Mark Rushbrook

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Hybridization of NASCAR cars not expected by 2021, Toyota executive says

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NASCAR and manufacturers have discussed the hybridization of future cars but one manufacturer executive said it won’t happen soon.

Relative to hybridization and electrification, quite simply, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how and when,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “A hybrid type of strategy is absolutely something that we’re looking at.

“Candidly, it won’t be something that we see as early as ’21. That’s, realistically, a little further down the road.”

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton said May 20 on the Dale Jr. Download that a key to the Gen 7 car — expected to debut in 2021 — would be to “make room for what might happen next. Not in the short-term, but if the automobile industry and the racing industry go down the road with some type of electrification, the chassis should have room for that. In the motor component, whatever evolution we go to in the next generation of power plants for the cars … we have the opportunity with a clean sheet of paper to build a chassis that can accommodate that easily without having to tear a car apart.”

Brad Keselowski wrote an essay last May titled: It’s time: The NASCAR hybrid. Keselowski wrote: “Not only am I sure that hybrids are the future of NASCAR — I believe it’s essential to the success of the sport that we embrace hybrid technology as soon as possible.”

Hybrids have become more important for manufacturers, Wilson said on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday.

“You look across the motorsports landscape, you’re seeing hybridization and electrification everywhere you look,” he said. “That again is simply a reflection of the automotive culture on a global basis. Today, Toyota has eight different hybrid vehicles in their lineup.”

Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, also was on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday and expressed the value of the Gen 7 car being able to incorporate hybrid elements in the future.

“I think Gen 7 gives an opportunity to bring more relevant elements of the car and the technology to what we’re selling in the showroom or what we’ll be selling more of in the future,” Campbell said. “Along with that is the ability of if we do that have an opportunity to attract more (manufacturers). So it all does really fit together. There’s still much work going on with the Gen 7.

“In terms of hybrid, I will tell you that every series we’re involved in, every single series Chevy is involved in … is looking at what is the opportunity to package protect or what are the options to include some element of hybridization. That’s really where it is right now. It’s in a discussion phrase. It hasn’t been locked down.”

In regards to hybridization coming to NASCAR, Wilson said on SiriusXM: “It is an inevitability from our perspective.”

Before the season, Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, said of hybrids: “As we change road cars, we’re not going directly from an internal combustion engine to electric. We’ll have hybrids along the way. I don’t know NASCAR needs to go full electric.

“Even if you continue racing the internal combustion engine, we get a ton of benefit from that and connection with the fans. The ability to put the hybrid in when the time is ready, that’ll continue to connect as fans’ cars and trucks go hybrid.”

Friday 5: Tensions between Cup teams test manufacturers

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Less than a month into the Cup season, there have been signs that the tenuous alliances among teams have not held up well on or off the track.

It’s led to an unease not often visible at this point in the season.

As the sport enters a time of transition — new rules, new car in 2021, new engine as early as 2022— can a manufacturer keep its teams together for these major projects? Or will there be fissures, much like what happened between Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing in 2016 and Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing last season?

At the same time, NASCAR seeks new manufacturers and any company that comes into the sport likely will take teams from current manufacturers. Are the seeds of discontent being sown now?

Already manufacturers have had to react to issues between their teams.

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, conceded this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that at Ford, “we’re a family and every family has issues.”

Just look at the issues Ford has had this season:

Joey Logano confronted fellow Ford driver Michael McDowell on pit road after the Daytona 500 for pushing a Toyota and not Logano’s Ford on the final lap. McDowell told the media he was not happy with how fellow Ford drivers treated him in that race.

Ford driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was not happy with Logano, who chastised Stenhouse on the radio for a move during the Daytona 500 that cost Logano several spots and, according to Logano, could have caused an accident.

“For sure we had our issues at Daytona, can’t deny that,” Rushbook said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week. “But as a family, we talked through those issues, tried to understand what led to those issues and then how can we fix that and make it even better going forward.”

Ford isn’t the only manufacturer that has had issues between some of its teams. Chevrolet understands the delicate balance between competition and cooperation.

Hendrick Motorsports partnered with Joe Gibbs Racing, a Toyota team, and not fellow Chevrolet teams Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing in the Daytona 500. The move was made to counter the strength of the Fords, which dominated both qualifying races and entered as the favorite to win the 500.

Kyle Larson’s comments this week on NASCAR America’s Splash & Go about Hendrick Motorsports “cheating” ruffled feelings in the Chevy camp. That led to a late-night Twitter apology from Larson and subsequent comments about how he had poorly chosen his words. Ganassi gets its engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Larson said Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that he had apologized to team owner Rick Hendrick. Said Larson: “We’re both moving on.”

There always will be conflict among competitors in the same camp. It’s natural with what is at stake each race weekend. But the manufacturers have stressed working together more. It was evident in how Toyota teams teamed together to win the 2016 Daytona 500 — a model adopted by others. At Ford, that banding of brothers is referred to as One Ford.

But this season, the slogan might be anything but togetherness.

2. New challenge for spotters

The new rules that are intended to tighten the competition at tracks — and should be the case this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway based on the January test — will change what spotters will do.

Many expect to be calling the race much like they do at Daytona and Talladega where they’re on radio almost constantly.

“I did a lot of talking in 25 laps,” Billy O’Dea, spotter for Ty Dillon, said, referring to the 25-lap races NASCAR held at the January test at Las Vegas.

One thing that spotters who were at the test noticed is that runs by cars behind their car were different from what they see in pack racing at Daytona or Talladega.

“In Daytona or Talladega, you don’t necessarily watch the car behind you,” said Tyler Green, spotter for Kurt Busch. “You watch  two or three behind because that’s where the runs come from.

“At Vegas, it seemed like you didn’t really watch the car two behind you. You watched the car right behind you. It just happens quick. There’s no really understanding of where the runs really come from unlike Daytona or Talladega.”

Other spotters at the test noticed that as well. That creates other challenges for them.

“Are they going to take (the run and try to pass) or are they just going to get close?” O’Dea said of what to tell a driver when a car behind has a run.

“When you see them moving, do you block it? It’s a lot of unknowns. Early in the race, do you really want to be blocking a guy going into (Turn) 1? If it’s continually a lot of passing, which I hope it is, it’s going to be a lot of give and take. It’s going to be interesting to see.”

Rocky Ryan, spotter for David Ragan, also was at the test. Ragan did not participate in the 25-lap races because he was driving the Ford wheel-force car, which has extra equipment on it and is too valuable to be risked in a race (the wheel-force cars for Chevrolet and Toyota also did not participate in those races).

During those races at the test, Ryan said he stood atop the spotters stand and acted as if he was spotting for a car to grasp how quickly things can happen in those drafts.

“The 15 of us that were there (for the test) will have a leg up on everybody,” Ryan said.

3. Drafting in qualifying

The expectation is that teams will draft in qualifying today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski, saw what the draft could do when the No. 2 team took part in the January test there.

“It seemed like at the Vegas test, the (aero) ducts made a difference,” Wolfe told NBC Sports. “Basing off of Vegas, it seems like there were two- or three-tenths of a second to be gained in the draft.

“I still don’t think it’s going to be a draft like you see at Daytona, but it’s more about timing it right to get a good suck up (on the car ahead). I don’t see us going out there running nose to tail. I still don’t see that. I could be wrong.”

Wolfe said they saw the draft make a difference when a car was a quarter of a straightaway behind another car.

“The more cars you have (in a draft), you get a faster suck up, for sure,” Wolfe said.

The key is to figure out who is going to be the trailing car to get that advantage, or if teams will run extra laps in qualifying and trade positions so each car will have that chance to take advantage of the draft.

4. On the way to Miami

If a trend holds true, one of the Championship Four contenders may be known after Sunday’s race at Las Vegas.

Since 2014, one of the drivers racing for the title at Miami has won within the first three races of the season.

Throw out the Daytona 500. No winner of that race since 2014 has made it to the championship race. So that means that either Brad Keselowski, who won last weekend at Atlanta, or Sunday’s winner could be headed for a chance at the championship — provided the trend continues.

Three times since 2014, the driver who went on to win the championship won within the first three races of the season: Harvick won the second race in 2014 (Phoenix), Jimmie Johnson won the second race in 2016 (Atlanta), and Martin Truex Jr. won the third race in 2017 (Las Vegas).

Last year, all four title contenders won for the first time that season within the first 10 races. Kevin Harvick won in the season’s second race (Atlanta). Truex won in the fifth race (Auto Club Speedway). Kyle Busch won in the seventh race (Texas). Joey Logano won in the 10th race (Talladega). Harvick and Busch had other wins within those first 10 races.

5. Familiar faces

Brad Keselowski’s victory last weekend at Atlanta kept a streak going.

Six drivers have combined to win the last 18 Cup races on 1.5-mile tracks. Martin Truex Jr. has six wins in that time, followed by Kevin Harvick (five wins), Kyle Busch (three), Keselowski (two), Joey Logano (one) and Chase Elliott (one).

The last time one of those drivers did not win a race at a 1.5-mile track was the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. Austin Dillon won that race.

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Ford executive intervened in Daytona squabble among drivers

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The global director of Ford Performance said the manufacturer intervened between Ford drivers after the Daytona 500, which saw a Toyota driver celebrate the win and Ford drivers fume at each other afterward.

Shortly after Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500, Ford driver Joey Logano exited his car on pit road and confronted fellow Ford driver Michael McDowell about McDowell not pushing him on the final lap. McDowell was upset with how he had been treated by Ford drivers earlier in the race. 

Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, told “The Morning Drive” Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Ford got involved with those issues afterward. 

“I will say that we frequently get involved,” he said. “We don’t always get involved, but certainly after Daytona, like I said, we’re a family and every family has issues. For sure we had our issues at Daytona, can’t deny that. But as a family, we talked through those issues, tried to understand what led to those issues and then how can we fix that and make it even better going forward.

“We were disappointed with the result at Daytona, I think every single one of our drivers and our company. I think a lot of that frustration played out postrace because we had fast cars, and we weren’t able to capitalize on it, so I think a lot of those emotions came to the front. But we’ve talked through them, and I think most of those wounds are healed, or I at least hope they are, and looking forward to continuing those relationships that we have.”

Ford preaches a “One Ford” mantra with its teams to emphasize the importance of working together.

Asked on “The Morning Drive” who intervenes from Ford in such situations, Rushbrook said: “A lot of that is me. The great thing with Edsel Ford (great-grandson of Ford founder Henry Ford), we call him ‘The Godfather of Ford Racing.’ He will sit down with the drivers when they’re at the track. When Edsel Ford speaks, I think it carries a lot of weight and the drivers listen and they put a lot of value into that.

“But Edsel is not at the track every weekend so a lot of that will fall to me or Pat DiMarco (NASCAR Program Supervisor, Ford Performance), and we have open relationships with our drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors. If we see an issue, we’re going to talk to them about it and understand what is going on and the best way to go forward. It’s a family. We talk through it and find a way to keep going.”

This week things were better for Ford, which celebrated the first Cup win for the Mustang with Brad Keselowski winning at Atlanta.

“That was really great to see,” Rushbrook said. “So much hard work has gone into that program for well over a year and a half and to see it come together like that with five Mustangs in the top 10 and Brad pushing through the flu that he was fighting and get it to victory lane, that was awesome.”

Friday 5: What Joey Logano has in common with other champions

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While Joey Logano might not have had the best season statistically, he left Miami as the Cup champion.

For those who question Logano’s merits as a champ because he didn’t win the most races, understand that it is common for the champion to not have the most wins in a season.

In the last 20 years, the champion has not had the most wins 65 percent of the time. That’s a stretch that includes when the championship was decided by season-long points total, when the Chase was created and when the elimination format debuted in 2014 that led to the one-race championship.

Logano admits that he didn’t think he was a title contender in the first third of the season.

“I thought, man, if we get to the Round of Eight, that’s pretty good this year for where we were at the time,” Logano said. “We were consistent, that’s what kept us up in the points all year long. We didn’t have many bad races throughout the season.

“But I guess just as the playoffs went, everyone rose to the occasion. You always talk about how you have to find another little bit inside of you to just maintain when the playoffs starts because everyone is able to get a little bit better, and then as we do that, we started running better, and we were running top five and winning stages.”

And becoming a champion.

Logano is in some good company among champions who didn’t win the most races in their title season.

In four of Jimmie Johnson’s seven championship years, he did not have the most wins those seasons. In two of Tony Stewart’s three championship years, he did not have the most wins those years.

Logano’s three wins this season are the fewest for a champion since Kurt Busch won three times in 2004. Matt Kenseth has the fewest wins for a champion in the last 20 years with one when he won the title in 2003 — the last championship determined by the season-long points total.

2. Changes coming?

While the idea of a spending limit for teams was discussed in the recent owners meeting a few days before the season finale in Miami, nothing is expected for next year.

“I think there’s two things when you start to consider financial stuff,” car owner Joe Gibbs told NBC Sports. “There’s cut and revenue. I think that’s where we are, trying to get those two to meet so you have healthy owners, healthy sport and you’re inviting new people to come in, all those things are a part of it.

“I think right now is a critical time. Maybe I look at every year that way, but right now is a big, big, critical time for our sport, where we’re going. I think there will be some big decisions within the next year.”

Gibbs said the owners and NASCAR also discussed how to get more fans to attend races.

“There’s all kinds of things that affect that, our racing on the track, what it takes to come to the race, our venue, where we go racing some places are obviously better than others,” Gibbs said. “All those kind of things are wrapped into it. The one thing I’m really thankful for is NASCAR and now Jim (France, interim Chairman) being involved the way he is, they’ve been pretty aggressive on not being afraid to go after stuff and change stuff, which I think is good.”

3. What a difference a year makes

After last year’s season finale in Miami, Brad Keselowski noted Toyota’s dominance and looked ahead to a 2018 that featured a new car for Chevrolet.

“As to what will happen for 2018, you know, I don’t know,” Keselowski said after the race a year ago. “I would assume that Chevrolet will be allowed to design a car the same way that Toyota was for this one, but Ford doesn’t have any current plans for that. If that’s the case, we’re going to take a drubbing next year, so we’ll have to see.”

This year featured the debut of the Optical Scanning Station, a camera-based inspection station that scrutinized the car in a way it hadn’t before. Ford teams hoped before the season that it would keep all three manufacturers close.

When the checkered flag waved in Miami last weekend, Keselowski’s teammate, Joey Logano, won the race for Ford — the company’s 19th Cup victory in 36 points races. Logano’s championship marked the first time since 1999 that Ford won the driver and manufacturer’s title in Cup in the same year.

“I’m certain that the inspection process … that changes part of it because any time you go through a big change like that, it does affect how the teams prepare the cars and bring the cars to the track,” Mark Rushbrook, Global Director of Ford Performance said of what led to the manufacturer’s success this season.

“But I think the biggest part is the advanced tools that we’ve developed over the last couple years have really matured to the point that they were able to help us, especially in the area of CFD, where we use that advanced computational fluid dynamics tool, the same tool that we use on our road cars and road trucks to make them better. 

“We have turned that and applied it into racing starting two years ago, and it took a little bit of time to adjust those tools, test those tools in this environment to make them even better, and now that is paying off on the performance on the track with the Fusion with what we’ve seen, hopefully contributing to the Mustang to come strong out of the box at Daytona next year.”

4. Gone but not forgotten

Overlooked Sunday was JJ Yeley’s 32nd-place finish with the team that once was BK Racing.

Days before the Daytona 500, BK Racing owner Ron Devine put his team in Chapter 11 bankruptcy to keep a bank that stated it was owed more than $8 million from taking the team’s charter.

So began numerous court hearings over the year that eventually led to a judge approving a Trustee to run the team instead of Devine and eventually the sale of the team in August. Front Row Motorsports purchased BK Racing for $2.08 million and kept the team intact.

During all that and after the sale, the team ran every race — as required by the charter it had.

It wasn’t pretty. The team finished 35th among the 36 charter teams in owner points, but the team made it to the end.

5. Something to ponder

Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, which owns, among other things, Formula One and the Atlanta Braves, gave a wide-ranging interview with NBC News this week.

Maffei was asked about NASCAR possibly being on the market.

“We like motor sports,” Maffei said. “If NASCAR were available, we’d certainly take a look.”

During an investor analysts call May 10, Maffei responded to a question about if NASCAR in light of the reports then that NASCAR could be for sale.

“I think it’s not as clear what the synergies are between the two assets (Formula One and NASCAR), and I would note the trends have not been perfect in NASCAR,” Maffei said. “Unless we had a good thesis on how and why we could fix them, it’s not an obvious to us.” 

Friday 5: Jeffrey Earnhardt is tired of being ‘bullied’ on the track

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Jeffrey Earnhardt is tired of being “bullied” on the track and says he’s “not going to take shit” from other competitors.

Earnhardt, who has had an indirect role in key moments in recent races, made his comments Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Dialed In” show.

“You don’t want to feel used, and I feel like we have been used here lately,” Earnhardt told host Claire B. Lang. “We’re tired of being the victims. Whether we start making the other people the victims, whatever it takes, but we don’t want to keep feeling like we’re being bullied and we feel like we are right now.”

Earnhardt’s latest frustration is with Daniel Hemric. They raced together into the final chicane of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval. Earnhardt’s car spun after contact from Hemric’s car.

Earnhardt’s car stalled less than 100 yards from the finish line. That allowed Kyle Larson’s wrecked car to pass him and gain the one position he needed to advance to the second round, which begins this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

“I like to think that I race clean and give people room and then they do shit like that, it gets under your skin,” Earnhardt said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the contact from Hemric.

This marked the third time in the last four races that Earnhardt has had an impact on a race.

At Indianapolis, he and Landon Cassill wrecked, setting up the final caution that changed the race’s outcome.

Of that incident, Earnhardt said: “We went into the corner and his story and my story are two different things.”

That caution eliminated Denny Hamlin’s lead and allowed Brad Keselowski to pass Hamlin coming to the white flag and win.

A frustrated Hamlin said afterward: “Just those meaningless cautions at the end by drivers multiple laps down. What they’re doing crashing with three laps to go, I have no idea. It cost us the race.”

Earnhardt did not appreciate Hamlin’s comments.

“The meaningless driver comment was just not smart,” Earnhardt told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It shows a lack of respect for me or anyone else that are back there that are fighting to make a career out of this.”

At Richmond, Earnhardt caused the only caution of the race — other than the two stage breaks — after contact from Matt Kenseth. NASCAR penalized Kenseth for a commitment line violation and speeding entering the pits on Lap 321. His contact with Earnhardt led to a caution at Lap 327.

On the radio after the incident, Kenseth said: “Tell him, my bad. I drug up the splitter and hit. My bad. Tell him I’m sorry about that.”

Earnhardt was frustrated about that incident as well.

“He can say he was on the splitter if he wants … I don’t agree with what he says,” Earnhardt said.

“It does suck. These guys that feel they can pick on us and use us as a crutch to make their day better. Who knows. There have been several races we didn’t fire off that great, I was wishing for a caution. Maybe I’ll start doing the same. Maybe I’ll use them to get a caution so we can come in and work on our car and make it better.”

2. Manufacturer support

Throughout NASCAR’s explanation this week for deciding on a 2019 rules package that includes a tapered spacer to limit engines to 550 horsepower at many big tracks and 750 horsepower at other tracks was how that could help entice more manufacturers to enter the sport.

It’s no secret that NASCAR would like at least another manufacturer at the Cup level.

“It’s not just today,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said about the impact of the new rules package. “It kind of falls into where we want to go with the next Gen car.

“A lot of that is going to be based on new technology in the car and a lot of that is going to be based on efficiencies, potentially for the team owners, (manufacturers), putting an engine in place from a horsepower level that could be more relevant in the future that could attract new (manufacturers), which is key and make the owners that we have in this sport healthier and also attract new owners.”

A new manufacturer or manufacturers could be critical to the sport. Even with the charter system, teams must still rely heavily on sponsorship to fund teams. Additional manufacturers could provide greater financial support for charter teams and potentially balance the competition.

Toyota, which backs five teams, has won 12 of 29 races this season. Ford, which backs more than twice as many teams as Toyota, has won 15 of 29 races. Chevrolet has two wins this season (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500 and Chase Elliott at Watkins Glen).

O’Donnell said that NASCAR is hearing from manufacturers investigating the series.

“Lot more of our calls are being answered, a lot more meetings are taking place with potential new (manufacturers),” he said. “I think where we landed on 2019 sets us up well for the immediate future but long-term as well.”

We’ll find out.

3. Step forward

Chase Briscoe’s victory in last weekend’s Xfinity race at the Charlotte Roval was another key moment for Ford and its driver development program.

Briscoe was the first driver signed to the multi-tiered program Ford announced in January 2017.

Briscoe and Austin Cindric joined Brad Keselowski Racing’s Camping World Truck Series team in 2017. Each won a race.

Cindric is in the Xfinity playoffs this season. Briscoe isn’t because he’s not running the full schedule. Other Ford development drivers are Cole Custer, who also is in the Xfinity playoffs and has one career series win, and Ty Majeski.

“It won’t pay dividends until they actually get to the Cup level because that’s ultimately the goal of what we want to do,” said Mark Rushbrook, Global Director, Ford Performance, of the driver development program. “But we are happy with the start that we’ve had to our development program over the last two years and look forward to continuing to expand that,”

4. Betting at the track

With sports betting legal in Delaware, fans will be able to bet for the first time at a NASCAR track this weekend.

Dover International Speedway will have two kiosks accepting sports bets.

Sunday’s race will have extra gambling options, including bets on driver vs. driver, number of cautions and if the winning car number is an even number or odd number, among other prop bets.

Betting won’t be limited to Saturday’s Xfinity and Sunday’s Cup race. Fans can bet on pro football, baseball, college football, MMA and other sports at the kiosks.

5. Say what?

Consider this: Jimmie Johnson has more wins at Dover (11) than 28 other Cup drivers entered this weekend have in their Cup career.

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