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Friday 5: Chevrolet’s struggles harken back to 1982

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Ten races into the Cup season, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1’s debut is starting to reach historic proportions.

Not since 1982 — before Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon were born — has Chevrolet failed to lead a lap in three races in the same season. It’s already happened this year. No Chevrolet paced the field at Las Vegas, Martinsville and Richmond.

Only 11 times in the 656 Cup races run since the beginning of the 2000 season has Chevrolet failed to lead at least a lap in a race.

A couple of other races nearly joined that list this season. Chevy teams led three of 200 laps at Auto Club Speedway and five of 334 laps at Texas Motor Speedway.

That Chevrolet didn’t lead a lap at Las Vegas and struggled to do so at Auto Club and Texas — tracks where aero plays a key role — is a concern.

The Camaro’s woes, though, are not surprising. There can be teething problems when working with a new car. Look back to last season when Toyota ran a new Camry body. Toyota won one of the first 10 races (same as Chevrolet this season with that victory by Dillon in the Daytona 500).

In the first 10 races of last season, Toyota teams won one race, had eight top-five finishes and 23 top 10s.

In the first 10 races this season, Chevrolet teams have won one race, had 12 top-five finishes and 28 top 10s.

Keep in mind that there are more Chevy teams than Toyota teams, so Chevy teams should have better numbers.

Take out the two restrictor-plate races, the Daytona 500 and the spring Talladega race, this year and last year and the numbers are closer between the models.

Toyota had one win, seven top-five finishes and 21 top 10s in the first eight non-plate races last year

Chevrolet has no wins, eight top-five finishes and 20 top 10s in those same events this year.

This doesn’t guarantee that Chevrolet will continue to struggle. Toyota won two of the first 17 races last year — both by Martin Truex Jr. — before winning 14 of the final 19 races.

One difference is that NASCAR employs the Optical Scanning Station this season to tech cars. The station has been credited with helping Ford, which has the oldest body among the manufacturers, remain competitive because of how closely the station can scan a car. More rigorous inspections can keep cars even. Of course, that also could make it more difficult for Chevrolet teams to find the speed in their cars to be more competitive.

The two Chevy drivers who have shown the most promise this season are Larson and Elliott.

Larson has been the top-finishing Chevy driver in four races and Elliott has held that honor three times.

Rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second in the Daytona 500 and scored an eighth-place finish at Texas. He noted this week that his team has more work to do with refining his Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

“We need more raw speed out of our car,’’ he said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction.

“We’re finding some things, for sure. We look back at Richmond. We weren’t really a big factor, but our car drove really good. So, we’re still trying to figure out where we were so far off, but we had the handling down to a T. I felt like we were the best car there handling-wise but speed-wise we were one of the slowest.’’

Said Dillon on Friday at Dover: “We’ve been decent all year long, we haven’t had the speed and there are reasons for the speed not being there. As far as Chevy as a whole right now, we’re working to find the speed.’’

Here’s a look at the Cup races since 2000 where Chevrolet did not lead a lap in the event:

April 21, 2018 — Richmond

March 26, 2018 — Martinsville

March 4, 2018 — Las Vegas

July 24, 2016 — Indianapolis

Sept. 12, 2015 — Richmond

August 22, 2015 — Bristol

June 28, 2014 — Kentucky

October 20, 2002 — Martinsville

October 28, 2001 — Phoenix

August 19, 2001 — Michigan

September 17, 2000 — New Hampshire

2. Learning the way

Paul Menard, in his first season with the Wood Brothers, scored the team’s first stage win of the season last weekend at Talladega.

The Wood Brothers are aligned with Team Penske, so that means Menard takes part in competition meetings with Penske drivers Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and their teams.

“We’re all very different people and we have different perspectives, which is interesting,’’ Menard said. “The way that Brad breaks down his car is much different than Joey and much different than Ryan.’’

Menard compares his time with the Wood Brothers with his early time at Richard Childress Racing.

“When I first went there, we had some really fast cars and then we got off,’’ said Menard, who drove for RCR from 2011-17. “So in the last couple of years, every week was trying to dig out of a hole basically. This year there’s really no hole to dig out of, kind of have a proven package and more fine-tuning than swinging for the fences.’’

3. Father vs. son

Today’s Camping World Truck Series race at Dover will pit David Gilliland against his son Todd in a race for only the second time.

The only other time they ran against each other was in July 2014 in a Super Late Model race at Irwindale Speedway. Also in that race was David’s father (Todd’s grandfather) Butch to make it a three-generation race.

David Gilliland said Thursday he’s excited about today’s race.

“I’ve got into a lot of races in my career,’’ David Gilliland said. “I’ve looked forward to a lot of them and nothing’s been like this.’’

Said Todd: “It’s cool. We’re hoping to beat each other, but also you just kind of focus on the real race out there. It’s going to be good.’’

4. A different driver each race

The Xfinity Series has had a different winner in each of the first nine races of the season.

Should there be a 10th different winner Saturday at Dover, it would tie the 1987 season for the second longest streak of different winners to open a season. The record for most different winners to start a season is 13 in 1988.

The winners this year have been: Tyler Reddick (Daytona), Kevin Harvick (Atlanta), Kyle Larson (Las Vegas), Brad Keselowski (Phoenix), Joey Logano (Auto Club), Ryan Blaney (Texas), Ryan Preece (Bristol), Christopher Bell (Richmond) and Spencer Gallagher (Talladega).

5. Soon …

A week from today Matt Kenseth will be back in a Cup car. He makes his return in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 at Kansas Speedway in place of Trevor Bayne. Kenseth’s schedule hasn’t been released yet, but he will run at Kansas and the following week in the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

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Irwindale Event Center not closing after all, will continue with new operators

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The Irwindale Event Center’s death sentence has been commuted.

Around 7 p.m. PT Thursday night, the facility in Irwindale, California, signed a contract with new operators that will keep it open beyond January 2018, NBC Sports has confirmed.

Bob Beck, the announcer for the facilities’ drag strip, revealed to fans over the PA system and Facebook Live an hour later that the track had signed the deal.

The surprise comes four months after it was announced the track would close after Jan. 31 with the landowners, Irwindale Outlet Partners, LLC, not wanting to extend the lease. It came as a surprise to Jim Cohan, the CEO of Team 211 Entertainment, which runs the facility.

Tim Huddleston, who has three Late Model championships at Irwindale, is involved in the venture with Justice Brothers and the property owners.

The land owners had planned to build an outlet mall.Those plans changed and in late November they approached Team 211 Entertainment about extending the lease.

“Being presented with the right of first refusal, we quickly reached out to Huddleston’s group helping to negotiate a deal that would assure both a smooth transition and the continued operation of the track … It was just the right thing to do,” Cohan said in press release.

The facility, which opened in 1999 as Irwindale Speedway, is home to paved 1/2 and 1/3-mile ovals and the drag strip.

The track has hosted 26 K&N Pro Series West races since it opened.

This is the third time the track has received a reprieve from being closed. It was shut down in 2011 after its owners declared bankruptcy, but reopened in 2013.

In 2015, the track survived after the developers of an outlet mall allowed it to remain open until construction began.

Irwindale Speedway to close on Jan. 31, 2018

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After 17 years of racing since its 1999 opening, Irwindale Speedway, now called the Irwindale Event Center, will cease operations on Jan. 31, 2018

The half-mile track in Irwindale, California, announced Wednesday that it had been informed by a “representative” of the track’s property owner that it would be closing.

The news came as a surprise to Team 211 Entertainment CEO Jim Cohan, who said in a statement that the track had been preparing to announce its schedule for next season. Cohan said the track will hold all of its scheduled races this season.

“First and foremost, everyone should know that we’ll continue to operate Irwindale Event Center right up to our final weeks, as we’ve been doing for the past five years; providing great family motorsports and related entertainment in the most professional way possible,” Cohan said. “Our full 2017 schedule of NASCAR, Drag Strip, LA Racing Experience events, and special events will run as published. And, in fact, we’re planning on adding a couple of extra events to the calendar to honor all of the competitors who raced and wrenched here at Irwindale since it opened in 1999.”

“In all honesty, we were here and in it for the long haul, in fact we were in the process of putting out our complete schedule for the 2018 season. All that made this news very difficult for me to hear, and very hard on our whole team.”

Irwindale has been the host of 26 K&N Pro Series West races since it opened. Todd Gilliland won the last two races there in a March 25 doubleheader.

The track survived being shutdown in 2015 after developers of an outlet mall allowed it to remain open until construction began.

That year Nate Ryan lamented the impending doom of the track, which has been the site of wins by NASCAR’s Joey Logano and David Gilliland. Brendan Gaughan won three straight K&N West races there in 2001.

The track was shut down in 2011 after its owners declared bankruptcy, but reopened in 2013.

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Need a racing fix? Tune in at 9 p.m. ET tonight for NASCAR K&N Pro Series at Irwindale

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You say you’re going through NASCAR withdrawal with no races scheduled this weekend due to the Easter holiday?

Have no fear, my friend. NBCSN has racing for you, and all you have to do is tune in at 9 pm ET tonight (Friday) to catch the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 from Irwindale Speedway in Southern California.

The broadcast of the season-opening K&N Pro Series West event will run from 9 to 10 pm ET. The race was held last Saturday, with Todd Gilliland – son of NASCAR driver David Gilliland – starting on the pole.

Will Gilliland hold on to win the race? Tune in to find out.

If you can’t watch on TV, you can view the race on NBC Sports Live Extra.

If you plan to stream today’s show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 9 pm ET to watch live via the stream.

U.S. Navy Officer trying to climb NASCAR’s ranks while serving country

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At local tracks throughout the country, numerous stories unfold from youngsters trying to work their way to NASCAR’s top levels to mothers, fathers or even grandparents racing because there’s nothing else quite like it.

Among those stories is one that involves 27-year-old Jesse Iwuji (pronounced ee-WOO-jee).

He’s a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.

The Navy Times details Iwuji’s desire to climb NASCAR’s ranks, starting in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. He’s raced Late Models at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway this season.

Iwuji, who played free safety on the football team, graduated from the Naval Academy in 2010 and was commissioned as a Surface Warfare Officer. The Dallas native is assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and is a student services officer.

Iwuji has served on two Arabian Gulf deployments, totaling 15 months. His service obligation ends in 2017.

Speed always has fascinated him. In 2010, he bought a Dodge Challenger and set a goal of driving it 200 mph in the Mojave Mile. He eventually accomplished that goal and turned his focus to racing. Iwuji is approved in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series to run on any track 5/8 of a mile or smaller and any road course.

“This is the most out-of-the-box-type thing I’m doing, and I’m going to make it happen,” he told the Navy Times.

Just like any driver, Iwuji is looking for sponsorship. He admits his role as an active-duty soldier is “helping me a lot because people are more supportive of what I’m doing, because I’m blazing a new trail.’’