RICHMOND, Va. — Stewart-Haas Racing announced Friday that Toco Warranty will be the primary sponsor on Clint Bowyer’s car for four races this season.
Toco Warranty will be the primary sponsor on Bowyer’s car at Talladega Superspeedway (April 28), the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 18), at Chicagoland Speedway (June 30) and at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 15). Toco Warranty will be an associate sponsor at all other Cup races.
Toco Warranty also will be co-primary sponsor with Tony Stewart Racing’s sprint car of 10-time and reigning World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz. Toco Warranty also will be an associate sponsor on Stewart’s sprint car. Stewart is scheduled to compete in more than 90 winged sprint car races this year.
Toco Warranty is a new generation of vehicle service contracts with pay-as-you go monthly plans.
“We’re obviously very pleased to welcome Toco Warranty to SHR and TSR,” said Stewart, the three-time Cup champion who formed TSR back in 2001 and co-owns SHR with Gene Haas. “Clint Bowyer and Donny Schatz are great racecar drivers with strong and compelling personalities who can deliver for Toco Warranty on and off the track.”
“Toco Warranty is all about helping people take care of their cars quickly and efficiently, and nowhere is speed and efficiency more prominent than in racing,” said Nota Berger, CEO, Toco Warranty. “We’ve found great partners in Stewart-Haas Racing and Tony Stewart Racing and strong, relatable personalities in Clint Bowyer, Donny Schatz and Tony Stewart to increase recognition for our simple and affordable vehicle service contracts. They’ll help showcase our practical and straightforward plans which clearly outline what is and isn’t covered while requiring no major up-front investment or long-term contract.”
2020 Cup schedule features new finale, doubleheader weekend and more
The 2020 Cup season will end at a different site for the first time in nearly two decades, one of many changes that includes a doubleheader weekend, date swapping among iconic tracks and the season concluding earlier.
The championship race moves to ISM Raceway near Phoenix. It replaces Homestead-Miami Speedway, which has been the season finale since 2002.
Next year’s finale at ISM Raceway will be Nov. 8, marking the earliest finish to the Cup schedule since 1998, which also ended Nov. 8.
Here are among the changes to the schedule:
# Homestead-Miami Speedway moves from its season-ending spot to March 22 and will be the sixth race of the season.
# Daytona’s second race will move from its traditional July date to Aug. 29 (a Saturday) and be the regular-season finale.
# Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s date moves from September to July 5 and takes Daytona’s spot.
# Bristol’s August dates moves to Sept. 19 (a Saturday) and will be in the playoffs. It will be the cutoff race for the first round.
# Martinsville’s fall race becomes the cutoff race for the third round of the playoffs on Nov. 1.
# Martinsville’s spring race moves from March to May 9 (Mother’s Day weekend) and will be held on Saturday. Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway, said in a statement: “This is a very exciting day for Martinsville Speedway. It’s a question we’ve gotten from fans literally every day since we installed the lights and we are now able to say, ‘May 9, 2020.’ So, this is a very exciting day for everyone involved.”
# Pocono will host a doubleheader weekend with Cup races on June 27 and June 28. Race lengths have yet to be announced for those events. Nick Igdalsky, president and CEO of Pocono Raceway, said in a statement: “Pocono Raceway will be a marquee, bucket-list event next year. We will be the first track to host two, points-paying Cup races in consecutive dates in NASCAR’s modern era (1972-present).”
# The West Coast swing — Las Vegas, ISM Raceway and Auto Club Speedway — will follow the Daytona 500.
# Atlanta Motor Speedway moves off its February date as the second race of the season to March 15 and will be the fifth race of the year.
# The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will begin the playoffs on Sept. 6.
Here is the 2020 Cup schedule:
Sunday, Feb. 9
Thursday, Feb. 13
Duel at Daytona
Sunday, Feb. 16
Sunday, Feb. 23
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Sunday, March 1
Auto Club Speedway
Sunday, March 8
Sunday, March 15
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sunday, March 22
Sunday, March 29
Texas Motor Speedway
Sunday, April 5
Bristol Motor Speedway
Sunday, April 19
Sunday, April 26
Sunday, May 3
Dover International Speedway
Saturday, May 9
Saturday, May 16
All-Star Race, Charlotte
Sunday, May 24
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Sunday, May 31
Sunday, June 7
Michigan International Speedway
Sunday, June 14
Sunday, June 21
Saturday, June 27
Sunday June 28
Sunday July 5
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Saturday July 11
Sunday, July 19
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Sunday, Aug. 9
Michigan International Speedway
Sunday, Aug. 16
Watkins Glen International
Sunday, Aug. 23
Dover International Speedway
Saturday, Aug. 29
Daytona International Speedway
Sunday, Sept. 6
Saturday, Sept. 12
Saturday, Sept. 19
Bristol Motor Speedway
Sunday, Sept. 27
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Sunday, Oct. 4
Sunday, Oct. 11
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Sunday, Oct. 18
Sunday, Oct. 25
Texas Motor Speedway
Sunday, Nov. 1
Sunday, Nov. 8
Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change
Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?
It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.
While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.
It became a game of who would blink first and take off.
When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.
“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.
“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.
“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”
Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.
What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.
Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.
These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.
But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.
What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.
Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.
Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.
That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?
The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.
This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.
“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”
There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.
For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.
The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.
The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.
Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.
Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).
They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.
The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.
Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:
Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.
The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.
According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.
The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.
4. First time in new garages at Phoenix
ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.
Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.
Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.
That means for more than two and a half hours, roughly three dozen cars turned left for 400 miles in a process identical to a few thousand other races that preceded this one and hopefully thousands more to come.
In many of those prior races, drivers occasionally lose control of their cars while racing for position. That results in wrecks and their many byproducts — emotions spiking, feuds erupting, and fans cheering.
What a concept.
So, let’s concede that Sunday in Sin City was no game changer for 1.5-mile tracks – which NASCAR has admitted were the primary target of its lower-horsepower package and aero ducts – nor could or should it be.
But there were some elements with game-changing potential that emerged from the debut of the full 2019 rules package. Here were a few:
—New ways to call a race: The biggest takeaways might have come not behind the wheel but from atop the pit boxes, particularly the No. 1 of Kurt Busch and No. 24 of William Byron.
Busch’s crew chief, Matt McCall, essentially sacrificed any stage points by pitting Busch late in the second stage for four tires and then staying on track to assume the lead for the final restart. Busch still had to pit earlier than the rest of the lead-lap cars, but the strategy allowed him to overcome a starting spot of 28th to earn his second consecutive top five.
The tactical call by Chad Knaus on the No. 24 was even more intriguing– a clever splash-and-go call near the end of the second stage that kept Byron on the lead lap and nearly still earned a point (Byron finished 11th in the stage).
There were risks involved with both strategies – an overtime finish could have hurt Busch’s cause and Knaus was betting that his young driver could be patient and his pit crew could execute a swift stop – but they also adapted well to the caution-free flow, the clogged traffic and slower lap speeds.
Those factors (married with stages carrying two predetermined cautions) will create opportunities for strategic innovation.
There are more 1.5-mile tracks ahead that also will feature low tire wear (on recently repaved surfaces). If yellows remain down as they were in Atlanta and Las Vegas, the risks taken by McCall and Knaus will be worthy of more consideration by other teams.
–Just passing through: When third-place finisher Kyle Busch was caught for speeding with just under 130 laps to go, it figured to be an arduous slog to get back on the lead lap, much less the top five. But it took 20 laps to achieve the former and 70 laps for the latter, leaving Busch still in a solid position to win over the final 50 laps.
Though track position still is vital with this package, Busch showed how a strong car and slower speeds make it possible to rebound quickly from an unscheduled trip to the pits under green. His No. 18 Toyota was leading when it sped on entry, and he fell off the lead lap after serving a pass-through penalty – but only because Busch and Byron had yet to stop.
When they did, the lead cycled on lap 150 to race winner Joey Logano, whom Busch had managed to stay in front of after pass-through. When the caution flew for the stage break 10 laps later, Busch was able to pit with the lead-lap cars in a fortuitous turn of events that stemmed from this year’s reduced horsepower.
With lap times down sharply (the pole speed fell more than 10 mph from a year earlier) but pit speeds remaining constant, Busch’s extra trip to the pits cost him a little more than 30 seconds, a duration in the neighborhood of the weekend’s fastest laps.
In 2018, when cars were turning laps 2 seconds quicker, he probably would have emerged on the lap behind Logano and would have had a tougher fight to regain the lead lap (via a wavearound or the free pass). Instead, he gained two spots on his Lap 163 stop and restarted in 16th with perhaps the fastest car and nearly 100 laps to overcome the deficit.
The mistake still cost him the win, but Busch had much more time to try to atone for it.
–But … don’t get penalized: OK, but all that said, getting penalized under green still can destroy a day more easily, as Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon learned the hard way.
Both drivers’ teams were penalized for too many men over the wall during pit stops midway through the first 80-lap stage. They ended the stage a lap down, and neither could fully recover, which put a damper on the promise of final-round qualifying appearances.
“I think we had a top 10 car, just never got the track position we needed,” said Dillon, who started in the top 10 but finished outside the top 15 for the second consecutive week. “We lost it from the beginning, and when you lose it, you can’t ever get it back.”
The two cautions were the fewest number for a full-distance race at Vegas since the yellow flew only twice in the March 1, 1998 inaugural.
This comes on the heels of an incident-free Atlanta Motor Speedway race that featured five cautions (two for stages, the other three were for competition/tire wear, debris and fluid).
So that means 900 miles have been run in NASCAR’s premier series without a driver so much as spinning on track once under highly competitive conditions.
Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising, though. These are world-elite drivers, and they’ve been handed an enormous amount of downforce.
Despite all the predictions of mass chaos on “crazy” restarts (side note: Restarts have been inherently “crazy” since they were changed to double file nearly 10 years ago), drivers seemed to get by just fine while going four wide a few laps at a time the past two races.
That seems nettlesome.
No one is rooting for wrecks, but caution flags can help enliven the show (within reason). Look no further than the 12 yellow flags in the previous race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which begs an interesting question.
Which was the better show at the 1.5-mile oval: Last year’s playoff opener or Sunday?
The smart money here is on the Sept. 16, 2018 race that was hailed by many as the best kickoff event in 15 years of NASCAR’s 10-race championship structure. With many championship contenders desperately pushing beyond the limits of their cars and tires, there were five restarts in the last 40 laps, and Kyle Larson delivered one of the greatest passes for the lead in 2018.
That race was run less than three weeks before NASCAR unveiled its 2019 rules package.
The two-race sample size is small, but Team Penske’s ability to adapt still should be hailed. The consecutive victories by Keselowski and Logano underscore that when things change in Cup, Penske is as nimble as any organization in addressing the challenge. Look no further than the 2014 move to group qualifying, and how quickly Keselowski and Logano became final-round fixtures.
The wild qualifying session at Las Vegas reminded Jimmie Johnson of the short-lived experiment with group qualifying on restrictor-plate tracks four years ago.
“I think it was great entertainment, but we were all afraid of how many cars we were going to tear up,” Johnson said. “So far, no cars are torn up (at Las Vegas), but I think that opportunity really exists.”
Regardless of what the temperature is among fan councils, social media surveys and satellite radio discussions, there is one given about the 2019 rules: They are here to stay.
There are no quick tweaks to this package. When you dramatically reduce horsepower, it requires some heavy lifting. That’s the reason the package wasn’t implemented for a few races last season after the 2018 All-Star Race; it would have been too much strain on engine builders.
This won’t unfold like the 2015 season when NASCAR quickly detoured into high-drag and low-downforce options because it was dissatisfied with 1.5-mile action
Backing up to the 2018 rules package would require months of work (never mind huge sums of cash) for engine builders who are boxed in by the hardware and logistics driven by meticulously scheduled inventories of V8 engines. It isn’t as simple as pulling out the aero ducts and tuning up the engines.
NASCAR is locked into 550 horsepower for the foreseeable future.
No matter what you thought of Sunday’s race, the reality is that package is here to stay.