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.
Suarez is looking for a ride because reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn are expected to move to the No. 19 team with Furniture Row Racing closing operations after this season.
That leaves Suarez on the outside at JGR.
“I don’t really have anything good to say,” Suarez said after qualifying fifth Friday. “When you don’t have anything good to say, it is better not to say anything.”
Suarez removed a reference Joe Gibbs Racing from his Twitter profile this week. Asked about that Friday, Suarez laughed and said: “I’m a driver. I like my family. I like classic cars. That’s what I put in there.”
As for where he might race next year, Suarez said: “We’re talking to a lot of people. I’m sure good things will come our way.”
Suarez was encouraged by his run Friday at Richmond Raceway and optimistic about Saturday night’s Cup race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
“Definitely the best car I’ve ever had here at Richmond,” he said. “So hopefully I can take advantage of it (Saturday).”
If he can, he could score his first career Cup victory.
“We know we can do it,” Suarez said. “Not making the playoffs wasn’t good for us. We had way, way higher expectations than the job that we have done. We have had a lot of different issues though the year. Sometimes things don’t work out.”
Elliott Sadler is blunt when he considers his NASCAR career ending without a championship.
“(It) would be a huge void in my life,” he said.
The 43-year-old driver, in his 22nd and final full-time NASCAR season, makes his last run at an Xfinity title beginning with tonight’s playoff opener at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Four times in the last seven years Sadler finished runner-up for the Xfinity crown, including last season when he lost the title in the final laps to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron.
“Last year really hurt,” Sadler said. “Really, really hurt. We were in position to win that championship. I don’t know if I’m 100 percent over it yet.”
Sadler was upset last year with Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position as Sadler tried to hold off Byron with 10 laps left. Byron got by Sadler. Any hopes Sadler had for a title ended when he made contact with Preece’s car and cut a right front tire.
Sadler’s anger bubbled after the race and he yelled at Preece on pit road as NASCAR officials stood between them.
Sadler, who competed full-time in Cup from 1999-2010, has called it a “childhood dream” to win a NASCAR championship.
“If we’re not able to win a championship, it would definitely be a scar in my mind of not being a NASCAR champion after putting 20 years of effort into it, after being a kid and a fan and dreaming of being a part of this sport,” he said. “Now, that will not define me as a dad or define me as a person. I’ll still be able, hopefully, to do good things in my community, but it will definitely leave a mark.”
Before he gets to that point, he will have to get through his final race at his home track tonight. Richmond Raceway will honor the Emporia, Virginia, native by having Sadler’s children help with the command to start engines.
Even better for him would be going to Victory Lane with his family. Sadler has never won at Richmond in 56 starts in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. Asked to recall his biggest moment at the track, he instantly brings up the 2005 Xfinity race when Carl Edwards bumped him out of the lead on the last lap to win.
“I’m probably more nervous about going to Richmond, trying to win the race than I am trying to make it to Homestead,” Sadler said.
When the season ends in two months, don’t expect to see Sadler at the track often in the future.
“I don’t see myself involved in any racing at all,” Sadler said of his post-driving career. “I’ve been offered a job to come do TV, but I don’t see traveling away from home to talk about racing.”
Instead he’ll coach youth sports teams.
“My dad was a huge coach growing up,” Sadler said. “My brother is a wonderful coach and I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I love it. We’re at the facility every night hopefully changing kids’ lives. It would be hard for me to do both at 100 percent. It’s not really that I’m retiring from racing, I’m retiring to coaching and to my kids.”
2. What might have been
Jimmie Johnson has witnessed how fine a line it is between winning and finishing in the pack the past two weeks.
At Indianapolis and Las Vegas, Johnson ran with Brad Keselowski during parts of those races only to see Keselowski win both and Johnson finish far behind.
After the end of stage 2 at Indianapolis, Keselowski was 16th and Johnson was 17th. About 30 laps later, Keselowski was third and Johnson fifth. Keselowski went on to win and Johnson finished 16th.
At Las Vegas, Keselowski was sixth and Johnson seventh with just over 100 laps left. Keselowski won. Johnson was headed for a top-five finish before contact late in the race with Kurt Busch’s car cut a tire and forced Johnson to pit. Johnson finished 22nd.
Keselowski has said that he has not had the fastest car in each of the three races he’s won heading into Saturday night’s race at Richmond (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team seek to perform the way Keselowski’s team has.
“Drivers make mistakes,” Johnson said. “Pit stops can go wrong. Unfortunate racing luck can happen. To get all of that to rise together, it takes a little bit of time. We have made a nice jump in speed. I still think we have some room to go there, but now we need to execute on all levels and take advantages of those opportunities that (Keselowski) has.”
While the team seeks to find that speed and execute, Johnson has gone winless in a career-long 50 races.
“I’ve been in a deeper hole before, my own personal experiences in motorsports,” Johnson said, referring to early in his career in off-road racing and then in NASCAR when he “risked it all” and moved to North Carolina to pursue a career in stock car racing.
“I didn’t have as big a spotlight on me and wasn’t a seven-time champion, so nobody really remembers those except me. So I know I will get through this. I’ve been through worse.
“We are moving the right direction. I believe we have hit the valley and are climbing back out.”
He’ll need to do so to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Johnson enters Richmond six points behind teammate Alex Bowman for the final cutoff spot to the second round.
Custer has one Xfinity victory in 64 career series starts. He’s placed second or third in five races this season.
So where does Custer believe he needs to improve?
“I think there are little things that I can do better,” he said. “Having the Cup experience this year has helped me with what happens in that series.
“I think for the most part I have speed every single weekend (in Xfinity). It’s just a matter getting the restarts right and working traffic better and controlling the race when you have the fastest car.”
Custer, who is in the Xfinity playoffs, also will run in Saturday’s Cup race. He’ll drive the No. 51 for Rick Ware Racing. It will be Custer’s third career Cup start.
4. Going for 4 in a row
Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are the only drivers to win four consecutive Cup races in the last 20 years. That’s the feat Brad Keselowski will seek to equal Saturday night at Richmond.
Since NSACAR’s modern era (1972), eight drivers have won four consecutive races: Cale Yarborough (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Dale Earnhardt (1987), Harry Gant (1991), Bill Elliott (1992), Mark Martin (1993), Gordon (1998) and Johnson (2007).
Bill France Sr. held the position from 1948-72. Bill France Jr. took over from his father until 2000. Mike Helton was in that role from 2000-2015 before he was promoted to Vice Chairman of NASCAR.
The president’s position was not filled after Helton’s promotion until Brent Dewar took over that role July 13, 2017. Phelps is replacing Dewar, who will remain with NASCAR through the end of the season and transition to a senior consulting and advisory role in 2019.
Phelps will oversee all competition and business operations for the sanctioning body in his new role.
He has been more visible at races lately and presented Kyle Busch the regular-season champion’s trophy at two weeks ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In July, Phelps defended the sport’s ability to attract sponsors.
“I think there’s a misconception out there that sponsorship in NASCAR is not doing well, and that’s not true,” he said at Pocono Raceway during an announcement that Gander Mountain will sponsor the Truck Series beginning in 2019. “We have more sponsors in this sport today than we’ve ever had. We’ve got almost half the Fortune 100, almost a third of the Fortune 500. It’s a lot of large companies who are in the sport not because it would be really cool to go racing. It’s because it works.
“So people tend to focus on, ‘Oh, my gosh, sponsor A left and sponsor B left,’ and for us, it’s like, ‘Okay, well, C, D, E and F also came on board as brand new sponsors.’ And then a plethora of others have renewed or extended for a period of time.
“I think this industry tends to focus on the negative. I’m not really sure why.”
It was his first time back at the track since the Sept. 4 announcement. He plans to be at many of the remaining nine races as Martin Truex Jr. seeks a second consecutive Cup championship.
Each week, though, brings Visser closer to the end of a remarkable run in NASCAR that saw his organization start as a part-time team in Denver, elevate to full-time status, score its first win in the Southern 500, align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, expand to a second car, win the Cup title, downsize to one car and seek to repeat as champion.
Visser admits it was a hard decision — and an easy decision — to not continue the team after this season.
“You got your soul and you got your heart and you got your mind,” Visser told NBC Sports. “Two of the three are hurting, and my mind is saying you got to do this.”
The announcement in July by 5-hour Energy to leave the team and the sport after this season left Visser facing a gap of millions of dollars. With budgets already set for many companies, the likelihood of replacing 5-hour Energy’s millions with one company was slim. Visser would have to put more of his own money into the team if he wanted to continue. Then, he would need to renew deals with Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing and sign Truex to an extension.
“The family, we had all sat down and decided together that there would be a limit on what we could put in any given year,” Visser said. “We were talking about that the last couple of years. This (gap) was so far off.”
Visser’s tale could prove cautionary for the sport. He was an outsider who came into NASCAR, built his team, won races and captured a championship. There are few such success stories in Cup in recent years.
It’s not that others don’t try but they don’t have the success for various reasons. Ron Devine and a group of investors started BK Racing in 2012, ran as many as three full-time teams, but never had the success, struggled to find sponsorship, fell behind in payments on loans and to the IRS, among others, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy before this year’s Daytona 500 and was sold for $2.08 million to Front Row Motorsports in August.
Visser, though, doesn’t think that his exit will mean the end of outsider owners coming into NASCAR. But change will need to take place, he admits.
“Hopefully they’re going to standardize the equipment more, and they’re going to find a way to maybe protect sponsors from leaving, from going with drivers and protect the teams, just some kind of standard contract, that would be good,” Visser said, although he admits such a contract “wouldn’t have saved us” with 5-hour Energy.
“There’s not going to be a shortage of drivers in this sport, there’s going to be a shortage of quality teams. We’ve got to get that figured out.”
Standing about 30 feet from Visser on Sunday was Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and also the owner of Haas F1.
He’s searching for a driver for the No. 41 car for next year and noted the importance of a driver bringing sponsorship.
Haas laments the decline in the number of teams.
“We used to have 40-50 cars showing up for some of these races and now you’re barley filling the field,” Haas told NBC Sports. “From an economic standpoint it’s not working. There’s not enough money for teams to do that.”
Can friendship carry over to the track? And should it?
The issue came up at the end of the first stage in Saturday’s Xfinity race.
Ryan Preece was two laps down after an early incident. Leader Ross Chastain, a teammate to Preece at JD Motorsports in 2016, slowed his Chip Ganassi Racing ride coming to the line to end the first stage. That allowed Preece to beat Chastain to the line and get a lap back.
I actually agree with Chastain letting Preece get one of his laps back there. Would think that will come back around to help Chastain at some point, and it cost Chastain nothing. It’s the long play.
“I was hoping,” Preece told NBC Sports that Chastain would allow him to get a lap back there. “That was something he didn’t have to do. I’m sure one day I’ll return the favor.”
Mike Shiplett, crew chief for Chastain, told his driver on the radio not to do that again.
“He was already a couple of laps down and he was torn up,” Chastain said of letting Preece get a lap back. “I’ve been on the other side of that. I wish they would just give that little bit. I know Mike wasn’t happy, and I didn’t do it again.
“I ran as hard as I could to prove a point to him that I listened to him. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would do it again. It did let the second-place car close up to us for pit road, but our guys were so fast it didn’t matter.
“It didn’t matter if it was Preece or whoever. Those are the guys that I have raced with for years and I just wanted to be nice. Be nice every now and then. It’s not going to kill you. Just give a little bit.”
Preece got back on the lead lap less than 20 laps later when there was a caution and he got the free pass. He ended up having issues later in the race and never put himself in position to challenge for the win, but the move by Chastain to allow Preece to get a lap back could have backfired.
“When he got the free pass later, I was like uh oh,” Chastain said. “I didn’t know if he was fast or what. If he comes back and beats me, I’m never going to live that down. It all worked out. I was just trying to be nice.”
When a car doesn’t have the speed to challenge the top cars, a team has to do other things to win.
Such is the case for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team, led by crew chief Paul Wolfe.
After each of Keselowski’s last three wins, Keselowski or Wolfe have talked about needing to find more speed. So, how have they won three races in a row?
It has helped that the Big 3 have had their issues in those races. Martin Truex Jr. was among the strongest at Darlington in the first half of the race before an uncontrolled tire put him a lap down and he didn’t get back on the lead lap until the end.
“Our car was very good on restarts, would run fast for a few laps,” Wolfe said. “I think our car had some good stability. That’s really what it comes down to those first couple laps when everyone is jammed up and you don’t have a lot of clean air is having a lot of security, and our car seemed to be able to fire off really well, and the pit crew was really flawless.”
Four times Keselowski was first off pit road, gaining positions, and a fifth time he entered pit road first and left first at Las Vegas.
At Indy, Wolfe’s pit strategy put Keselowski in position to win on a late restart because of fresher tires than Danny Hamlin.
At Darlington, Keselowski beat Kyle Larson off pit road for the lead on the final pit stop and shot out to the lead on the restart. Keselowski led the final 22 laps to win.
“We have not been the best car the last three weeks,” Keselowski said after his Las Vegas win. “This week we were probably a top‑three or ‑four car. I didn’t get to see (Kevin Harvick) before he had his issue, but I thought he was running pretty good. He was obviously in front of me at one point. And him and (Martin Truex Jr.) were very strong.
“The 78 (Truex) was clearly the best car, and we put everything together when it counted, and kind of stole it today. Same scenario the last two weeks.
“I thought (Larson) was the best car in Darlington, and we hit the strategy right and executed the last pit stop and that put us in position to win.
“And in Indy, we were nowhere near probably even a top‑10 car. We were probably a 15th‑place car, and Paul Wolfe hit the strategy right, and I hit the restart right to make all the passes when it counted and won that race. With that in mind, no, I feel like we stole the last three races. We’re not complaining, but we still have a lot of work to do to go out there and win heads up without those issues.”
It has been a rough year for the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity team.
Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski have shared the ride throughout the season but last weekend’s race provided an all-too-familiar scene for that team — the car hitting the wall.
Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas marked the 10th time in 26 races this season the No. 60 car has been eliminated by an accident.
The team has had only four top-10 finishes. Its best finish is seventh at Iowa with Ty Majeski.
Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas was eerily reminiscent of Jeff Gordon‘s crash there in 2008 before a SAFER barrier was placed on the inside wall.
“I’m really disappointed right now in this speedway for not having a soft wall back there, and even being able to get to that part of the wall,” Gordon said after the crash. “That kind of hit shouldn’t happen. It’s just uncalled for. There’s no reason why any track should have that (kind of opening).”
LAS VEGAS — Stewart-Haas Racing owner Gene Haas said Sunday that the team continues to search for a driver for the No. 41 car and that he does not view moving up SHR Xfinity driver Cole Custer as a viable option at this time.
Haas said the team is not ready to sign any driver.
“We haven’t seen anybody that’s intrigued us enough to say, ‘OK we’re willing to sign you at the moment,’ ” Haas said before Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “We’re kind of hoping there is an undertow … where a driver or a sponsor, maybe that combination that didn’t exist a few weeks ago, maybe they come together and it’s something we can look at. But at the moment we don’t really have anything.
“As far as we know, Kurt Busch has signed up with Chip Ganassi. That’s the rumors we hear. But he hasn’t announced it yet, either. I think the only thing I’ve heard from him is he hasn’t signed anything.
“I think he’s out looking around and see what kind of a deal he can put together. I assume it’s over at Chip Ganassi Racing.”
It was Haas who expanded the organization to create room for Busch for the 2014 season. Busch has won six races for the team since joining it but has never finished better than seventh in the playoffs.
Still, could Busch find a way back to the No. 41 team?
“If he gets on a tear and wins five races and goes on to win the championship, we definitely would talk to him,” Haas quipped.
“That’s why we signed him to win a championship. As time went on, it became less probable that that would happen. That’s why we’re at where we’re at now. I think he’s kind of stated, too, that next year is going to be his last year.”
Haas said that Monster Energy, which is tied to Busch, “significantly cut down their sponsorship last year, and now they’re about the same money next year.”
As for other drivers, Haas said his team has had talks with Daniel Suarez’s camp.
“We’ve talked to him,” Haas said. “He brings a different group of sponsors. Like anything else, it comes down to the bottom line. How much sponsorship are we talking? How much money does SHR get? How much money does the driver get? Those are the kind of typical things that can take a while to iron out because everybody wants everything.”
Excluding a driver’s salary, Haas said it takes $20 million “to run a competitive Cup team.”
While some might view the 20-year-old Custer, who drives for SHR’s Xfinity team, as an option to move up to the team’s Cup ride, Haas is not convinced.
“We think Cole is a good talent,” Haas said. “I think he’s talented. He’s very marketable. I think a lot of things are positives, but he has to win in the Xfinity (Series) before he can really move up to Cup racing. If we were to push that, I think we might do more harm than good. He needs to prove that he can win consistently in Xfinity before I think we’ll consider him for a Cup ride.”
Custer has one win in 64 career Xfinity starts and finished third in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas. He is winless this year. He is in the Xfinity playoffs for the second consecutive year. He finished fifth in the points last year.
Haas also said it is “not really an option” to downsize to three teams next year.
“We have Ford money per car, and the 41 car gets prize money, and prize money is based on previous years,” Haas said. “It wouldn’t be nearly as profitable not to run it as it would be to run it in some shape or form.”