Texas Motor Speedway also has expressed reservations about the IndyCar Series running at the Austin track. But Gosssage and his track recently announced a four-year sanctioning agreement with IndyCar that apparently will allow for a future IndyCar race at Austin.

NASCAR’s New Kids are in the spotlight (without knowing the songs)

Nate Ryan
1 Comment

FORT WORTH, Texas – Call it NASCAR’s hottest boy brand.

Never one to shy from stoking the embers of a controversy, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage unfurled his 10-foot-high take on the generational divide in the Cup Series that has become one of the defining stories of the season.

“The New Kids On The Track” were introduced Friday via a banner hanging from the broadcast tower adjacent to victory lane at Texas. Per Gossage (who had told NBC Sports in a February story that he was kicking around such a branding idea), NASCAR’s new Magnificent Seven of the Under 30 set are Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and William Byron.

A much smaller sign alongside highlighted a recent tweet by Kevin Harvick on the advanced age of race winners in 2018.

Harvick also took note of the fact that the combined career win total in Cup for the New Kids on the Track … is one.

“It’s a cool promotion if you like good marketing,” Harvick said. “But if you like winners, you go for the old guys.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was smiling, but it was another reminder of the undercurrent of tension running through a storyline that dates to January when Kyle Busch expressed his annoyance of a NASCAR marketing push for youth.

This week on the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Brad Keselowski said it was natural for veterans to be jealous of their younger peers because many (such as Busch and Keselowski) lacked the exposure and visibility at the same age despite producing much better results than the new wave of Millennials.

“I love every one of those kids on that poster,” Harvick said. “I think they’re all great for our sport, and I’m not taking personal digs at them. I’m trying to have as much fun with it as I told them they should have fun with it, too.

“That’s really what it’s about. It’s the dad and kid sitting in the grandstands from two different generations. Mom and daughter sitting in the grandstands from two different generations. They root for the young guys, you root for the old guys, and that’s great for our sport, it really is. It makes it fun to be able to have that banter back and forth. So yeah, most of those guys probably don’t even know who New Kids on the Block are. I would venture to say that.”

Uh oh, oh oh oh.

Harvick, a 42-year-old who was on the cusp of high school when the New Kids on the Block became America’s breakthrough boy band of the late 1980s, was right.

In an informal and incomplete poll, only Ryan Blaney was able to lay claim to knowledge of the New Kids, though he didn’t know any songs and sometimes is confused about the lineup.

    “I get them and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch mixed up ((Mark Wahlberg’s brother, Donnie, was in NKOTB),” Blaney said. “I thought (the banner) was pretty funny. I saw a picture of it last night. I thought that was pretty neat. Eddie has always done really well at making things fun and light. It’s just cool to be a part of that group.”

Erik Jones, who will turn 22 next month, was at least savvy enough to learn that he was born after the group went defunct in 1995 (at least before the inevitable cash-grab reunion tour a few years ago).

“They asked me what New Kids on the Block I was and I was like ‘Man, I’ve got to be honest with you, I have no idea,’ “ he said. “I saw that (banner) though. It’s cool. It made me laugh. I liked the (Harvick) sign they put next to it better. At first I thought Harvick actually put it there. I was like that, that’s pretty funny, but then I realized the track did it.”

No hard feelings, though, many of the younger drivers say.

“We haven’t had a young crop of guys all enter the sport at once in probably 15 years now,” Jones said. “When you see this many young guys coming at once, obviously I think NASCAR’s done a good job trying to promote us and give us an advantage early on to get our names out there and get some more fans and get some more exposure and you know we all appreciate it.

“We’re willing to take advantage of those events and I think Blaney said it well. I think we’re just more willing to take some of these opportunities that they’re not willing to. You know a lot of them have families and want to spend as much time at home as they can and for us to take a trip to wherever or spend some extra time somewhere isn’t as big of a deal. I think we’re just more willing right now to take advantage of some of those opportunities.”

Texas will be taking advantage of the promotion this weekend as Gossage said a mashup of the young drivers and the New Kids song “Hangin’ Tough” will air often on Big Hoss, the track’s enormous backstretch videoboard.

Daniel Suarez, who was happy the banner made him feel young and had no knowledge of the New Kids, believes there is some latent jealousy among older drivers.

“I think a little bit,” he said. “What I think is all the veteran drivers are very strong and have a very strong fan base and obviously a lot of support. They have pretty much the path already made. I feel like for young drivers, sometimes we need that extra push to start making that path and building that fan base. There’s nothing wrong to have extra support.

“Kevin, Kyle, any of veteran drivers when they were young in middle 20s, am sure they had good exposure to build brand and fan base. That’s what I think, but maybe that’s part of racing, too. Everyone is competitive, not just on the racetrack but sometimes out of the racetrack.”

Said Blaney: “I’ve said it all along, it’s just really fortunate to be involved in not only in NASCAR but involved in this younger driver group with some of those guys. I don’t really look at age. I don’t care if you’re 18 years old or 50 years old, we’re just competitors. I think it was a pretty neat thing that Gossage did.”

Well, mostly.

“I like how (the banner portrays him) throwing up the peace sign, too,” Blaney said. “I’ve never done that in my life.”