So what is NASCAR? Is it a sport? Or is it a show?
Admittedly, those in the NASCAR offices likely will view its racing as both. But that creates a conflict over how to look at Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.
If one views it as a sporting event, Stewart-Haas Racing’s domination — qualifying all of its cars in the top four, running there much of the race and Aric Almirola winning with Clint Bowyer second — should be celebrated because SHR did what every team hopes to do every weekend.
But that performance doesn’t play well to the overall view of the race (or show). With SHR controlling the front and drivers battling ill-handling cars, the two- and three-wide racing so common at Talladega often was replaced by single-file racing.
The 15 lead changes were the fewest at Talladega since 1973.
Green flag passes — a stat NASCAR tracks based on position changes over each scoring loop on every lap — were down 54.4 percent from last fall’s playoff race at Talladega.
Think about that … lead changes at its lowest level since before any driver in Sunday’s race was born and green-flag passes down more than 50 percent from the previous year.
Is that something fans want to see more of?
Doesn’t seem to be the case based on Jeff Gluck’s weekly Twitter poll. He stated that only 42 percent of those who voted this week thought Talladega was a good race.
Was Talladega a good race? Only 42 percent of you said Yes, making it the least-liked plate race in the last three seasons (out of 12 plate races polled). Full chart of results: https://t.co/KlCZI7w8NV
Fewer than 50 percent of the voters said either Talladega race this year was a good one in Gluck’s poll. The April race had 24 lead changes — the fewest for that event since 19 lead changes in the 1998 race — and saw a 57.8 percent decline in green-flag passes.
There’s an expectation when NASCAR races at Daytona and Talladega of pack racing, passing and wild action.
Such was in limited supply at both Talladega races this year. But it wasn’t just there. The four plate races (Daytona and Talladega) saw 89 lead changes this season — down 29.4 percent from last year’s plate races.
While three of the four plate races this year ended with a last-lap pass (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500, Erik Jones at Daytona in July and Aric Almirola at Talladega last weekend), not everyone may be willing to wait through the racing to those final laps.
With the 2019 rules package, NASCAR anticipates pack racing to remain key at Daytona and Talladega but Sunday’s race might force series officials to make some additional changes to ensure the pack is back next year.
Questions have been raised about how NASCAR officiated the end of the Truck and Cup races this weekend at Talladega.
“Our first job is to always make sure everybody is safe, and we felt we did that in this case,” O’Donnell said about letting the Cup race finish under green.
While each last-lap scenario presents different challenges, NASCAR must remain steadfast in following what O’Donnell said in terms of driver safety. That must be No. 1 regardless of it is the last lap at Talladega, the last lap of the Daytona 500 or the last lap of the championship race in Miami.
NASCAR must be consistent with that. And that may mean calling for a caution instead of a dramatic race to the finish line.
It won’t be next year but maybe someday GMS Racing likely will field a Cup team.
After examining all the costs, Gallagher decided not to pursue the Furniture Row Racing charter and equipment.
“We’re still talking and thinking about it, but first things first, we’re trying to get through this year and do some good things, particularly winning the (Truck) championship,” Gallagher said after Timothy Peters won the Truck race at Talladega.
Spencer Gallagher called the deal not working out a “tempered disappointment” but added “we got into that deal and we realized that we were going to have to undertake some additional complications with it. More than anything, if and when we make the decision to go Cup racing, I’d like to think that if we have one true luxury it is that we get to choose when and where we get to do it, which means that we’re committed to only doing it if it can be done right.
“As Maury likes to say, there’s always another deal that comes along. Patience is our watchword for getting ourselves into Cup.”
So why wasn’t Bell introduced as the driver of the No. 95 car?
“Between ourselves and Joe Gibbs Racing, we’ve been very intentional about Christopher’s development,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “Was there some conversation? Absolutely. But we collectively decided to stay the course and genuinely believe it will serve Christopher to invest another year (in Xfinity). It’s not going to hurt him.
“One of the challenges of this new alliance is next year we’re … starting from some respects from ground zero (with a new partner in Leavine Family Racing). I don’t think it’s fair to put a rookie driver in the midst of that. This is why Matt will be a good fit. His experience will lend itself to building this alliance and building the level of competitiveness.”
Leavine Family Racing replaces Furniture Row Racing, which will cease operations at the end of this season, in the Toyota camp. But the two teams are very different. Leavine Family Racing is behind where Furniture Row Racing was when it joined Toyota in 2016. Furniture Row Racing had already won in Cup. Leavine Family Racing has not. Even though both are single-car teams this year, car owner Bob Leavine said his team has 35 employees, about half the number that work at Furniture Row Racing. Leavine also said he doesn’t have the budget Furniture Row Racing has.
Wilson’s focus of building Leavine Family Racing is understandable.
Wilson confirmed that Toyota Racing Development will support five Cup teams next year — the four Joe Gibbs Racing teams and Leavine Family Racing — and no more.
But there’s still a way for Bell to run some Cup races next year. Leavine said he planned to ask Wilson about Toyota Racing Development providing an extra engine to run Bell from time to time.
“That’s for them to decide,” Leavine said. “We’re just going to be available if they want to do it to put it all together and make it all work.”
Joe Gibbs Racing, which will provide the cars to Leavine Family Racing, also would have to be able to build cars for those extra races.
Wilson is open to the idea of a second Leavine Family Racing car running at times if it makes sense.
“We’ve not made any definitive plans along those lines but certainly it gives us some options,’’ he said. “The challenge in doing that is making sure that you do it in a manner, not that you expect to win per say, (but) you can risk spreading your resources too thin.
“Next year will be our first year with LFR and the priority needs to be building their capabilities and building their success, so if we have the opportunity to do something creative like that without compromising our primary mission, then we might take a look at that.”
The 17-year-old is fifth in the points in her first season in the series. Is her win and two runner-up finishes this season enough to have her run a Toyota Truck at Martinsville or Phoenix later this season?
“There’s no plans right now to put her anywhere this year,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “We’re still working very closely with Hailie and the family about the right steps, the next steps. I don’t think we’ve made any definitive decisions at this point.”
So what about a Truck next year?
“There’s not a plan,” Wilson said. “You need to put her experience in perspective. She’s literally only run 20-something races on pavement and is 17 years old. She just need mores races, more laps, more seat time. There’s not a burning urgency of we’ve got to get her in a truck.”
A possibility for her could be to move to the K&N Pro Series East next year and run the full season there.
Another Toyota driver looking to move up the development ladder is Seavey, who leads the USAC National Midget standings and seeks to become the third rookie to win that championship.
“We have a lot of faith and belief in Logan,” Wilson said. “What we’ll see with Logan is just more pavement time. We’ve got some great relationships across the Super Late Model ranks and I would expect next year that we give him some more opportunities with (those) races and maybe some K&N and ARCA. He’s definitely on the right track and we’re excited about his potential.”
3. Right from the start
Kyle Busch and wife Samantha have been open about their struggles to have children and that they had to go through in vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in May 2015.
Kyle and Samantha both recently announced that they are wanting to give Brexton a baby sister and said they planned to share all the ups and downs they go through during this process publicly.
“If we only showed the good times, and we only showed when it was a success and went well, that’s not fair to all the women that have (not had stories that have gone like that),” Samantha Busch told NBC Sports.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, and it is a little scary to know that things may come up down the road that may not be as easy as last time, but for all those couples out there that need to go through this or have gone through this and need to know that they’re not alone and need to understand that this can happen to anybody, I think it’s important to start from the beginning this time.’’
Samantha said she has begun taking a shot a night to prepare her body for the process and will be scheduled to have additional shots before the in vitro fertilization takes place.
“I think it was already done” by then, Knaus said of the decision.
Johnson was second and in a position to advance to this round of the playoffs but challenged Martin Truex Jr. for the win and spun in the final chicane. The result was that Johnson lost enough spots and Kyle Larson gained a spot on the last lap to forge a three-way tie among Johnson, Larson and Aric Almirola for the final two transfer spots. Larson and Almirola advanced based on their best finish in the first round was better than Johnson’s best.
“That was … heartbreaking,” Knaus said Thursday of the Roval finish, (but) that was not part of it. I wanted to win that race just as bad as he did.
“I beat myself up more than I probably ever blamed Jimmie for what happened there. I could have probably come on the radio and said one or two things and he probably would have maybe thought and checked up a little bit, but my last words to him was ‘go get his ass.’”
Said Johnson: “I was crossing the start/finish line watching the white flag wave when he said that… yeah, that is what we do, we are there to win.”
5. New frontier
With Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus splitting after this season, Knaus will become William Byron’s crew chief.
Byron is excited about the opportunity to work with the seven-time champion crew chief and knows it will push him to be better.
“I think Chad is going to be brutally honest with me, and I’m okay with that,” Byron said Thursday. “I want to succeed in this sport. That’s my number one goal, and I’ll do whatever it takes to do that.”
Although Knaus is 47 and Byron is 20, Byron says he sees similarities with Knaus.
“Probably attention to detail,” Byron said. “Type A personality. I don’t like excuses so that will fit well.”
Knaus said he’s “so geeked up” to be working next year with Byron and the No. 24 team, a team Knaus worked for when he started at Hendrick Motorsports in 1993.
Jimmie Johnson said he thinks the pairing of Knaus and Byron will be good.
“I am really excited for William,” Johnson said. “We have chatted quite a bit about it, and I feel that William is a lot like me. He likes to be coached along. I think there are some personalities that liked to be coached and others that don’t thrive or succeed in that environment. William is a lot like me in that he likes to be coached and with Chad’s wisdom and years and experience his intensity and desire to win, I think it could do a lot of good for him.”
Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric announced hours apart Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that they will move up to the Cup Series next season.
Hemric was asked what it meant that both drivers, who had modest financial backing, had announced Cup rides on the same day.
“Everybody says that the path of how we got here might not have been ideal,” Hemric said. “At the end of the day, you did whatever you could with what you had. To any racer out there that thinks it can’t be done, I think today is a huge step in that direction to show that it can be. Hopefully, it inspires some racers across the country to be able to continue to put one foot in front of the other and do the right things in life to hopefully align yourself with the right situation.”
Hemric will drive the No. 31 for Richard Childress Racing next year. Preece will drive the No. 47 with JTG Daugherty next season.
Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Matt DiBenedetto: Said he was betting on himself by leaving Go Fas Racing and looking to race elsewhere. While he would like a full-time ride, he would entertain a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series with a winning team, following what Ryan Preece has done.
Matt Kenseth: He told NBC Sports on Sept. 22 that there was no way he could devote the time and effort to run full-time while also raising four daughters age 9 and under. If he does any type of racing beyond this season, though, Kenseth said “it would be for Jack (Roush).”
Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.
Without the No. 78 Toyota, that leaves just the four cars owned by Joe Gibbs Racing. Last year, FRR fielded Erik Jones in the No. 77, giving Toyota six cars.
“We’re spending a tremendous amount of energy and focus on that, of course,” Wilson said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” of adding cars. “Nobody is happy. Nobody is pleased with losing Furniture Row. It’s something we’re all disappointed with. We at the same time respect the very difficult decision (owner) Barney Visser had to make.
“So as an OEM (manufacturer), we need to try and again put ourselves in the best competitive positioning going forward. That alliance we had going the past three years has been simply magical and something we’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount of success with. I’ve said this before, but we would not have won our first manufacturer championship without both Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing performing at the levels that they have been, let alone our second manufacturer’s championship we won last year.”
With Furniture Row Racing and JGR, Toyota has won two of the last four Cup titles and gone to Victory Lane 58 times since 2015.
A likely replacement for FRR in the Toyota camp is Leavine Family Racing, which fields the No. 95 Chevrolet that has been driven by Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith this season.
The team revealed in August during the Watkins Glen race weekend it would be exiting its technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing at the end of the year.
“In our talking to the manufacturers this year, Toyota has been head-and-shoulders above the rest so far,” Leavine said. “Everything we have investigated and done with Toyota has felt good from one end of the spectrum, the technical, to just the relationship basis.”
Long: The curious case of what’s taking place at Cup short tracks
“I ran with (Alex Bowman) and (Kyle Larson) and (Austin Dillon) and somebody else, and … you would you have thought we were all racing to save our lives,” Busch said. “It was nuts. It was pretty crazy how hard those guys were running.”
Joey Logano wasn’t shocked that there were few cautions at Richmond.
“There’s race tracks that are just like that,” he said after his 14th-place finish. “A lot of times if you go to high-wear race tracks, tire wear, it kind of lends itself that way.
“There was a lot room to race and move around. People were trying to save their tires, they’re racing the race track more than they’re racing the other cars. That kind of makes it to where there are just long green-flag runs.
“There (also) are not as many, for lack of better word, junker cars out there that used to blow up or blow right front tires from overheating beads. Those cars aren’t out there anymore and that’s where a lot of your cautions used to be generated from, and then we would race hard because there was a caution and we were all bunched up. Just the nature of the beast these days. That’s not a bad thing.”
This is not to say that accidents don’t happen at short tracks. The Bristol race in April had 13 cautions and the August race had nine cautions — the highest totals at short tracks this year.
Still, the trend is noteworthy. Here is a look at average number of cautions for short track Cup races in recent years and how it has declined in recent years
2018 — 7.0 average cautions *
2017 — 9.6
2016 — 10.2
2015 — 11.2
2014 — 10.5
2013 — 11.0
2012 — 7.8
2011 — 11.3
2010 — 9.0
* Through five short track races (one remains this season). All other years are average over six short track races.
Change is coming. It just takes time.
That’s the message from Rob Kauffman, chairman of the Race Team Alliance.
Some change coming soon will be the 2019 rules package. Car owners are expected to vote on it this week.
Other changes will take longer. Among the key items for team owners are controlling costs and increasing revenue.
The decision by Furniture Row Racing, the reigning championship team, to cease operations after this season was a shock to the sport. While there were many contributing factors, having a major primary sponsor announce in July that it wouldn’t be around after this year showed how vulnerable teams can be to when a sponsor decides if to stay or go.
5-hour Energy’s decision left minimal time before the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, a calendar many companies go by. That made it more difficult to seek the million of dollars the team needed from companies to remain competitive next year.
“It shows that even billionaires can get tired of writing checks,” Kauffman told NBC Sports, although Visser is not a billionaire.
“The sport needs a sustainable model and a better balance of league revenue vs. third-party revenue to run a competitive car. In defense of NASCAR and some of the other teams, no one tells you to spend more than you get. It’s like any business, it’s up the owners of the business to match their revenues with their expenses. No one is forcing anybody to spend more than you get.”
While it’s easy to say give the owners more money, that won’t solve the issue if they increase spending based on the extra money they receive.
“To try to remedy the situation probably requires a combination of things,” Kauffman said. “It requires a better balance of contractual revenue with third-party sponsorship and then also some sort of cost management that is sort of like other sports that keeps you from spending an infinite amount of money to go faster because teams will do that.
“If the top guys are spending $35 million and the bottom are spending $5 (million), that’s not going to provide a good show.”
It’s just a matter of how to enact the changes.
“Everyone agrees that we need to address the issue,” Kauffman said. “It’s not a consensus of how to do it. There are certainly some advocates of a cost cap, then there’s equally people saying how do you enforce that, how do you monitor that, is that really the solution, we should be looking at revenue instead of expense. There’s different voices. That’s one reason why it hasn’t bubbled out yet. It’s still in the formation phase because it’s big.”
With the 2019 rules package expected to be approved by owners this week, it appears that teams will run a package that has some similarities to what was run in the All-Star Race.
One change is that the engines are expected to have a tapered spacer instead of a restrictor plate. The goal is to give drivers more throttle control than they had at the All-Star Race so drivers just don’t have the accelerator pressed to the floor throughout a whole lap. This package is expected to be used in several races next year.
Kyle Busch has been outspoken about taking horsepower away from drivers and nothing has changed his mind.
“I’m not a proponent for the change,” he said Monday during a break in testing at Kansas Speedway. “Just have to take what happens and what comes to us and deal with it.”
Stage points are already making a difference after the first two races of the first round.
Ryan Blaney holds the final transfer spot to the second round heading into Sunday’s playoff race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC). Blaney has 2,060 points.
But Blaney has scored only three stage points in the playoffs. That’s left him in a precarious position.
Stage points have helped others against Blaney.
Alex Bowman has 2,061 points, giving him a one-point lead on Blaney. Bowman is ahead of Blaney because Bowman has 18 stage points to Blaney’s three.
Chase Elliott has 2,066 points, giving him a six-point cushion on Blaney. Elliott has 24 stage points to Blaney’s three, giving Elliot 21 extra points compared to Blaney.
Kurt Busch has 2,071 points, giving him an 11-point cushion on Blaney. Busch has scored 22 stage points, giving him 19 more stage points than Blaney.