Meet the ‘Gen 7 for NASCAR’ that could include shorter races and capped costs

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Are shorter races better? That’s a discussion taking place in NASCAR, along with the length of the season and other key topics.

“We have to keep (fans) engaged,” car owner Jack Roush said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. “We have to think about their attention spans. The races may need to get shorter.  That could be cost savings all the way around. Probably need to get shorter. 

“People say we need to race fewer times. I’m not sure that’s true. I used to tell (NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton, if he had three or four races a week, I’d be there for him. I don’t know if I’d say that today.”

Already this week, Kevin Harvick has advocated eliminating the Clash, and Denny Hamlin has noted one of the most popular events in the Olympics is the 100-meter dash instead of the marathon, a hint to shorter races

These comments have been made as the sport looks to cut costs for teams and energize fans who can become weary over a 38-race season that goes from February to November. NASCAR President Steve Phelps said last year that various ideas would be considered for the 2020 schedule and beyond. 

Car owner Roger Penske, whose organization is coming off Joey Logano’s Cup championship season, likens the sport’s look at race lengths to its focus on the next car, which is targeted to debut in 2021.

“I think we’re really talking about Gen 7 for NASCAR,” Penske said, using the term for the next car. “It’s not just the car or the engine. I think it’s the show, it’s the length of the races, it’s where we’re going to run, are we going to run more at night, short tracks. Let’s call it Gen 7 for NASCAR, not just the car.”

A shorter season could limit how many weekends NASCAR goes head-to-head against the NFL in the fall. Shorter races could provide the opportunity for midweek races. The belief from those advocating shorter races is that it would create a better show for fans.

“I think it’s an exciting time for us really in the sport,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “You know, there’s times that you struggle, and I think we have struggled some, but I honestly think (NASCAR Chairman) Jim France is on board and after it.  I think we, having constant meetings with everybody has kind of put everything on the table. 

“We’ve got a great fan base, but I think everything is really out there, scheduling, everything that you’re talking about, cost savings, everything is on the table. And so sometimes when you go through a tough time, those wind up being the best times because it causes you to really think your way through things.”

Just as important to teams are the costs, which NASCAR continues to look to cut. There’s also been talk of some type of spending limitation for teams.

“You’re going to see other things happen with the cars, engine packages, that’s going to reduce the cost,” car owner Rick Hendrick said. “So NASCAR is really on it. When you look at it, we talk about a spending cap. I don’t know how you regulate that with all we have going on. I mean, everything is on the table.”

Bob Jenkins, car owner for Front Row Motorsports, said cost containment can make an impact for his three-car organization.

“The ultimate goal has always got to be how can we do more with less with any team,” he said. “I think some of the larger teams have felt the financial pinch maybe more so than we have. When you’re in a constant evolution mode, it’s hard for us to keep up. We can make suspension changes a few times a year. Like Roger said, we can’t change cars every week.

“In previous years, we were always a generation or two behind and it shows on our performance. I think now when they come with these common parts that are produced by a third-party manufacturer that can’t be tweaked or re-engineered it only helps a team like us.”

Watch NASCAR Hall of Fame induction at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The 10th NASCAR Hall of Fame class will be inducted tonight, with the ceremony beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

This year’s five-member class is one of the most prolific and is headlined by four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

Gordon’s induction comes four years after he ended his full-time career at the end of 2015.

“It’s been a hell of a ride, I can tell you that,” Gordon said on Sunday prior to his induction into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame. “Each year that I’m out of being in a competitive environment I appreciate the career I had, the time that I came into the sport, the people I was able to connect with. The media, how the press treated me over the years and told my story. I now look back on it and go, ‘Damn, did all that really happen?’ It just seemed like it flew by in the moments that I was competing.”

Here’s who will join the Gordon in the Hall of Fame.

Alan Kulwicki – The 1992 Cup champion won five career Cup races before he was killed in a plane crash in 1993 on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway from a sponsor appearance.

Davey Allison – The son of Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, Davey won 19 races, including the 1992 Daytona 500 and was the 1987 Cup Rookie of the Year. Three months after Kulwicki’s death, Allison died from injures suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Jack Roush – Owner of Roush Fenway Racing, Roush has scored a record 325 victories across NASCAR’s national series. He won his first Cup title in 2003 with Matt Kenseth and won the 2004 title with Kurt Busch. Roush has five Xfinity championships and one Camping World Truck Series title.

Roger Penske – The owner of Team Penske, “The Captain” is a two-time Cup championship owner with Brad Keselowski (2012) and Joey Logano (2018). Penske built Auto Club Speedway and once owned Michigan International Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway. 

Click here at 8 p.m. ET to watch online.

Friday 5: Davey Allison makes one Cup driver’s Dream Team

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The NASCAR Hall of Fame celebrates its 10th class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and while the spotlight may be on Jeff Gordon, there’s one inductee who is special to Ryan Blaney.

Asked this week who he would have on a four-driver fantasy team if he could choose competitors from any era, Blaney told NBC Sports that he would have Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Jimmie Johnson.

Allison will join Gordon, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush in the Hall of Fame tonight.

So why did Blaney choose Allison for his dream team?

“I watched all of his races and heard stories about him,” Blaney said. “He obviously came from a great racing family. He was so successful in the short time he was around the sport. He was definitely taken too soon. You never know what his potential could have been.”

Allison won 19 times in 191 starts, including the 1992 Daytona 500. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1987 and finished second to his father, Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, in the 1988 Daytona 500. Davey Allison died July 13, 1993, from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway. He was 32.

“I got to know the Allison family a little bit and just hearing some stories about him and how he was always one of the nicest guys in the garage and his skill behind the wheel was pretty amazing and what he fought through,” Blaney said of what stands out to him about Allison. “There was a year when he was almost hurt about every single week and he made a run for the championship. That dedication is pretty amazing. I just would have loved to have seen his potential and seen what would have been. I think he definitely would have been a multiple-time champion.”

2. New year, new address

Ryan Newman has switched teams before but he says his move to Roush Fenway Racing this season is unique.

“Everything is new for me,” Newman told NBC Sports. “Absolutely everything. Every aspect of what I’ll be doing from the manufacturer, the team, the car owner, crew chief, pit crew, there’s not a single person that I’ve really worked with, that I know of, in the shop throughout my racing career, which I think is a good thing.

“It keeps everything fresh. It gives me opportunity to build new chemistry and that chemistry, we all know, is so powerful in our sport.

“I know there’s a lot of work that goes into it because I’ve been in this position before but not to this extent. We’re building a new team. It’s not like I’m going into the organization that I left from where we had an existing team and I was just a plug and play driver. This is plug and play everyone and I think it comes with a lot of responsibility.”

What does he mean by responsibility?

“Just everybody has to do their job,” he said. “It’s like building that chemistry. Everybody on the team has to take responsibility for their 100 percent for everybody to have that collective 100 percent. I think of as a driver I’ve got to do my job, my crew chief has to do his job, pit crew has to do their job, Jack Roush has to do his job. Collectively, we can all do our jobs and still be a seventh-place car that day, so we have to figure out how to be better than everybody else, commit to 100 percent, deliver 100 percent and take responsibility for it.”

3. Adjusting to the new rules

Jimmie Johnson is in Las Vegas to complete the second day of testing with the new rules package today.

Before he left for the test, he talked about how with less horsepower, drivers are in the gas more. He told NBC Sports how he has used the throttle in the past to control the car and this will be an adjustment.

“I think it’s less natural for me,” he said of staying on the throttle more. “ I’ve always been better with more power and trying to control wheel spin. You think about my dirt days and we always had way more power than traction. So that environment is good for me. When you take power away, that’s just not the way I grew up racing. I always had way too much power and not enough traction. This, technically I think works against me.”

We’ll see how the seven-time champion adjusts.

4. A memorable experience (for the wrong reason)

Kevin Harvick has been in the Rolex 24 once, or so the records state, listing him as finishing 69th in 2002.

“My first experience was a bad experience,” he told NBC Sports. “It was kind of a last-minute deal. I qualified the car and got to practice and got all the way up to the race. Whoever was driving first, it wound up blowing up, so I never actually got to participate in the race.

“I would say that that door is not closed (to running in that race again). I wouldn’t say that it’s high on the priority list currently at this particular time just because If I ever go do it again … I want to be in the fastest class because I don’t want to have to look at my mirror all day because it’s definitely not something that I would be looking forward to do.

“(Competing in that race) would definitely be something that would be interesting if the right opportunity came about but not something I’m actively seeking.”

5. One final weekend

This marks the final weekend before Cup cars are on track. Teams take to the track Feb. 9 for practice for the Clash and for Daytona 500 qualifying. The Clash is Feb. 10.

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Sorry, LeBron: Kyle Busch says ‘you can’t self-proclaim’ as greatest ever

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If we were choosing a fantasy team of four drivers across any era in NASCAR, Kyle Busch would list himself with David Pearson, Tim Flock and Dale Earnhardt.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the 2015 champion considers himself one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history yet.

“I’m not going to answer that question,” Busch told NBC Sports when asked during an interview this week. “Because it’s not for me to answer.”

The 2015 series champion was one of a few dozen drivers who sat down with a crew from NASCAR America to answer a series of questions, one of which was: What four drivers are on your NASCAR fantasy team?

Busch was the only NASCAR driver in his answer to cite LeBron James, who recently proclaimed himself to be the greatest NBA player of all time. Leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 championship after falling behind 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors made him The Greatest, James said, though others took umbrage at the assessment.

“Everybody was like how they’re the greatest team of all-time, they were the greatest team ever assembled,” James said. “And for us to come back, the way we came back in that fashion, I was like ‘You did something special.’ ”

Busch said he wouldn’t allow himself that declaration as NASCAR star.

“I’m kinda weirded out by what LeBron James had to say a few weeks ago about he feels as though he’s the greatest of all time,” Busch said. “You can’t self-proclaim that. I’ll never self-proclaim myself as the greatest of all time.”

The decided lack of hubris might seem discordant with the self-proclaimed “KB Show” who takes a bow to the grandstands after each of his victories and regularly challenges his detractors on social media. Busch seems to relish being the center of attention as one of the more polarizing drivers in the Cup Series.

But Busch, who has 194 victories across the top three series (including 51 in Cup), takes a more modest view in ranking his own accomplishments.

“Will I put myself in the discussion and say am I one of (the greatest ever)? Yes,” he said. “Do I feel as though I could be one of the greatest of all time, like if it’s top five that you’re talking about? I would say yes.

“But never the No. 1.”

NASCAR America will return to NBCSN at 5 p.m. on Feb. 11. Stay tuned for how drivers answered that question along with many others.

And watch this Friday at 8 p.m. on NBCSN as the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 2019 class (Jeff Gordon, Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison) is inducted in Charlotte.

Regardless of how he ranks himself, Busch undoubtedly will be enshrined there someday.

Jeff Gordon would be ‘truly honored’ to take on ownership of Hendrick Motorsports

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At some point, Jeff Gordon could be introduced as the owner of Hendrick Motorsports.

If that moment comes, the four-time Cup champion said he would be “truly honored” to take the reign from the team’s founder, Rick Hendrick.

Gordon, who is a minority owner of the team he drove full-time for from 1993-2015, addressed his potential future Sunday before his induction into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Hendrick himself made waves in December when he indicated Gordon could take over for him.

“That’s the way we’re going. Whenever I finally step away, it’ll be Jeff Gordon in my place,” Hendrick was quoted as saying in an Autoweek feature. The story focused on how Cup teams are planning for the future with aging owners.

Hendrick, who has owned Hendrick Motorsports since 1984, turns 70 in July. Gordon, 47, has been an analyst for Fox Sports since 2016 and recently signed a multi-year extension with the network.

Gordon said he and Hendrick have been talking about his potential future since three years before he retired.

“I went to Rick and told him what I wanted to do and felt like it was the right time,” Gordon said. “I felt like things were starting to line up with Chase Elliott. So those things were playing out well timing-wise for me and I thought for Hendrick. Because I have so much respect for the organization, being not just an equity owner but what they’ve done for me, what that organization did for my career, I feel like I owe that back to them to be respectful and to try and give all that I can back to it to continue to see it be successful even when I stepped away.”

At the time of their conversation, Gordon didn’t think Hendrick was ready to step aside and they agreed going into TV would be good branding for Gordon and HMS.

Their conversations have continued through his first three seasons with Fox, a job Gordon said “suits me well.”

“I just told him, ‘Rick, I’m really liking TV. And I don’t think you’re quite ready and I don’t know if I’m quite ready to move into that role, so I’m probably going to sign an extension or new contract with Fox to keep doing that,'” Gordon said. “So of course I told him that and then he went and put that out in there in the media.”

Gordon doesn’t know exactly what will come of his ownership talks with Hendrick, but that “I can see in the future that interesting me a lot,” Gordon said.

Gordon also advocates for more teams having former drivers with business savvy in leadership roles.

“We need more guys like Tony (Stewart), like myself, others who are racers that get the business side of it,” Gordon said. “They see the business side of it and have somebody, a mentor like a Rick Hendrick, like a Jack Roush or a Roger Penske or whoever it may be to be able to form who that person can be to take over that role.”

Gordon said the “greatest news” coming out of the ownership speculation is that Hendrick “doesn’t want to see the destiny of Hendrick end any time soon.

“If that day ever comes, I would be truly honored even though I don’t think I can do the job that he’s done.”

Should he one day take up Hendrick’s mantle, Gordon noted that he’d finally have to work for a living.

“That would be the first time other than when my parents made me sweep floors and run the machine shop … when I was a kid during summers that I actually had a real job,” Gordon said. “‘Cause running a race team or being in that role in a race team, that is a real job.”