Today’s NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Carolyn Manno hosts and is joined by Kyle Petty in Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton joins from his garage.
On today’s show:
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are in full swing, but today the focus is on Charlotte for NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff Media Day. We’ll hear from playoff drivers Justin Allgaier, Christopher Bell, Elliott Sadler, and others.
Five-time IndyCar Series Champion Scott Dixon joins the show to talk about his most recent title.
We review Sunday’s playoff race at Las Vegas that saw hot temperatures, high tempers, and several playoff drivers involved in accidents. It’s the latest edition of Scan All.
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Tony Stewart’s dream of returning to the Indianapolis 500 remains very much alive, but he might be hitting the brakes on next season despite already having an offer.
In an interview with Rutledge Wood (video above) during Sunday’s rain delay at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Stewart said he has been emailed by IndyCar team owner Bobby Rahal about running one of his cars in the Greatest Spectacle of Racing next season.
“And I don’t do emails, so I haven’t even responded to Bobby Rahal yet, so I just found out I had an email from him,” Stewart said, pausing to turn to the camera with a smile. “Sorry Bobby, I don’t do email.”
“Not this coming year,” he said. “I did what I normally do, I let my mouth open before I thought about what I was saying and mentioned that I was open to the possibility again, and I realistically am.
“The reason I wouldn’t do it next year, I’m not doing it to just do it. I want to do it to try to win the race. If you’re really going to do that, the IndyCar Series is so competitive right now, and the drivers and teams so tough, you’re not going to just stroll in here like they used to do in the ’70s and ’80s and do a good job. I’d want to run an oval race sometime in the coming year to get ready for 2020 if I’m going to do it.
The three-time NASCAR champion, who will turn 48 next May, won the 1997 IndyCar championship and has five starts in the Indianapolis 500. In 1999 and ’01, he raced both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.
“I’ve learned to never say never, but you keep doing the math, and I’m pretty sure 49’s probably not a good age to try to resurrect an IndyCar career, but who knows, I’ve done a lot dumber things than that.”
Long: Path to better NASCAR shouldn’t be us vs. them
A tug-of-war is emerging in NASCAR that is unsettling and unnecessary.
This is not us vs. them.
This should be us and them — collaboration not conflict.
Instead, a fissure has developed between competitors and fans over the aero package and restrictor plates used in last month’s All-Star race. As talks continue among teams, drivers, engine builders and NASCAR on where to run this package again this season, questions have been raised about the type of racing it creates.
Former champion Brad Keselowski says that using the package too often could have long-term negative effects for the sport. But many fans were encouraged by the closer racing the package produced in the All-Star event. Their excitement helped spur NASCAR to examine running that package later this season — likely Michigan in August and Indianapolis in September — after the sanctioning body initially downplayed the chances of doing so.
It’s not uncommon for competitors and fans to be on opposite sides, but this issue cuts to a basic premise. What makes better racing? What lengths should NASCAR pursue to achieve that?
While fans see the potential for added excitement on the track, Keselowski sees a driver’s ability lessened.
“I think there are a lot of fans that come to our races expecting to see the best drivers,’’ he said this past weekend at Michigan International Speedway. “I think if you put a package like this out there, like we had at the All-Star race on a consistent basis, that the best drivers in the world will no longer go to NASCAR.
“They want to go where they can make the biggest difference to their performance and there is no doubt that the driver makes less of a difference with that rules package.”
That didn’t seem to matter to many fans after the All-Star race. Social media reaction and effusive fan comments on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio followed for days after the non-points race — a reaction rarely seen about that race in recent years.
Although the aero package and restrictor plate combination has been tried at Indianapolis, Pocono and Michigan in the Xfinity Series and at Charlotte in Cup, NASCAR has not stated how many races or where they hope to run this type of package in 2019 and beyond.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, stressed that Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, saying: “This (package) is not something we’re looking at for every race. I see some of our current drivers make assumptions when they don’t have all the facts. It’s something we’re looking at for a few tracks. If we could pull it off and improve on something, we will but also very happy with the racing we have today.”
With restrictor plates choking horsepower and aero changes intended to help cars run closer, Keselowski’s concern is that races on some 1.5- or 2-mile tracks will look similar to the racing at Daytona and Talladega. That means drivers are less in control of their fate.
“I would say most plate tracks, first through fourth has control of their own destiny and have acquired that finish based on talent, skill, etc.,’’ said Keselowski, whose five Talladega wins and one Daytona triumph are the most victories at restrictor-plate tracks than any other active driver. “From there on back it is a random bingo ball.”
Hall of Famer Mark Martin tweeted that he agreed with Keselowski and said that while he enjoys many of the changes the sport has made — including the playoffs and stage racing — he does not want to see a package that makes it easier for more drivers to win Cup races.
“Racing in NASCAR is supposed to be the hardest, most difficult thing that you could ever try to do as a race car driver,’’ Martin said this past weekend at Michigan. “It really, really hurts me to think about that we want to change to satisfy Johnny-come-lately fans.
“There are some issues that could be addressed about our racing, but artificially making the racing exciting for a portion of the fans to me is not what, I’d rather see that in (the Xfinity) race, not (the Cup) race.”
Sports need to be challenging. Sports also need to entertain and wow fans with feats that no average person can do. It’s why people watch LeBron James on a basketball court, Tom Brady on a football field and Sidney Crosby at a hockey rink. Rules have changed over the years in their sports, some dramatic, some subtle, but their athletic prowess remains constant.
The restrictor plates and aero package used in the All-Star race and at Xfinity races, create a different set of challenges for drivers but still allows them to display their ability.
“I think it’s a different type of talent,’’ Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon said this past weekend. “To be inches off of one another, pushing, shoving, wide open around there, making the correct moves, jumping out of line at the right times.
“It’s a real chess match out there and putting yourself in a good position is very key. I think it’s a different type of talent, obviously, than what we do every week. I think it’s good to have these type of races. If the fans love to see it and it looks good and creates drama, I like it. I don’t know its an every week package but for these types of tracks it’s good.”
It’s not just NASCAR facing such issues. This is a topic in IndyCar, particularly with the Indianapolis 500.
Last month’s 500 featured 31 lead changes. That was more lead changes in any Indianapolis 500 from 1911-2011.
Problem was that the 31 lead changes this year were the fewest since 2011. The race averaged 44.7 lead changes from 2012-17 when it appeared more like a video game with its back-and-forth passing.
This year’s total marked a 30.7 percent decline in lead changes. It’s why some have wondered if rule changes need to be made for that series to make passing easier at the front — and in theory make the race more exciting.
There needs to be a balance there and for each motorsports series. Not every race will be spectacular. Not every game is in other sports. For every moment of greatness, there are others that are merely satisfying. The key is to find a way that appeals to fans and also works with competitors.
BROOKLYN, Mich.— Former champion Brad Keselowski cautioned against NASCAR using the All-Star package in many races, saying Friday that “if we overdose on that particular format of racing, it will have … a severe long-term negative effect.’’
Keselowski suggested that fewer talented drivers would come to NASCAR over time if this package becomes the primary one. He noted that while the All-Star race had fans excited, that shouldn’t be the sole factor to choose it, noting how IndyCar’s exciting races in previous years didn’t lift the sport, in his opinion, to a higher level.
Keselowski said he was to talk to NASCAR officials about the package Friday night but had to cancel because of a sponsor commitment.
He made his point clear with the media Friday at Michigan International Speedway.
“I think that package needs to remain solely at the All-Star race,’’ Keselowski said. “A lot of the drivers in this sport are in a position where they chose Cup racing because of the demands the cars take to drive. I think there are a lot of fans that come to our races expecting to see the best drivers.
“I think if you put a package like this out there, like what we had at the Charlotte All-Star race, on a consistent basis that the best drivers in the world would no longer go to NASCAR. They’ll pick a different sport. That won’t happen overnight. That will happen over time. I think that would be a tragedy to this sport because the best race car drivers want to go where they can make the biggest difference to their performance. There’s no doubt that you make less of a difference in that configuration.’’
Keselowski said that “we should always be mindful of our responsibility as a sport to make sure that the best drivers are able to showcase their talent. I’m apprehensive that coming with a package like that on a larger scale for the sport will, in time, deteriorate the ability for drivers to make a difference and that they will look for other racing venues to achieve that.
“I think of three things that I like to see at a race. I think of fast cars. I think I want to see the best race car drivers, and I want to see a great finish. I think that package achieved one of those three and hurt the other two. In that sense I consider it a net loss overall.’’
Keselowski said he knows the reaction fans had after the All-Star race, which helped lead the push to run this package in additional Cup races this year. Still, Keselowski suggests, one shouldn’t get caught up in emotion.
“I saw the fan videos of people in Charlotte standing on their feet,’’ he said. “Part of that is the legacy that the sport has to have the best drivers, but I think over time that would deteriorate. I think we have seen that with IndyCar. I think a decade ago if you wanted to see the best racing in the world it was in IndyCar. They ran three- and four-wide and put on great shows, but long-term it didn’t translate to the fans or better ratings than NASCAR.
“There are a lot of reasons for that and I would speculate that it goes back to the fact that the best race car drivers in the world were here in NASCAR. And we saw that when IndyCar drivers came over here and didn’t find success. And they were some of the best IndyCar drivers. We have to tread very lightly with the next steps of this sport. I like the idea of picking one or two races and running that package. I think that makes sense. But if we overdose on that particular format of racing, it will have in my opinion a severe long-term negative effect.’’
The All-Star race package — similar to what Xfinity teams are using this weekend at Michigan — is intended to keep cars closer together. Although the racing is not exactly like fans see at Daytona and Talladega, it would be closer than what is seen at other tracks.
That type of racing showcases a driver’s talent. Keselowski has won five Talladega races and is considered among the top plate drivers in this era. Keselowski agrees driver talent shows up at Talladega and Daytona but to a point.
“I would say most plate tracks, first through fourth has control of their own destiny and have acquired that finish based on talent, skill, etc.,’’ he said. “From there on back, it is a random bingo ball. That is my approach to that kind of racing. I think the top four or five generally dictates their finish and the rest do not.
“I think with this current package you are looking at more depth to the field in terms of being able to determine your own finish based on your team’s skill and talent from the driver on back. It is not meant to be a knock on Kevin (Harvick) winning the All-Star race. He deserved to win the All-Star race, but I look at Kyle Busch or myself who got wrecked out and know that we were way better than that and without that rules package we probably don’t wreck. That is the randomizer of those rules. You take Kevin and say talent played out. Top three or four finishers, the talent played out. Everyone else was just chaos theory.’’
While NASCAR searches for ways to appease drivers, fans, teams, tracks and others, the bottom line is what, if any value, does a driver have in this process?
“So your question is does it matter what drivers think?’’ Keselowski said. “Long-term yes, short-term no.
“Long term yes because if you go to a package where drivers have less ability to determine their fate, they will go to an avenue where they can. Right now NASCAR affords itself the best opportunity for drivers to determine their own fate, make a decent wage and attain notoriety. Over time, if you went to a package such as this, it will go away. It won’t be overnight but it will go away. I think that the trickle down effect to that will be that eventually fans will recognize the best race car drivers and follow them.
“There is a reason why Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon and some of the best drivers of our time moved from open-wheel to NASCAR. Kyle Larson is another great example. They know they have a better opportunity to effect their finish based on talent and know they are racing the highest caliber race car drivers. They know that they can attain the highest level of notoriety with the highest wages in motorsports in the United States. I don’t think that is a coincidence.”
I have kept my opinion to myself so far but have to agree 100% with @keselowski As a driver I would be crushed if our racing was reduced to a majority of restrictor plate races. That’s not what the best stock car racing in the world should be. https://t.co/6xKZSmued5
CONCORD, N.C. – When he left his general manager position at Hendrick Motorsports a year ago, Doug Duchardt was interested in staying in the front office.
But not necessarily in NASCAR.
The longtime St. Louis Cardinals fan “looked pretty hard at Major League Baseball” for a few months before starting his new job as the chief operating officer at Chip Ganassi Racing in January.
“I had discussions with a few clubs and got close with a couple, but it just didn’t come through,” Duchardt told NBC Sports.com in a recent interview at Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR headquarters north of Charlotte, North Carolina.
It would have been quite a reset after a three-decade career of working in the automobile industry (primarily in racing, starting at General Motors before moving to Hendrick in 2005).
“In the front office but a much lower level,” Duchardt said. “I understood I wasn’t going to come in as the general manager of a baseball team. I’m not smart enough for that. It was something new to challenge myself. Go find something you like and learn about it.
“I don’t regret pursuing that at all. I met some really interesting people and had a great time learning more about a sport I love. I think anytime you get to interact with leaders of other sports, you learn from them, even though you may not think it’s applicable to a race car or race team. Inevitably, leadership and how you approach things and your culture, company, all those things apply. Whether it’s baseball, football, basketball, racing. Any company you have, you have to build a culture, and have people buy into that and move forward.”
During the job search, several lessons came from one Major League Baseball GM whose team has produced many executives who became GMs at other teams.
“I don’t know if I want to name the name, but it’s someone who has been in baseball a long time,” Duchardt said. “And what became evident in my discussions with this person is their openness to someone who didn’t grow up in the game and was more interested in building a culture with the right people other than necessarily someone who grew up in the background. It was just a different philosophy.”
And an approach that might have landed him a baseball gig.
“That’s what I was hoping,” Duchardt said. “But I completely get it. If you’re at a club and grooming people to come up through their system, and you’ve got a plan and how that’s going to proceed, and here comes a guy who is working on race cars, how is this going to work?
“I was hoping to bring a unique perspective. As technology increases in baseball, coming from a sport that is extremely dependent on technology, and I had managed technology for many years, specifically at Hendrick, that I could come and help that.
And did he talk job opportunities with his favorite team?
“Briefly,” Duchardt said of the Cardinals. “I’ve got a ton of respect for that club and how it’s managed. They have plans and people in place.
“I really didn’t look at it like that. I was just wanting to find something that was going to get me out of my comfort zone.”
Here are highlights of the interview with Duchardt, who reflected on his time at Hendrick (which announced his departure on June 6, 2017), managing a team across multiple racing series and on the challenges of the new Camaro:
Q: What was the impetus for your first break from racing in more than 30 years?
A: “When I decided to leave Hendrick, it was for professional and personal reasons. I was just ready to look to do something different. So, I took the time to do that. I just unplugged. I went and played fantasy baseball at Cooperstown. I helped my daughter get acclimated in her new job in New York. I was looking at opportunities outside of NASCAR. That’s really where I thought I was going to land.
“Chip called about coming here. Chip and I had known each other a long time from when I was the NASCAR program manager at Chevrolet, and he was coming into NASCAR. Of course at Hendrick, we were supplying engines, and I got to know him through that relationship. I felt we always had a good rapport. He talked to me about coming here, and it really appealed to me because he competes in three racing programs. It allowed me to get back into racing that I really enjoyed when I was at General Motors and had the director of racing jobs. The fact it was a different role than just competition, so managing across the company. I felt like it was going to be something new and a challenge.”
Q: How is the new job a different challenge from the competition-focused general manager role at Hendrick?
A: “The title is COO, so it’s competition and all business operations. So basically run the company. That’s the revenue side, supporting sponsors, public relations and all the competition. There are two facilities, one in Concord (NASCAR) and the Indianapolis facility with the two IndyCar teams and the two sports car teams.
Q: Did you have an MBA to prepare for the business side?
A: “I went to Sloan School of Business at MIT and did some executive education courses. But I never got a formal degree. I got a certificate. Specifically in different areas I felt like I needed to learn if I wanted to grow from competition to a bigger role. So that’s been good. It’s been a challenge. It’s new. It’s different. I’m not day to day worried about the new Optical Scanning Station. Someone else is worrying about that.”
Q: You left Hendrick near the midpoint of what was a tough season for that team. Were those results a factor in your departure?
A: “When I was looking at (the move), what’s the right timing for that? For me to wait through the whole year would not be fair to the company because the time for the general manager or management role at a race team to be locked in is when the season ends. You have to plan for next year. To me, the minimal disruption to them was for me to leave, and I just felt that was the right time. It gave them time to reorganize, put people in place and be ready to assess and adjust whatever they had to do in the offseason next year.
“I have nothing bad to say about (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) or (team president) Marshall Carlson. They were nothing but supportive of me when I made my decision. Rick didn’t want me to go. I’m still great friends with him. I’m really proud of the work I did there with them. It’s a hugely talented group. I was blessed to be there for the 12 years I was.”
Q: Does the pride stem from being there for seven championships with Jimmie Johnson?
A: “Here’s the thing about that. When you’re in a senior management role, you’re trying to build an environment for people to succeed. And so, when you have really talented people throughout the organization, including a driver and crew chief combination that locked in, it’s hard to say what you did or didn’t do to help that. I’m smart enough to know and humble enough to know that hopefully I helped. I tried to help. Or I was just right place, right time. Whatever it is, I’m blessed and thankful I was there when it happened. It’s made for great memories.”
Q: Are you pleased by Ganassi’s start to 2018?
A: “When I started here, the NASCAR program obviously was going in the right direction and has been successful in the past two years and continues to perform well. We’ve been close to some wins. The group here has done a really good job of building a tight-knit two-car team that is focused and working well together. You just try to focus on the fundamentals and keep learning and getting better, and the rest will take care of itself. From my standpoint, I haven’t said or done much other than reinforce the importance of communication and working together.
“From the IndyCar and sports car side, the first part has been learning those series again. Before the season, I was trying to get to Indianapolis at least once every other week. Get caught up with (IndyCar president of competition) Jay Frye. So it’s been fun catching up with friends that you’ve had from before, and they’re in new roles. And then learning new racing series. It’s been 15 years since I was exposed to IndyCar and sports car, so it as fun getting back in that.
“I always said if I went back to being director of a (manufacturer) racing program, I could do my job so much differently. Because once you’ve understood what is happening day to day (at a team) — what is going on to get to the track and operate, execute and succeed – it really helps.”
Q: What decision-making are you involved in with IndyCar and sports car?
A: “It’s more of long-term planning and structurally looking at things. That’s all this sport is. It’s all continuous improvement. Always how to get a little bit better. Whether week to week or long term. Chip’s organization started with IndyCar. It’s got a lot of history, a lot of longtime employees. They’ve been around the sport a long time. They have a lot of experience to lean on and know the paddock well there. You lean on them and then start talking about what their needs are and what they need next, and then you start working on that.”
Q: On the NASCAR side, are there advantages to having two cars vs. four?
A: “There are advantages and disadvantages. The four-car team lent itself to having more resources. It’s more difficult to manage and align because there are four opinions vs. two. There’s always pros and cons to everything.”
Q: Why have the Chevy teams seem to have had some growing pains with the debut of the Camaro this season?
A: “There are two variables: The new car and the new inspection system. That’s the two variables that Chevy are dealing with, and Ford and Toyota teams just dealt with the new inspection system. And so we’re working hard to continue to evolve and develop the car. Kyle’s been competitive at intermediate tracks. Certainly we’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re working hard to get there, so NASCAR has a process to put those cars through and approve, and we went through it. I feel like the fundamentals are there to make that car successful, and we’ve just got to keep working on it to get there. We’re just a third of the way through the season, so things can change a lot by the time we get to the playoffs.
Q: The Camaro was designed and developed ahead of the Optical Scanning Station this year. Did that have an impact?
A: “We knew that was coming, and then what we didn’t know was the tolerances (NASCAR officials) were going to hold us to. I wasn’t (at Hendrick) in the middle of it anymore in the tail end of getting that car approved. My recollection was they were bringing (the OSS) to playoff races, and you could voluntarily go through to see how it worked, and I don’t know how many people took that option to understand that. I just wasn’t there for that.
“But NASCAR didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have an OSS and this is the tolerance.’ That’s fine. It’s not like the Chevrolet group knew what that was going to be, and Toyota and Ford didn’t, either. It’s just change. I try to put it on the engine side. I’ve seen it before like back in 1996, we had the 18-degree Chevrolet small block engine and the new SB2 small block. What happened was you’d developed the old 18-degree engine so long, that when you build your first SB2, it was just as good as the 18-degree. The 1998 Daytona 500 was the first SB2 win with Dale Earnhardt, but in qualifying, Gibbs had an 18-degree engine because it ran better. They qualified with the 18 degree and raced with the SB2. When you put that much time and development into something, sometimes it’s hard to leapfrog it. Especially in the tight tolerances like NASCAR has. I think that’s just what we’re in the middle of (with the Camaro).”