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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

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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

Bump & Run: Should Michael McDowell have pushed fellow Ford at end of Daytona 500?

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Should Michael McDowell have been obligated to push fellow Ford driver Joey Logano on the last lap of the Daytona 500 instead of pushing Toyota driver Kyle Busch? Or are such beliefs pointless in the final laps?

Nate Ryan: He wasn’t obligated to push Logano, but it also seemed his best hope for getting to the front. It’s understandable why McDowell, who has soldiered through a decade of mostly getting knocked around while racing for midpack teams, was frustrated that the elite of the Cup Series seemed so dismissive of his No. 34 Ford in the draft. But if he was trying to send that message by declining to push Logano out of spite, it probably was a decision that doomed both their hopes of winning the Daytona 500. (Also worth noting: Front Row Motorsports might be a Ford team, but it isn’t supported by the manufacturer at nearly the same level as Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske, so the dynamics of the allegiances were different.)

Dustin Long: No. Manufacturers should not be second-guessing a driver for going with a different car make if the driver feels that is their best chance to win in the heat of the moment. And drivers should not assume that just because they are in the same camp they should expect help in such moments. 

Daniel McFadin: Absolutely not. At some point the emblem on your hood is meaningless when it comes to winning a race, especially the final laps of the Daytona 500. I’m fine with manufacturers collaborating through the early stages as a means of survival, but you have to be a tad naive to expect that on the last lap. McDowell’s in the right.

Jerry Bonkowski: No, McDowell was under no obligation to push Logano. Even with both being Ford drivers, McDowell chose to push the driver – in this case Kyle Busch – he thought might help McDowell earn a higher result. Now, once we start using tapered spacers at Daytona and Talladega, things could be much different. Time will tell.

Does Ross Chastain deserve a full-time ride with an elite team after his triple-header masterpiece of not tearing up his equipment at Daytona?

Nate Ryan: Yes, and it would benefit NASCAR nearly as much as Chastain if he gets one. Beyond being a special talent, the part-time watermelon farmer from Florida speaks his mind in an appealingly brash and candid manner. He is the type of personality that is needed, and it’s somewhat inexplicable he wasn’t scooped up by a bigger team when his Xfinity ride with Chip Ganassi Racing dissolved. Sponsors and teams should be cognizant of what he brings to the table.

Dustin Long: He may deserve a ride but the reality is money plays a key role on where some drivers go. Look, there are plenty of drivers racing at local tracks who might deserve a chance at one of NASCAR’s national series but they aren’t going to get it for one reason or another. The sport could be better by having Chastain in a top-flight ride as Nate notes but sometimes things don’t go as they should.

Daniel McFadin: Chastain deserved an elite ride after his performance with Chip Ganassi Racing in three Xfinity races last year. He got that ride until circumstances out of his control took it away. He’s still under contract with Ganassi, and I don’t think he’s going to be forgotten next year.

Jerry Bonkowski: I don’t know if I would use the word “deserve,” but Chastain has shown he has a great deal of talent that deserves to be recognized by higher-level teams. The problem is there is only a finite number of driver positions with teams in Cup, and as he has learned throughout his career, Cup is far too often a numbers game. Chastain will have to keep fighting the good fight, but sooner or later his time will come.

NASCAR Chairman Jim France asked drivers to work the bottom lane and put on a show before Sunday’s Daytona 500. Was the race evidence that they listened or just circumstantial coincidence?

Nate Ryan: As I wrote in the notes column, the only thing that ultimately matters is he said it. It’s impossible to say definitively if drivers did listen … but you could make a strong case it made an impact in the first stage.

Dustin Long: Coincidence. Competitors were talking after the Duels that they expected two lanes of racing in the 500 with a full 40-car field. Yes, it was a less-than subtle dig at the drivers but once in the heat of competition, a competitor isn’t going to focus on the requests of a series executive if they don’t feel it gives them a good chance to win.

Daniel McFadin: I originally was going to answer that I thought the stakes of the Daytona 500 meant the racing we saw was going to happen regardless. But then I remembered a good chunk of last year’s 500 was conducted in a single-file manner (with Ryan Blaney leading 118 laps). So it’s entirely possible France’s friendly prodding did the trick.

Jerry Bonkowski: I lean more towards circumstantial coincidence. Drivers will be the first to tell anyone that they race for themselves and their teams first and foremost, and then their sponsors. NASCAR officials are not – and should not – be in a position to tell drivers how to drive or where to drive on a track to put on any kind of a show. Fans are not stupid, they will quickly pick up if drivers are given NASCAR orders (as opposed to team orders, which they should listen to).

What do you expect to see this weekend at Atlanta with the new rules package?

Nate Ryan: A race that resembles most races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The lower horsepower should keep cars closer, but surely the massive tire wear, coupled with a few long green-flag runs, will produce a familiar look.

Dustin Long: I don’t know. That will be the fun of it. Sure, the cars should be closer together for a few laps but tire wear likely will spread the field some. How much remains to be seen. I’m keeping an open mind on what will take place this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: I expect a somewhat uneventful first stage as the teams get their heads around the package before they drop the hammer in Stage 2 and beyond. I’m willing to say it will probably be the most interesting Atlanta race in a decade.

Jerry Bonkowski: Given what we saw at the Las Vegas test – and at a track very similar to Atlanta – I am very bullish that this could be one of the closest and best races we’ve seen at Atlanta in perhaps a decade or more. The only thing that could alter that is if there are weather issues. Then it could be a whole different ballgame, especially if drivers are in a race to not only beat their opponents, but also closing-in rainstorms.