Friday 5: Elliott Sadler excited to be back in a car at Richmond

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Elliott Sadler doesn’t look back on his decision to step away from full-time racing with regret.

“It is 100 percent the best decision I made,” he told NBC Sports this week.

But he’s also looking forward to his return to the Xfinity Series tonight for Kaulig Racing at Richmond Raceway. This is one of two races Sadler is scheduled to drive this season (the other is Sept. 14 at Las Vegas). 

Sadler, 43, said it became clear last year that it was time for him to step back.

“A few things helped in my decision,” said Sadler, who has 13 Xfinity and three Cup victories. “I know what it takes to race at this level. I understand the homework you have to do, the videos you have to watch, the notes you have to take, the simulation you have to study, the working out that you have to do, the whole mental and physical part of it.

“I was at the point last year where I did not and just could not do all the things that I wanted to do. I lost that drive to do it 100 percent. I couldn’t make myself go to the gym, every day, every night. I couldn’t make myself watch videos … all the time. So I lost a little bit of that drive. I didn’t want to half-ass it. I’m not that kind of person.

Elliott Sadler’s best finish at Richmond Raceway in the Xfinity Series is second in this car in May 2005. (Photo By Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“I knew that if I was not going to do everything that I knew I needed to do to compete at a 100 percent level like some of these other guys, like Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch, some of these guys that I know work their butts off to stay in the shape they’re in and live on the edge, there was no need for me to do it.”

Sadler said another key factor was being more involved with his family and children, 9-year-old Wyatt and 7-year-old Austyn.

“I think that is why I lost some of my drive to do this every weekend,” Sadler said of racing. “It’s hard to race 33 weekends a year when you’ve got kids at home. I’m not singing the blues by no means. I was in a good point in my life where if I had to make a decision or wanted to make the decision to stay at home more and be a part of my kids’ life I could and that’s the decision I ended up making.”

Sadler is coaching his kids in sports and noted that earlier this week their team won a baseball tournament championship in extra innings in Richmond.

“I told my wife, after the game we were driving home, I said, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “This is one of the happiest days of my life, watching all these kids fight through what they did to win the championship. That’s what it is all about.”

Sadler admits he is excited to get back into the car this weekend. Although he’s missed the first seven races, he isn’t worried. He looks to friend Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ran in Richmond’s Xfinity race in September in his only start of the year and finished fourth, leading 96 of 250 laps. Sadler seeks his first career Xfinity win at Richmond.

“I’m not putting a uniform on to go ride around and be fan,” Sadler said. “I could just buy a ticket if I wanted to be a fan. I want to be a part of the race and a part of the action.”

2. Heavy on the gas

Denny Hamlin acknowledged this week on Twitter that his pit road speeding penalties are “frustrating for me … frustrating for the team.”

Hamlin was caught speeding on pit road last weekend at Bristol after he exited first with less than 85 laps to go. He restarted outside the top 15 and went on to finish fifth.

The speeding penalty was his third of the season, tying Hamlin with Ty Dillon, Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie for most in Cup in the first eight races of the season.

Such penalties are not new to Hamlin. His 23 pit road speeding penalties since 2016 rank third in the series. He’s recorded a pit road speeding penalty in 19.8% of the 116 Cup races run since 2016, according to Racing Insights.

The drivers with the most pit road speeding penalties (and how many they’ve had) since 2016 are:

27 – Michael McDowell

24 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

23 – Denny Hamlin

16 – Austin Dillon

16 – David Ragan

15 – Kasey Kahne

14 – Corey LaJoie

14 – Kyle Busch

14 – Paul Menard

Hamlin is a bit better in the playoffs the past three years. He has five speeding penalties. He’s recorded a pit road speeding penalty in 16.7% of the 30 playoff races run since 2016.

Here are the drivers with the most speeding penalties (and how many they’ve had) in playoff races since 2016:

11 – Michael McDowell

9 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

6 – David Ragan

5 – Daniel Suarez

5 – Denny Hamlin

5 – Kasey Kahne

5 – Landon Cassill

5 – Matt Kenseth

4 – Corey LaJoie

4 – J.J. Yeley

4 – Jimmie Johnson

4 – Paul Menard

3. How much more change is needed to qualifying?

NASCAR told Cup teams Thursday that it was reducing the first and second round of qualifying from 10 minutes to five for today at Richmond Raceway. The final round will remain five minutes.

NASCAR stated that this is not the new qualifying format moving forward. The change was made after all 24 cars did not go on to the track in the first five minutes of the second round last weekend at Bristol.

NASCAR has made it clear it doesn’t want to go back to single-car qualifying. Officials still have to figure out what to do about qualifying at bigger tracks where drafting plays a role.

But changing the rules time after time and spending so much time discussing qualifying — instead of the race — makes it seem as if the sport has fallen into a rabbit hole on this matter.

If the sport is against single-car qualifying and officials need to keep tweaking the format time after time, the question becomes is qualifying necessary?

Want to make setting the lineup simple? Fine. Make the starting lineup based on how drivers finished in the previous race.

Finishing order from the previous race also determines the pit stall picks. If the car didn’t race the week before, it starts behind all those that ran that race. If there are more cars than spots, then have single-car qualifying among the cars that did not compete the race before.

Problem solved. Now the sport can move on to something else.

4. Working together (finally)

It took a while but Michael McDowell got Drew Blickensderfer to be his crew chief. Blickensderfer was someone McDowell had targeted previously.

“When I was at (Leavine Family Racing), I tried really hard to get Drew, and the biggest reason is watching him from the garage and two, I became good friends with Carl (Edwards),” said McDowell, now with Front Row Motorsports. “And Carl and I would have fun conversations, and Carl is an intense guy, and I said, ‘Hey if you were going to go to battle, who would you go with?’ He’s like, ‘I’d take Drew with me.’

“So that was always ingrained a little bit in my mind, and then just seeing Drew, and I see him from afar, and I felt he’s always overachieved and always had that leadership and that intensity. Yeah, it’s just like one of those things where you just know when you know, and so I fought hard for years to try to get him, and it just never really worked out, and opportunity became available kind of late in the game and late in the (off)season and really thankful to get him over there.”

McDowell saw firsthand how Blickensderfer battled when he stepped in after McDowell went to the ground in his confrontation with Daniel Suarez at ISM Raceway in March. Blickensderfer pinned Suarez against the hood of McDowell’s car on pit road.

“The battle part wasn’t a reference to Suarez, but you know, you can tell if you look at Drew and look at his ears, they’re closed up for a reason,” McDowell said. “He’s been on the mat and on the floor a lot. And him and I kind of joked about that because he obviously stepped in there, and you could just see it was instincts. He’s got that fire about him. I didn’t want him because he can take care of all the drivers for me … but that intensity is what you’re looking for.”

McDowell enters this weekend 28th in points. He finished fifth in the Daytona 500 but has had one top 20 since, placing 15th at Texas.

5. Bounty award for fans

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman noted on Thursday’s NASCAR America that he’d like to see a bounty paid to any driver that can beat Kyle Busch, who has won three of the first eight races this season. Kligerman noted it’s an old short-track promotion done when someone dominates.

It’s a good idea, but why not include the fans? If someone beats Kyle Busch – or better yet, if any team can win other than Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske – then maybe that track takes the number of the winning car and deducts that much from the ticket (with a ceiling as to how much those tickets can be reduced). Make the fans a part of something like that.

And tracks could still win by offering some sort of special ticket price if Busch wins or a JGR car or Team Penske car does.

No, this isn’t going to suddenly pack every track’s grandstands. That’s not the intent. It would be a way to have a little fun and maybe help fans with the cost of tickets and encourage a few others to purchase them.

Casey Mears entered in second Germain Racing car for Daytona 500

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Germain Racing will use the Feb. 17 Daytona 500 to field a second car for the first time since 2011 and it will be piloted by former full-time driver Casey Mears.

Mears, who raced for Germain from 2010-16 in Cup, will drive the No. 27 Chevrolet. The team will be built and staffed through a partnership with Premium Motorsports. Pat Tryson will serve as crew chief.

Mears will be teammates with Ty Dillon, the current driver of Germain’s No. 13 Chevrolet.

“I have considered running a second car in the Daytona 500 for years,” owner Bob Germain said in a press release. “My immediate focus is still on our No. 13 team and the full season that Ty Dillon will run. However, when the chance to field a second car with Casey Mears came together this year with Jay Robinson building the car and providing the at-track crew, I wanted to jump on it.

“The Daytona 500 is a race that our team, sponsors and fans are all passionate about, and I am too. In a race where anything can happen, having a second entry is an exciting opportunity. Casey has been a part of our Germain Racing family for years, and I’m grateful that he’s willing to get behind the wheel for me again in this one race.”

Without a charter for the car, Mears is not guaranteed starting spot in the race.

Mears didn’t make any NASCAR starts in 2018.

He last competed in the 2017 Xfinity season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.

Mears has 25 career Cup starts at Daytona International Speedway, with a best finish of second in the 2006 Daytona 500.

The addition of Mears makes for at least eight unchartered cars that could be entered into the Daytona 500.

With a maximum field of 40 cars, four will not make the field.

The uncharted cars include:

Mears

Tyler Reddick (No. 31 for Richard Childress Racing)

Ryan Truex (No. 71 for Tommy Baldwin Racing)

Joey Gase (No. 66 for MBM Motorsports)

Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 for Beard Motorsports)

Tanner Berryhill (No. 97 for Obaika Racing)

Parker Kligerman (No. 96 for Gaunt Brothers Racing)

JJ Yeley (No. 7 for NY Racing).

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Kyle Larson wins preliminary event at Chili Bowl

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Kyle Larson won the A feature Tuesday night to advance to Saturday night’s A main at the Chili Bowl Nationals. It was his fifth preliminary event win at the Chili Bowl. Zach Daum finished second.

Larson took the lead on Lap 6 of the 25-lap feature and went on to the win.

MORE: Tuesday night race results from Chili Bowl

MORE: Monday night race results from Chili Bowl

“We’ll move on to Saturday and try to be better,” Larson said in the press conference afterward.

NBCSN broadcaster Dillon Welch finished seventh in the 24-car field. Alex Bowman placed ninth. Tanner Berryhill, who will be a Cup rookie this season, was 10th.

The Chili Bowl continues the rest of the week, culminating with Saturday night’s main event.

JJ Yeley, Landon Cassill and Rico Abreu are among the drivers scheduled to race Wednesday night at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, event.

Thursday’s racing will include two-time defending winner Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Karsyn Elledge, daughter of Kelley Earnhardt Miller. Kasey Kahne and Tanner Thorson are among those scheduled to race Friday.

Thorson won Tuesday night’s Race of Champions. Larson was second, Bell placed third and Yeley was fifth in that event.

 

When NASCAR, IndyCar drivers compete at Chili Bowl

Chili Bowl Nationals
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The Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals begin today in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The event lasts six days and culminates in the championship feature Saturday.

Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell will attempt to win his third straight title in the Chili Bowl. In the field of more than 350 hopefuls, there will be 12 other drivers with NASCAR or IndyCar ties, including Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne and Alex Bowman.

PODCAST: Christopher Bell talks Chili Bowl, rivalry with Kyle Larson

Here is the schedule of preliminary races this week that include drivers with NASCAR and IndyCar ties.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Chase Briscoe

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Kyle Larson
Alex Bowman
Tanner Berryhill

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

JJ Yeley
Landon Cassill
Conor Daly (IndyCar)
Rico Abreu

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Justin Allgaier
Christopher Bell
Karsyn Elledge (Kelley Earnhardt-Miller’s daughter)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Kasey Kahne
Tanner Thorson

Click here for the complete list.

NASCAR drivers highlight each night of Chili Bowl action

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The 33rd annual Chili Bowl Nationals is scheduled to begin in less than two weeks and the preliminary nightly roster has been released.

With more than 350 cars on the entry list, qualification heats will be run from January 14-18 at the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The event concludes January 19 with the Chili Bowl Nationals.

Drivers with a NASCAR connection will compete each night. Chase Briscoe kicks off the show on Jan. 14 and Kasey Kahne highlights the Jan. 18 roster.

After winning a Midget race in New Zealand, Kyle Larson will run Jan. 15.

Christopher Bellwho won in Sprints last week in New Zealand – is scheduled to race on Jan. 17.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Chase Briscoe

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Kyle Larson
Alex Bowman
Tanner Berryhill

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

JJ Yeley
Landon Cassill
Conor Daly (IndyCar)
Rico Abreu

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Justin Allgaier
Christopher Bell
Karsyn Elledge (Kelley Earnhardt-Miller’s daughter)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Kasey Kahne
Tanner Thorson

Click here for the complete list.

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