Friday 5: A new way of thinking about NASCAR’s future?

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When examining NASCAR’s future are most people looking in the wrong direction?

There are those who say the schedule — 36 points races, two non-points races and the Daytona qualifying races in a 41-week stretch — is too long.

Maybe it’s not enough.

So said Brad Keselowski earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

While some says less is more for the sport, Keselowski suggests that the Cup schedule should have 50-60 races a year and no weekend off in the summer.

His plan is this:

Cup should race on Sundays and the middle of the week from February to early October (instead of ending the season in November). Keselowski also says that no track should host more than one weekend race. So, a track with two dates would get a weekend date and a midweek date.

One thing he notes is that any midweek race should take no more than three hours, meaning a number of races likely would need to be shortened

Keselowski’s idea is a novel concept and presents a new way of thinking when looking ahead in NASCAR. It’s always good to be forced to look at issues in different ways. But there are many challenges to his plan.

One question is what about the costs to teams. It would be easy to see teams saying such a schedule would cost them too much with the additional travel, expenses of preparing cars and repairing cars for example.

“The race teams will adjust, they’ll figure it out,’’ Keselowski said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Here’s what most people don’t understand. When a car owner complains about money, almost every race team out there has 20 or 30 engineers that don’t build the cars that make good wages and are smart people. What that tells me is they’ve got money and they’re just deciding to allocate it.’’

That might be a harder sell to teams. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing and chairman of the Race Team Alliance spoke during All-Star weekend about cost to teams.

“It’s a joint concern, so it will be a joint solution to come up with how it works,’’ Kauffman said of working with NASCAR. “To get something like that in place will require quite a bit of collaboration.’’

Another concern would be tracks. A reason why there hasn’t been a midweek race yet is because a track executive has not volunteered to be the first.

The challenge with a midweek race is that the track likely won’t draw as many fans. Track officials note that they still have a significant percentage attend their races traveling from a few hours or more away. Not as many of those fans would probably make such a trip in the middle of the week. That could be lost income for the tracks.

Those are just among some of the key issues. It is a tangled web of trying to appease, teams, tracks, media partners, sponsors and fans as NASCAR forges ahead.

While there are many challenges to Keselowski’s plan — making it seem unlikely — that doesn’t mean such thinking should be immediately dismissed. Keselowski could be right in that bold thinking is what the sport needs as it looks ahead.

2. Kyle Busch could have company

While Kyle Busch became the first driver to win at every Cup track he’s competed with his Coca-Cola 600 victory, a couple of other drivers are not far behind.

Kevin Harvick has won at all but two tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Kentucky (0 for 7) and Pocono (0 for 34).

Jimmie Johnson has won at all but three tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Chicagoland (0 for 16), Kentucky (0 for 7) and Watkins Glen (0 for 16).

3. Back in the Day

LeBron James made his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance Thursday night. The last time he wasn’t in the NBA Finals was 2010.

That season in NASCAR:

Jimmie Johnson was on his way to a fifth consecutive Cup title.

Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Charlotte fall race.

Denny Hamlin won a series-high eight races.

Kevin Conway was Cup Rookie of the Year.

Joey Logano had just turned 20 years old.

Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series title.

Kyle Busch won 13 of the 29 Xfinity races he started.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was Xfinity Rookie of the Year.

Kyle Larson finished 10th in the Chili Bowl Nationals (Cole Whitt was second to winner Kevin Swindell).

William Byron wouldn’t turn 13 until November of that year.

4. France Family Group adds to portfolio

In a recent SEC filing, International Speedway Corp. stated that the France Family Group owns 74.11 percent of the combined voting power of common stock.

The France Family Group owned 73 percent, according to ISC’s 2016 annual report.

The France Family Group owned 72 percent, according to the ISC’s 2015 annual report.

As a comparison, Bruton Smith and son Marcus own 71 percent of Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s common stock. They owned 70 percent, according to SMI’s 2016 annual report.

5. A year later …

There will be much talk this weekend about how Jimmie Johnson has gone a year — it will be a year on June 4 actually — since his last Cup victory, the longest drought of his career.

But something else to ponder: In the last 36 races (a full season’s worth), Toyota has 19 wins, Ford has 12 and Chevrolet has five.

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Bump & Run: Will Kurt Busch be last driver to do Indy-Charlotte Double?

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Kurt Busch was the last to do the Indy 500-Coke 600 Double in 2014. Will we see a driver run the Double again anytime soon? If so, who might that be?

Kyle Petty: For me, the bigger question is why? Why try it? It’s been done. By multiple drivers with various levels of success. John Andretti for me will always be “The Man” for being the first. Tony Stewart ranks because he truly had a shot at wins in both. Any driver now trying “The Double” could only hope to be a contender in one and a footnote in the other. Both series have upped their game, it would be tougher to win. I’m not saying someone won’t try, but once you’ve watched the same PR stunt three or four times … well, you know.

Nate Ryan: No.

Dustin Long: No. Cup car owners aren’t going to let one of their drivers run in the Indy 500 because so much is tied up in those drivers on the Cup side. Unless an IndyCar driver comes with money, they’re not going to get the chance to run the Coca-Cola 600 because of relative lack of performance from such drivers in NASCAR (Tony Stewart notwithstanding).

Daniel McFadin: Yes, and it will be Kyle Larson. Both he and owner Chip Ganassi have indicated they want it to happen. Someone just needs to cave and say “Let’s do it.”

Dan Beaver: Unless IndyCar moves the race into an earlier, less desirable slot no one is going to be able to do it. But if they do, Kyle Larson is the most obvious pick. His passion for racing in general will eventually get the best of him and get him to test those open wheelers.

Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman are among the drivers who have yet to win this season. Who is the next driver to win for the first time this season?

Kyle Petty: Erik Jones … Pocono! That’s just one of those tracks. We’ve seen it with Blaney, Hamlin when he first came into Cup and a few others. It’s so different from everything else that they run that someone with a good team (JGR) and a young driver with talent (Erik) can sneak up on the usual suspects!

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin. Though he hasn’t been as good at Pocono since the 2012 repave, he could break through Sunday or next weekend at Michigan given that Joe Gibbs Racing has turned the corner.

Dustin Long: Brad Keselowski. Fords will continue to dominate and Keselowski will get a win soon enough.

Daniel McFadin: Denny Hamlin. He has three top fives and one top 10 in the last five races and aside from the threat of speeding penalties, he is the only driver among those listed who has really managed to put together complete races in the last five events. 

Dan Beaver: Denny Hamlin stayed out of trouble last week at Charlotte and earned his fifth top five in the last six races there. Perhaps that means he is returning to predictability on tracks that have been kind to him in the past, so he not only gets the next win, it could happen this weekend at Pocono.

Chevrolet teams did not lead a lap in the Coca-Cola 600 but had four cars finish between fifth and 10th. How do you evaluate where Chevy is at the halfway point of the regular season?

Kyle Petty: For me at this point in the season, the Chevys have made gains but not enough to run as a group and consistently with the Fords and Toyotas. It’s a long season, and I’m sure we’ll see wins this year from Chevy drivers, but as a group, they are third best in class. 

Nate Ryan: Making steady gains but still short of being on the verge of consistently winning. There’s enough promise there to indicate the Camaro could be a factor in the playoffs.

Dustin Long: A step forward but still many steps to take to for Chevy to show it can beat the top Fords and Toyotas straight up.

Daniel McFadin: Since the 2017 regular-season finale, Chevy’s most consistent hope of winning a race has been Kyle Larson. But despite being a front-runner this year, Larson can’t seem to go from green flag to checkered flag without something going wrong. As of now, Chevrolet needs to hope its fortunes take a turn for the best in the second half of the season, like Toyota’s did last year with a new car model.

Dan Beaver: They’re not out of the woods yet, but it finally appeared that the Chevrolet drivers not only finished strong, but ran well as a group throughout the race. They will start to ease their way up the grid and challenge for victories, but it is difficult to imagine they will capture very many wins because Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch will continue to dominate.

NASCAR America: Ford drivers dominate end of Talladega race

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After his fourth-place finish in Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, Kevin Harvick was disappointed, but had praise for the collaboration shown by Ford drivers he didn’t see earlier in the year at Daytona.

“Yeah, we haven’t done a real good job of that really since the first time we’ve been with Ford,” Harvick told NASCAR America. “We gave away the Daytona 500 this year with everybody not doing a very good job of working together. It was definitely much better today. If a Ford doesn’t win one of these superspeedway races, we should all walk away ashamed.”

Ford drivers worked so well Sunday, with Joey Logano winning, that it bothered Chase Elliott. He was the only non-Ford driver in the top seven.

“Those guys around me were working together so much,” Elliott said. “If it was me, I feel like I would have wanted to try or do something. Those guys weren’t having it. I was trying to move forward and make a lane and push, and they were not interested in advancing.”

On NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton discussed the difficulty drivers had in trying to run down Logano in the closing laps.

“There were not enough good cars to jumble the field up to get side-by-side action going on, which is what’s needed with this package to make passing,” Burton said. “They just didn’t have the confidence that their cars had the speed to make anything happen.”

Logano’s win gives Ford wins in seven of the last eight Talladega Cup races.

Watch the above video for more on how Ford driver determined the outcome of Sunday’s race.

Ford officially announces Mustang for Cup Series in 2019

Ford Performance
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Confirming an announcement that had been expected for months, Ford Performance revealed Tuesday morning that it will field the Mustang in the Cup Series next season.

The model has been campaigned in the Xfinity Series since 2010. It will succeed the Fusion in NASCAR’s premier series.

It’s the first time the Mustang will run in the top level of NASCAR.

Here’s the release from Ford Performance:

DEARBORN, Mich., April 17, 2018 – Global demand for the new 2018 model has driven Ford Mustang to its third straight year as the best-selling sports coupe in the world.

Global Mustang registrations in 2017 totaled 125,809 cars, according to Ford analysis of the most recent new light vehicle registration data from IHS Markit. This data – compiled from government and other sources and capturing 95 percent of global new vehicle volumes in more than 80 countries – puts Mustang ahead of all other sports coupe competitors worldwide.

Sports coupes, as defined by IHS Markit, include two-door and convertible models.

“The world loves Ford Mustang,” says Erich Merkle, Ford sales analyst. “For years, Mustang was unobtainable for customers on most parts of the planet. It could only be found on TV or the Internet, and now it rolls down streets from Beijing to São Paulo.”

Of the nearly 126,000 vehicles registered worldwide, Ford reported 81,866 of those were registered in the United States, meaning just over one-third of all Mustang registrations are occurring in export markets. Demand remains particularly strong in China, where Mustang was the best-selling sports coupe last year based on 7,125 registrations.

The most popular configuration worldwide is the Mustang GT with the iconic 5.0-liter V8. While sports cars have traditionally skewed toward male buyers in the United States, Mustang is increasingly finding favor with women. In an environment of relatively flat sports car sales to women, Ford research shows a 10 percent gain in women buying Mustang in the last five years.

Since global exports began in 2015, through December 2017, Ford has sold 418,000 Mustangs in 146 countries around the world.

Building off its popularity, Ford also is announcing Mustang is coming to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – professional stock car racing’s top league – for the first time, beginning at Daytona in February.

“We’re combining America’s favorite sports car with America’s top stock car racing series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “Mustang always has been about affordable performance, which can be traced to innovations we’ve made competing in racing, like NASCAR. Mustang is a perfect fit for our racing heritage today and tomorrow.”

Mustang has competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series since 2011, winning championships in all but one season. It has taken Team Penske to four owner’s championships in the last five years and carried Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to consecutive driver’s championships in 2011 and 2012.

This will be Ford’s fourth different Cup model in NASCAR’s modern era (1972-present), following Thunderbird, Taurus and Fusion.

“This announcement makes me very happy,” said Edsel B. Ford II, a member of Ford Motor Company’s board of directors. “Mustang is a car that is woven into the fabric of our country, and it’s only right that we put it on the track in NASCAR’s most visible series. I can’t wait.”

Ford has six organizations and 13 teams in its NASCAR lineup, including Wood Brothers Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Front Row Motorsports and Go Fas Racing.

Mustang is still going through initial testing and will be formally submitted to NASCAR for approval this summer. A public unveiling of the finished product will soon follow.

The first series points race for Mustang will be the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2019.

The road to NASCAR can be dirty

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The story of how Chase Briscoe made it to the Xfinity Series doesn’t begin in a one stoplight town in Southern Indiana.

“Actually, we just got a second stop light about two years ago,” Briscoe says.

The town, Mitchell, is 33 miles south of Bloomington in Lawrence County.

Before you ask, there isn’t much to do there.

“I remember in high school one of the fun things and cool things to do is just go walk around Wal-Mart,” Briscoe says.

Luckily for Briscoe, growing up in a county that produced three astronauts provided some benefit to the future Roush Fenway Racing driver.

Dirt racers. “A ton” of them.

One of those was his dad, Kevin Briscoe.

Chase Briscoe celebrates his win in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17, 2017. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

FAMILY BUSINESS

The son of a longtime sprint car owner, Richard Briscoe, Kevin continued in the family business, competing for more than 20 years and winning more than 150 feature events.

But for much of Chase’s childhood, Kevin didn’t want his son involved in racing.

At 7, he raced twice in a quarter midget, winning both a qualifying race and his feature. But that was almost the end for Chase.

“My dad was still racing so much, and we didn’t really have the money to be doing both,” Briscoe says. “He just never really had the desire for me to race. He just didn’t see the point of it. He didn’t think it was the safest thing. He didn’t think I could make a good livelihood doing it.”

His dad’s mind was changed one night at Bloomington Speedway when Chase was about 10.

While at the payout window, the mother of another driver asked Kevin when he was going to let his son race.

When he told her he didn’t want Chase to race, the woman launched into a story.

Her son had once written a school paper about what racing with his family on the weekends meant to him.

The teacher failed the paper. She didn’t think it was right for a kid to be racing.

The next week, the teacher’s son was arrested for drinking and driving underage.

“My dad, it kind of clicked with him,” Briscoe says. “He was always with his dad on the weekends not getting into trouble and was always at the shop working throughout the week and kept him out of a lot of trouble he thought. That was kind of his mentality to let me start racing, was to keep me out of trouble.”

Briscoe wasn’t immediately throwing dirt on the weekends. It wasn’t until 2006 at 11 that he returned to the track in a mini-sprint car.

When he was 13, he made the jump into his dad’s old 410 sprint car, which had an engine built in 1993 (the year before Briscoe was born).

In his first season, he amassed 37 starts but didn’t win until the last race of the year. By doing so, Briscoe broke Jeff Gordon’s record (14 years old) as the youngest person to win a 410 sprint car race.

Even now, Briscoe doesn’t see himself as an exceptional dirt racer.

“It’s something I’ve always been passionate about, but I’m not the best dirt racer by any means,” Briscoe says. “I’m not the best pavement racer by any means either. It was hard to kind of race against guys that were running 140 races a year experience-wise.”

DIRT TO PAVEMENT

When he graduated high school, Briscoe knew he was within a few years of an expiration date for anyone wanting to make it as a pavement racer.

“I knew I was in that age category where if you’re over 23 years old, you’re probably not going to get a chance if you’re just starting out,” Briscoe says. “I just figured, ‘What the heck? The worst they’re going to tell me is no.’ If it doesn’t work out in three or four years, I can always move back and race sprint cars and go get a full-time job or go to school or what not. I kind of just went for it, and I honestly expected it to never work out. But I figured it was something I could do, and if I was 60 years old sitting on a porch, I wouldn’t have any regret about it.”

The first step in that goal was being invited to the Michael Waltrip PEAK Antifreeze Stock Car Dream Challenge in July 2013 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Briscoe competed in the three-day event against eight other hopefuls for a chance to win a ride with Bill McAnally Racing. He made the final round before losing to Patrick Staropoli.

Both drivers made a handful of K&N Pro Series starts for Bill McAnally Racing, with Briscoe making three in the West Series. To date, Staropoli has made one Camping World Truck Series start, in 2016.

Within a year, Briscoe furthered his commitment to making it on pavement. He moved to North Carolina in January 2014 at the age of 19.

That’s where the Keselowski family came in.

TRUCKS

In the 2017 video game, “NASCAR Heat 2,” the career mode begins with a video of Brad Keselowski talking to the player as if they’re an aspiring NASCAR driver.

Keselowski says he’ll make a few calls to see about getting you a ride with a Truck Series team.

You’re basically playing as Chase Briscoe.

Unlike the game, Briscoe got to race for Keselowski.

The call from the 2012 Cup champion came after Briscoe, driving for Cunningham Motorsports, captured the 2016 ARCA Racing Series championship. He earned six wins – including four in row – during the campaign.

At the end of the process Keselowski spearheaded, Briscoe was signed as Ford’s first development driver. He drove Brad Keselowski Racing’s No. 29 Ford in the Truck Series in 2017.

But Briscoe’s history with the Keselowskis didn’t begin there.

Chase Briscoe at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

It started when he made the move to North Carolina and began sleeping on couches and volunteering at race shops.

The first shop he lent his services to belonged to Keselowski’s father and brother, Bob and Brian.

“I’m sure they would say I didn’t help out much because I didn’t really know what I was doing,” says Briscoe, who served as a spotter for Brian when he raced while Bob served as crew chief.

Briscoe got to pay tribute to Bob Keselowski’s own Truck Series career last September when he drove one of his old paint schemes at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

After his tenure at the Keselowski shop, Briscoe wound up at Cunningham Motorsports, where he volunteered until he was awarded a test at Nashville Speedway. That test resulted in two ARCA races in 2015 and his championship campaign.

UNEXPECTED PROMOTION

The plan was for Briscoe to compete in the Truck Series two years and move to the Xfinity Series.

Plans changed.

On Aug. 18, Brad Keselowski Racing announced it would shut down at the end of the 2017 season.

Due to not being near his phone, Briscoe didn’t find out until about an hour before the announcement was made.

“I had like two or three missed calls from Brad and I was like, ‘This is weird,’ ” says Briscoe. “I called him and he pretty much just told me, ‘Hey, I wanted to let you know I went to the shop today and told everybody I’m actually shutting the team down. You’re going to run the rest of the year, and I’m going to keep you in the best stuff I can.'”

The news came with nine races left in the season. With BKR the only Ford-backed team in Trucks at the time, Briscoe’s NASCAR future was put in limbo.

Chase Briscoe competes in the Feb. 24 Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Three days after Briscoe closed the Truck season with his first series win at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Roush Fenway Racing announced he would be part of a three-driver effort to field the No. 60 Ford in the Xfinity Series in 2018 with Ty Majeski and his BKR teammate Austin Cindric.

Seventeen years after he first drove a quarter-midget, Briscoe made his Xfinity debut last Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Briscoe finished 15th.

“It was very eye-opening to be there in the first place … I never would have expected to even make it in the Xfinity Series,” Briscoe says. “To be able to drive for Jack Roush in your first start in the winningest number in Xfinity Series history (94 wins) is certainly very humbling. It was just such an honor.”

Briscoe will make 11 more starts in the N0. 60 this season, the next coming on April 7 at Texas Motor Speedway. But Briscoe will make at least one other Xfinity start.

He is scheduled to compete April 28 race at Talladega Superspeedway for Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste Racing.

The race is significant for a driver who grew up in the dirt racing hotbed of Indiana.

“Being a sprint car guy, my hero is Tony Stewart,” Briscoe said of the native of Columbus, Indiana. “For me just getting to drive one race at Stewart-Haas is a dream come true. Just awesome and so humbling to be able to say I’m going to drive for my hero.”

The 23 year old Briscoe — at the age he once saw as a make-or-break year for his racing dreams — has a buffet of options before him.

In addition to racing for his home-state hero, he’ll compete in seven IMSA races, three Trans-Am races and roughly 25 sprint car races this year.

There’s not much a 60-year-old Briscoe would regret about the moment.

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