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Hybridization of NASCAR cars not expected by 2021, Toyota executive says

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NASCAR and manufacturers have discussed the hybridization of future cars but one manufacturer executive said it won’t happen soon.

Relative to hybridization and electrification, quite simply, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how and when,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “A hybrid type of strategy is absolutely something that we’re looking at.

“Candidly, it won’t be something that we see as early as ’21. That’s, realistically, a little further down the road.”

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton said May 20 on the Dale Jr. Download that a key to the Gen 7 car — expected to debut in 2021 — would be to “make room for what might happen next. Not in the short-term, but if the automobile industry and the racing industry go down the road with some type of electrification, the chassis should have room for that. In the motor component, whatever evolution we go to in the next generation of power plants for the cars … we have the opportunity with a clean sheet of paper to build a chassis that can accommodate that easily without having to tear a car apart.”

Brad Keselowski wrote an essay last May titled: It’s time: The NASCAR hybrid. Keselowski wrote: “Not only am I sure that hybrids are the future of NASCAR — I believe it’s essential to the success of the sport that we embrace hybrid technology as soon as possible.”

Hybrids have become more important for manufacturers, Wilson said on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday.

“You look across the motorsports landscape, you’re seeing hybridization and electrification everywhere you look,” he said. “That again is simply a reflection of the automotive culture on a global basis. Today, Toyota has eight different hybrid vehicles in their lineup.”

Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, also was on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday and expressed the value of the Gen 7 car being able to incorporate hybrid elements in the future.

“I think Gen 7 gives an opportunity to bring more relevant elements of the car and the technology to what we’re selling in the showroom or what we’ll be selling more of in the future,” Campbell said. “Along with that is the ability of if we do that have an opportunity to attract more (manufacturers). So it all does really fit together. There’s still much work going on with the Gen 7.

“In terms of hybrid, I will tell you that every series we’re involved in, every single series Chevy is involved in … is looking at what is the opportunity to package protect or what are the options to include some element of hybridization. That’s really where it is right now. It’s in a discussion phrase. It hasn’t been locked down.”

In regards to hybridization coming to NASCAR, Wilson said on SiriusXM: “It is an inevitability from our perspective.”

Before the season, Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, said of hybrids: “As we change road cars, we’re not going directly from an internal combustion engine to electric. We’ll have hybrids along the way. I don’t know NASCAR needs to go full electric.

“Even if you continue racing the internal combustion engine, we get a ton of benefit from that and connection with the fans. The ability to put the hybrid in when the time is ready, that’ll continue to connect as fans’ cars and trucks go hybrid.”

Chevy, Ford to square off in ‘The Great Race for Charity’ at Michigan

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There will be competition both on and off the racetrack between Ford and Chevrolet when NASCAR visits Michigan International Speedway for its two annual Cup races this year.

Track officials announced Monday “The Great Race for Charity,” a contest that will pit fans, employees of both Ford and Chevy, as well as communities in the Wolverine State to raise the most money for two noted charities.

Ford supporters will be raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) of Michigan, while Chevy supporters will be raising funds for Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit serving America’s military families.

Funds will be raised through the sale of a specially-priced ticket package for both Cup races at the two-mile oval. The package will designate a $5 donation on behalf of MIS to each of the two nonprofits. In addition, another $5 per package will be donated to the nonprofit by the manufacturer who sells the most tickets for both races.

The manufacturer that raises the most money will present a check to the winning nonprofit prior to the Aug. 11 Consumers Energy 400 at MIS.

We are excited to work with Ford Performance, Chevrolet, JDRF and Operation Homefront to create a competition off the track that will benefit two great nonprofits,” MIS President Rick Brenner said in a media release. “With our speedway being so close to the auto capital of the world, the manufacturers place importance on the two races.

This is another unique way to create a friendly competition and support two great nonprofits in Michigan.”

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Questions and answers about the 2020 Cup schedule

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NASCAR’s 2020 Cup schedule created much for fans and competitors to discuss Tuesday.

A new championship race. A doubleheader weekend. Iconic tracks changing dates and three playoff cutoff races that could be brutal.

Here are answers to some of the questions from the schedule reveal.

Why is the championship race moving from Homestead-Miami Speedway to ISM Raceway?

Homestead-Miami Speedway provides arguably the best racing at a 1.5-mile track. Leaving it as the title race could leave a void.

ISM Raceway is a tight 1-mile track where passing can be difficult — although Kyle Larson showed earlier this month that one can gain several spots on a restart if they’re willing to use the high line after a restart.

So why the move indeed?

“Going to the same tracks year in and year out could potentially favor certain drivers,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, in a conference call with the media. “We wanted to take a look if we had the opportunity to go to another venue, what would that be.”

It also didn’t hurt that Ford’s contract as the sponsor of the championship weekend in Miami ends after this season, making a move easier.

And International Speedway Corp. spent about $180 million renovating ISM Raceway. When you have something shiny and new, you want to show it off. The championship race is one of the best chances to do so.

How long will the championship race be at ISM Raceway?

O’Donnell said: “I think our hope would be to stay there for a little while. I think with any venue you want to see it have a chance and grow a little bit and see how it works. … This wasn’t a decision we said, ‘hey let’s just go there for a year and rotate it. Our intention is to stay there a few years.”

Mike Helton, NASCAR vice chairman, said at ISM Raceway that “we are only talking about 2020 right now. What the future holds, we’ll see.”

Joey Logano voiced his desire for moving the title race around, saying on the NASCAR.com show after the schedule was revealed: “I kind of like that (the title race) has moved. I think it we should move it every year like the Super Bowl.”

Who does this move favor if they make it to the championship race?

Kyle Busch. He has won the past two races there and has an average finish of 2.9 there since 2016. If NASCAR keeps the title race at ISM Raceway for a few years, Busch could be the one who benefits the most. He has made it to the championship finale each of the past four years.

Kevin Harvick has a track-record nine wins there but he will be 44 next year when the finale is there, so he will likely have few opportunities to turn that success into another title.

Of course, the key is making it to the championship race.

How much more difficult did it get to advance in the playoffs?

It could be significantly harder. The cutoff races in next year’s playoffs will be Bristol (round one), Charlotte Roval (round two) and Martinsville (round three).

NASCAR has two shorts tracks and the Roval as cutoff races. That makes it easier for drivers to beat and bang should they need to do so for the win to advance or to gain a position and score enough points to advance. When drivers make contact, anything can happen.

Why a doubleheader at Pocono?

O’Donnell said that NBC had expressed interest in such a concept. The Pocono races will be held during the portion of the season NBC and NBCSN broadcast the races.

O’Donnell said NASCAR talked to “a number” of tracks about it and Pocono was willing to do it.

What about those races?

Details are to be worked out. O’Donnell noted that the Xfinity and Truck series will also be there with a plan of a Truck/Cup doubleheader on Saturday (June 27) and Xfinity/Cup doubleheader on Sunday (June 28). Oh, ARCA also is expected to be there, so there will be a lot of racing crammed into the weekend. Let’s hope for good weather.

“I think it’s neat, to see two back-to-back races at Pocono,” Ryan Blaney said on the NASCAR.com show. “That’s going to be really exciting.”

Why did Daytona move off its traditional spot of being on or near July 4 to being the regular-season finale on Aug. 29?

O’Donnell said those in the sport wanted to make it the regular-season finale, adding drama to the last race.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes over Daytona’s date. But what about the heat there?

IMS officials noted the cooler temperatures for the fans when the track’s date switched from July to September last year.

As for the issue about heat, O’Donnell said: “I think it’s hot in Daytona on July 4th. A bit of a myth to say it’s hot in a certain market.”

Why is the Clash still on its own weekend a week before the Daytona 500 and why is the All-Star Race still on a weekend of its own?

O’Donnell said that NBC, which broadcasts the last 20 races of the season, wanted to end on Veteran’s Day weekend in November. With the back-to-back off weekends in August because of NBC’s airing of the Summer Olympics, it didn’t make sense to truncate the Daytona or All Star/Coca-Cola 600 schedule.

When are the 2020 Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck schedules coming out?

O’Donnell said he hoped those could be released in the next week or so.

What about the 2021 schedule?

O’Donnell said: “I think some of the moves were made (this year) thinking ahead. We still have a lot to look at for 2021.”

The five-year sanctioning agreements NASCAR has with tracks ends after the 2020 season. That means NASCAR could change what tracks are on the schedule.

What about the future of the All-Star Race?

O’Donnell was asked if that event could be put on a rotating basis at some point. He said: “If we’re going to do that, we need to make sure it works for both Charlotte and a potential new venue.  That is something we’ve had discussions on. … Still a little premature for 2021.”

 

2020 NASCAR Cup Schedule

DATE

RACE/TRACK

Sunday, Feb. 9

The Clash

Thursday, Feb. 13

Duel at Daytona

Sunday, Feb. 16

Daytona 500

Sunday, Feb. 23

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 1

Auto Club Speedway

Sunday, March 8

ISM Raceway

Sunday, March 15

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 22

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Sunday, March 29

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 5

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 19

Richmond Raceway

Sunday, April 26

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, May 3

Dover International Speedway

Saturday, May 9

Martinsville Speedway

Saturday, May 16

All-Star Race, Charlotte

Sunday, May 24

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, May 31

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, June 7

Michigan International Speedway

Sunday, June 14

Sonoma Raceway

Sunday, June 21

Chicagoland Speedway

Saturday, June 27

Pocono Raceway

Sunday June 28

Pocono Raceway

Sunday July 5

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Saturday July 11

Kentucky Speedway

Sunday, July 19

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Sunday, Aug. 9

Michigan International Speedway

Sunday, Aug. 16

Watkins Glen International

Sunday, Aug. 23

Dover International Speedway

Saturday, Aug. 29

Daytona International Speedway

PLAYOFFS BEGIN

Sunday, Sept. 6

Darlington Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 12

Richmond Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 19

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, Sept. 27

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 4

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, Oct. 11

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 18

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 25

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 1

Martinsville Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 8

ISM Raceway

Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this report

Friday 5: Tensions between Cup teams test manufacturers

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Less than a month into the Cup season, there have been signs that the tenuous alliances among teams have not held up well on or off the track.

It’s led to an unease not often visible at this point in the season.

As the sport enters a time of transition — new rules, new car in 2021, new engine as early as 2022— can a manufacturer keep its teams together for these major projects? Or will there be fissures, much like what happened between Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing in 2016 and Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing last season?

At the same time, NASCAR seeks new manufacturers and any company that comes into the sport likely will take teams from current manufacturers. Are the seeds of discontent being sown now?

Already manufacturers have had to react to issues between their teams.

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, conceded this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that at Ford, “we’re a family and every family has issues.”

Just look at the issues Ford has had this season:

Joey Logano confronted fellow Ford driver Michael McDowell on pit road after the Daytona 500 for pushing a Toyota and not Logano’s Ford on the final lap. McDowell told the media he was not happy with how fellow Ford drivers treated him in that race.

Ford driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was not happy with Logano, who chastised Stenhouse on the radio for a move during the Daytona 500 that cost Logano several spots and, according to Logano, could have caused an accident.

“For sure we had our issues at Daytona, can’t deny that,” Rushbook said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week. “But as a family, we talked through those issues, tried to understand what led to those issues and then how can we fix that and make it even better going forward.”

Ford isn’t the only manufacturer that has had issues between some of its teams. Chevrolet understands the delicate balance between competition and cooperation.

Hendrick Motorsports partnered with Joe Gibbs Racing, a Toyota team, and not fellow Chevrolet teams Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing in the Daytona 500. The move was made to counter the strength of the Fords, which dominated both qualifying races and entered as the favorite to win the 500.

Kyle Larson’s comments this week on NASCAR America’s Splash & Go about Hendrick Motorsports “cheating” ruffled feelings in the Chevy camp. That led to a late-night Twitter apology from Larson and subsequent comments about how he had poorly chosen his words. Ganassi gets its engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Larson said Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that he had apologized to team owner Rick Hendrick. Said Larson: “We’re both moving on.”

There always will be conflict among competitors in the same camp. It’s natural with what is at stake each race weekend. But the manufacturers have stressed working together more. It was evident in how Toyota teams teamed together to win the 2016 Daytona 500 — a model adopted by others. At Ford, that banding of brothers is referred to as One Ford.

But this season, the slogan might be anything but togetherness.

2. New challenge for spotters

The new rules that are intended to tighten the competition at tracks — and should be the case this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway based on the January test — will change what spotters will do.

Many expect to be calling the race much like they do at Daytona and Talladega where they’re on radio almost constantly.

“I did a lot of talking in 25 laps,” Billy O’Dea, spotter for Ty Dillon, said, referring to the 25-lap races NASCAR held at the January test at Las Vegas.

One thing that spotters who were at the test noticed is that runs by cars behind their car were different from what they see in pack racing at Daytona or Talladega.

“In Daytona or Talladega, you don’t necessarily watch the car behind you,” said Tyler Green, spotter for Kurt Busch. “You watch  two or three behind because that’s where the runs come from.

“At Vegas, it seemed like you didn’t really watch the car two behind you. You watched the car right behind you. It just happens quick. There’s no really understanding of where the runs really come from unlike Daytona or Talladega.”

Other spotters at the test noticed that as well. That creates other challenges for them.

“Are they going to take (the run and try to pass) or are they just going to get close?” O’Dea said of what to tell a driver when a car behind has a run.

“When you see them moving, do you block it? It’s a lot of unknowns. Early in the race, do you really want to be blocking a guy going into (Turn) 1? If it’s continually a lot of passing, which I hope it is, it’s going to be a lot of give and take. It’s going to be interesting to see.”

Rocky Ryan, spotter for David Ragan, also was at the test. Ragan did not participate in the 25-lap races because he was driving the Ford wheel-force car, which has extra equipment on it and is too valuable to be risked in a race (the wheel-force cars for Chevrolet and Toyota also did not participate in those races).

During those races at the test, Ryan said he stood atop the spotters stand and acted as if he was spotting for a car to grasp how quickly things can happen in those drafts.

“The 15 of us that were there (for the test) will have a leg up on everybody,” Ryan said.

3. Drafting in qualifying

The expectation is that teams will draft in qualifying today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski, saw what the draft could do when the No. 2 team took part in the January test there.

“It seemed like at the Vegas test, the (aero) ducts made a difference,” Wolfe told NBC Sports. “Basing off of Vegas, it seems like there were two- or three-tenths of a second to be gained in the draft.

“I still don’t think it’s going to be a draft like you see at Daytona, but it’s more about timing it right to get a good suck up (on the car ahead). I don’t see us going out there running nose to tail. I still don’t see that. I could be wrong.”

Wolfe said they saw the draft make a difference when a car was a quarter of a straightaway behind another car.

“The more cars you have (in a draft), you get a faster suck up, for sure,” Wolfe said.

The key is to figure out who is going to be the trailing car to get that advantage, or if teams will run extra laps in qualifying and trade positions so each car will have that chance to take advantage of the draft.

4. On the way to Miami

If a trend holds true, one of the Championship Four contenders may be known after Sunday’s race at Las Vegas.

Since 2014, one of the drivers racing for the title at Miami has won within the first three races of the season.

Throw out the Daytona 500. No winner of that race since 2014 has made it to the championship race. So that means that either Brad Keselowski, who won last weekend at Atlanta, or Sunday’s winner could be headed for a chance at the championship — provided the trend continues.

Three times since 2014, the driver who went on to win the championship won within the first three races of the season: Harvick won the second race in 2014 (Phoenix), Jimmie Johnson won the second race in 2016 (Atlanta), and Martin Truex Jr. won the third race in 2017 (Las Vegas).

Last year, all four title contenders won for the first time that season within the first 10 races. Kevin Harvick won in the season’s second race (Atlanta). Truex won in the fifth race (Auto Club Speedway). Kyle Busch won in the seventh race (Texas). Joey Logano won in the 10th race (Talladega). Harvick and Busch had other wins within those first 10 races.

5. Familiar faces

Brad Keselowski’s victory last weekend at Atlanta kept a streak going.

Six drivers have combined to win the last 18 Cup races on 1.5-mile tracks. Martin Truex Jr. has six wins in that time, followed by Kevin Harvick (five wins), Kyle Busch (three), Keselowski (two), Joey Logano (one) and Chase Elliott (one).

The last time one of those drivers did not win a race at a 1.5-mile track was the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. Austin Dillon won that race.

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Cup starting lineup at Atlanta

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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HAMPTON, Ga. – NASCAR’s new rules package will debut Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway with Aric Almirola leading the field to green.

Almirola won the pole Friday with a lap of 181.473 mph. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. starts second. Clint Bowyer is third, giving Ford the top three spots. Denny Hamlin (Toyota) and Daniel Suarez (Ford) complete the top five.

Tapered spacers will limit cars to 550 horsepower. A larger spoiler and other aero changes will increase downforce. The changes are intended to tighten the racing, but drivers note that the tire wear likely will spread the field out Sunday.

Some drivers didn’t have as good a day in qualifying. Kevin Harvick‘s car had steering issues and he qualified 18th. Team Penske’s drivers all will start outside the top 15: Brad Keselowski qualified 19th, Ryan Blaney 26th and reigning series champ Joey Logano 27th.

Kyle Busch will give up his sixth starting spot after going to a backup car. Busch wrecked early in Saturday’s final Cup practice.

Click here for full Cup starting lineup