Martinsville Speedway

Long: Martin Truex Jr.’s latest win gives him extra reason to boast

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What might be as remarkable as Martin Truex Jr. ending an 80-race winless streak on short tracks Saturday at Richmond Raceway is that he now has victories with four different organizations.

No other active Cup driver can boast that.

Not every driver has the chance to stay with one organization their whole career as Jeff Gordon did and Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin are doing, so what Truex has done is quite an accomplishment.

Then consider that three previous teams he won with — Dale Earnhardt Inc., Michael Waltrip Racing and Furniture Row Racing — are no longer in the sport.

Truex’s first career Cup victory came in 2007 with Dale Earnhardt Inc. His next victory wasn’t until 2013 at Michael Waltrip Racing. He lost his ride after that season when NAPA left the organization as a sponsor after the penalties NASCAR assessed MWR for its actions in the fall Richmond race. Truex then went to Furniture Row Racing and won 17 races before it closed its doors after last season.

Truex’s win at Richmond came with Joe Gibbs Racing.

While some members of Truex’s team at Furniture Row Racing followed him and crew chief Cole Pearn to JGR, not all did.

“It’s a new group of guys and a new group of people,” Truex said. “New pit crew. Just the way everybody fits together, works together – it’s a little bit different and that’s always something that can take a while to get rolling.”

Although he was a part of competition meetings in the past — Furniture Row Racing was aligned with JGR — Truex admits those meetings feel a bit different now.

“You feel like part of the team now and not a competitor,” he said.

Even with joining Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex’s team does have some independence.

“I think for the most part, for what I see, we get to do our own thing and we have leeway to make some options here and there and make decisions,” he said. “Some guys want to go down one path, and if we want to go down a different one, then certainly I feel like we have the ability to do that.”

Truex’s victory separated him from a group of active drivers who have won with three different organizations.

Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman each has wins with three different organizations.

Bowyer has won with Richard Childress Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch has won with Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman has won with Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Busch, who is with Chip Ganassi Racing, and Newman, who is with Roush Fenway Racing, could join Truex with having at least one victory with four different organizations if they win with their new teams this season.


How challenging was Saturday night’s race for drivers at Richmond?

Here’s what some said:

“Hard to pass,” Kyle Busch said repeatedly after the race.

“I could only gain two or three positions at a time per run,” said Denny Hamlin, who finished fifth after he started at the rear because his car failed inspection before the race. “It literally took us 400 laps to get to the top five. … I just got caught behind guys I was faster than, I just couldn’t get around them.”

Asked how aero dependent the cars are even on a short track, runner-up Joey Logano said: “Very, very, very, very, very aero dependent. Clean air is worth a lot. … It gets really tough when you get behind cars. The tire Goodyear brought didn’t rubber the race track at all, so we were all kind of stuck on the bottom, couldn’t find much area to get clean air.”

Said winner Martin Truex Jr.: “Man, it’s just tough. You already have no grip at all, your tires are completely wore out, feel like you’re running on bologna skins, and you catch a car and you feel like you lose all the air in your car. It feels like you’re driving on a road … you’re going around a turn, everything is fine, you feel normal, and you hit black ice. What happens? That’s the difference between being in front of a car and behind a car. You just lose all that grip.”

Here’s what Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the rules package:

“I continue to say and believe that directionally this is the right call. I’d say that we’ve moved on to this is the 2019 rules package and we’re happy with it. We continue to learn, obviously, each track we go to. Each track presents a different challenge.

“Any time you can run a long, long green-flag run with 145 laps and have four drivers in contention there at the end, I view as a success. You can always learn and always make some tweaks, which we will continue to do, but all in all really happy with the direction we’ve gone and continue to learn.”

Saturday’s Richmond race had 359 green-flag laps, featuring 1,238 green-flag passes. Chase Elliott had a race-high 73 green-flag passes. Hamlin and Aric Almirola were next with 71 each.

Last year’s spring race at Richmond had 356 green-flag laps, featuring 2,495 green-flag passes. Danica Patrick had a race-high 119 green-flag passes. Eighteen drivers had more than 73 green-flag passes.


For all the angst Kyle Larson has gone through lately, perhaps the biggest blow to his season was a speeding penalty at Atlanta.

While Larson has finished 37th or worse in two of the last three races and placed outside the top 15 in the last four races, the penalty at Atlanta cost him a chance to win.

He led 142 of the first 223 laps that day before the speeding penalty and couldn’t recover, finishing 12th. Although a win wouldn’t have changed the recent results he’s had, it could have cushioned some of the disappointment with the team set for the playoffs.

Instead, Larson’s struggles have dropped him to 19th in the points and outside a playoff spot.

After he fell out of Saturday night’s race at Richmond, Larson said: “It’s been a pretty crappy start to the year.”

Car owner Chip Ganassi understands Larson’s frustration.

“He’s in what I would call one of those rough career slumps for one reason or another,” Ganassi said before Sunday’s IndyCar race at Long Beach. “Yeah. I’d like to tell you that it was his fault or mine. I think we have had our moments when it’s been our team’s fault or his.

“What happens is it starts a snowball thing. Once that little thing happens, it often times is out of everybody’s control, and it snowballs. It’s just unfortunate.

“He has my full support. He has the team’s full support. He knows that there’s nothing that we or the team or anybody else wants more than to put a weekend together. It’ll be coming soon, I’m confident.”


What to do about qualifying?

NASCAR made each round of Cup qualifying five minutes at Richmond, reducing the first and second round from 10 minutes.

The point was to keep cars from sitting on pit road for part of the session, which happened the week before at Bristol. Drivers sat at Bristol because no one wanted to be first out on track because the traction compound didn’t activate until it had some heat in it. When it didn’t have that heat (such as when it sat there with no cars on track), it was slick. So drivers waited.

There was no traction compound used at Richmond so that wouldn’t have been a reason for the field to sit on pit road. 

“The optics of drivers sitting on pit road I don’t think works for the sport,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday. “I think the teams would agree with that as well. We looked at cutting down the time.

“All in all, I think it worked out well. We’re still continuing to look at what we want to do beyond Talladega (single-car qualifying) and have some additional discussions.”

Opinion was mixed on the change to the qualifying format at Richmond.

When you come to Richmond you’re looking for clean air,” Joey Logano said. “The tracks you’re looking for clean air, we don’t have to have to have that rule (five minutes per round). But when we go to the (tracks where drafting plays a role), that’s where you need it.”

One issue is that with only five minutes per round, it makes it difficult for a team to make more than one attempt per round. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made two runs in the second round but wasn’t fast enough on his last attempt to advance to the final round.

“It wasn’t adequate to go out twice,” Stenhouse said. “With five-minute rounds, the whole group qualifying format of coming in and going back out, that was the reasoning behind doing the group, you’ve kind of eliminated it.

“We were in the first wave of cars on the track, came right back in and started cooling it down and tried to get tire pressures where we needed. You just don’t have enough time. So as far as coming in and going back out and knocking people out, it’s not going to happen.”


Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway, told NBC Sports that the track has taken deposits from people in 32 states and Canada for the May 2020 race. The track’s spring date next year moves to May 9, the day before Mother’s Day.

Campbell said that the track plans to send out renewal notices in early summer for that May 2020 race, but fans wanting tickets to that event can put down a deposit of $20 per ticket with the track now.

Nate Ryan contributed to this report

2020 sees Xfinity back at Martinsville, Trucks return to Richmond

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The Xfinity Series will return to Martinsville Speedway in 2020 and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series will return to Richmond Raceway, NASCAR announced in revealing next year’s schedules for both series.

The announcements come a week after the 2020 Cup schedule was revealed.

Like the Cup Series, both the Xfinity and Truck Series will hold their final playoff elimination races at Martinsville Speedway.

The Oct. 30 Truck race – the series’ only trip to Martinsville next year – will be held under the lights. The next day’s Xfinity race will be the series’ first on the short track since 2006 and just its second since 1994.

The Truck Series will return to Richmond Raceway (April 18) for its first visit to the short track since 2005.

Both series will again hold a doubleheader at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with it coming on March 14.

Both series will also be part of the Cup Series’ doubleheader at Pocono Raceway in June.

The Trucks will race on June 27 (a Saturday), with the Xfinity Series competing on June 28.

Gateway Motorsports Park will host the Truck Series playoff opener on Aug. 21.

Richmond will serve as the site of the Xfinity Series playoff opener on Sept. 11.

The Xfinity Series’ first road-course race will come earlier, with a visit to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on May 30. The race is on Aug. 10 this year.

While the Cup Series will take two weeks off in August during the Olympics, the Xfinity and Truck Series will be in action during that time.

Trucks will have their annual dirt race at Eldora Speedway on Thursday, July 30.

Xfinity will visit Iowa Speedway for the second time two days later.

Below are the full schedules.

2020 Xfinity schedule

DATE TRACK
Saturday, Feb. 15 Daytona International Speedway
Saturday, Feb. 22 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Saturday, Feb. 29 Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, March 7 ISM Raceway
Saturday, March 14 Atlanta Motor Speedway
Saturday, March 21 Homestead-Miami Speedway
Saturday, March 28 Texas Motor Speedway
Saturday, April 4 Bristol Motor Speedway
Saturday, April 25 Talladega Superspeedway
Saturday, May 2 Dover International Speedway
Saturday, May 23 Charlotte Motor Speedway
Saturday, May 30 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Saturday, June 6 Michigan International Speedway
Saturday, June 13 Iowa Speedway
Saturday, June 20 Chicagoland Speedway
Sunday, June 28 Pocono Raceway
Saturday, July 4 Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Friday, July 10 Kentucky Speedway
Saturday, July 18 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Saturday, Aug. 1 Iowa Speedway
Saturday, Aug. 8 Road America
Saturday, Aug. 15 Watkins Glen International
Saturday, Aug. 22 Dover International Speedway
Friday, Aug. 28 Daytona International Speedway
Saturday, Sept. 5 Darlington Raceway
Friday, Sept. 11 Richmond Raceway
Friday, Sept. 18 Bristol Motor Speedway
Saturday, Sept. 26 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Saturday, Oct. 10 Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
Saturday, Oct. 17 Kansas Speedway
Saturday, Oct. 24 Texas Motor Speedway
Saturday, Oct. 31 Martinsville Speedway
Saturday, Nov. 7 ISM Raceway

 

2020 NASCAR GANDER OUTDOORS TRUCK SERIES SCHEDULE

DATE TRACK
Friday, Feb. 14 Daytona International Speedway
Friday, Feb. 21 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Saturday, March 14 Atlanta Motor Speedway
Friday, March 20 Homestead-Miami Speedway
Friday, March 27 Texas Motor Speedway
Saturday, April 18 Richmond Raceway
Friday, May 1 Dover International Speedway
Friday, May 15 Charlotte Motor Speedway
Saturday, May 30 Kansas Speedway
Friday, June 5 Texas Motor Speedway
Friday, June 12 Iowa Speedway
Friday, June 19 Chicagoland Speedway
Saturday, June 27 Pocono Raceway
Thursday, July 9 Kentucky Speedway
Thursday, July 30 Eldora Speedway
Saturday, Aug. 8 Michigan International Speedway
Friday, Aug. 21 Gateway Motorsports Park
Sunday, Sept. 6 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
Thursday, Sept. 17 Bristol Motor Speedway
Friday, Sept. 25 Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Saturday, Oct. 3 Talladega Superspeedway
Friday, Oct. 30 Martinsville Speedway
Friday, Nov. 6 ISM Raceway

Ryan: Was the story of Martinsville the tame, the typical, or the tires?

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It was a “typical Martinsville race” that also seemed “tame,” according to one driver who knows the track as well as anyone.

Passing was only achievable for the third-place car during the first five laps after a restart … but was much easier after the first five laps for the fifth-place car.

There were the fewest lead changes (three) in more than 51 years at the 0.526-mile oval, yet the battles for first place between Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott still were compelling.

The STP 500 proved again that the difficulty of evaluating the 2019 rules package is as much about the eye of the beholder as the eye test.

Was Sunday’s race among the greatest held at Martinsville Speedway?

No.

Was it better than last year’s snow-delayed race in which drivers headed for off-week vacations seemed more preoccupied with logging laps than banging fenders?

Yes, from this corner.

But there were, as usual, some firm takeaways, too. So here they are.

–Aerodynamics mattered more than ever at Martinsville: Crew chief Paul Wolfe was “caught off guard” the minute Keselowski’s winning Ford hit the track for practice Saturday morning at Martinsville, a place “you don’t feel like it’s much of an aero track.”

Until this past weekend.

“We weren’t as good as I thought we would be (to start practice),” Wolfe said. “We felt the effects of the aero changes even though this is one of the slower tracks we race at. So, we scrambled a little bit. … We had to work on our setup quite a bit from what had worked for us in the past.  And we knew there would be a little difference, but it was probably more than I expected.”

It was a common refrain throughout two days from Martinsville from drivers who pointed at aerodynamic dependence on a flat track. Denny Hamlin pointed to the turbulent wake from the lead car as the reason “you can’t really run directly behind somebody. Other than that, typical Martinsville race. The spoiler is just so big, it takes so much air off the car behind. You have to run a different line. The bottom is the fastest, so it’s very difficult once you get behind to pass someone (on the outside).”

Kyle Busch said if he didn’t pass a car in the first five laps of a run, it took about 60 more for tire degradation to allow for significant advancement. “There’s so much downforce; we’re going through the corners so fast,” he said. “There’s no way to go around the outside of somebody.”

Keselowski led 445 laps, but even he didn’t believe his No. 2 Ford necessarily was better than Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet. After getting passed under green by Elliott on Lap 325, Keselowski figured he’d lost the race until his pit crew gave him back the lead for good with 126 laps remaining.

That underscored the advantage of having a clean track, and it also suggests that aerodynamics will be a larger factor at every oval this season. The next instance in which it’ll be more noticeable than ever likely will be the April 7 race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which is expected to produce lightning-fast laps.

Chase Elliott was the only driver to pass Brad Keselowski under green Sunday (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

“The higher the speeds, the more these aerodynamics take effect and the harder it will be to pass,” Hamlin said. “If any track is where the aero package really isn’t going to matter, it would be (Martinsville). So anywhere that gets a little faster in speed, it’ll be that much harder. The speeds definitely will be high (at Bristol), but you’ll have to make your car work where somebody else’s isn’t. You definitely won’t be able to run directly behind them.”

Said Wolfe: “For sure going to Bristol, I think we’re going to notice the effects of it, and all the short tracks as we move forward. It’s changed things for sure and keeps you on your toes.”

–While tire wear mattered much less, but …: Hardly any teams took advantage on jumping spots with two-tire stops.

That was one of many curious developments in a race that somehow featured all significant pit stops happening under caution. A 500-lap race at Martinsville typically has at least one green-flag pit cycle, yet Sunday’s race had none despite only seven cautions (excluding stage yellows, it would have marked only the third time in 30 years that a Martinsville race had five or fewer cautions).

The dearth of multicar wrecks (Sunday’s race had one) furthered a perplexing 2019 trend that again raises questions of whether the cars are too stuck to the track.

But in the short term, NASCAR hopefully will be leaning on Goodyear to construct a Martinsville tire that has more wear.

“We’ll look at everything, particularly tires and tire wear,” NASCAR senior vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said Monday on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel. “There didn’t seem to be a lot of that in either (the truck or Cup) race, so we’ve got to go back and look at what’s happening, particularly at Martinsville. That’s a big component of that race and something we need to have going forward.”

Of course, the Oct. 27 race might unfold completely differently (like last year) solely because there will be so much on the line in the playoffs (and even more so in 2020 when it becomes a cutoff race).

“Yeah, it seems like it’s always the fall that everyone goes crazy,” Hamlin said. “It just seemed like a tame race (Sunday). Even when I got to the back, it wasn’t huge log-jam packups like you’ve seen in the past. Everyone just kind of kept it in control, and these cars are really stuck to the ground so much, you really don’t get out of control that much. You’ve got what you’ve got.”

–That’s it, what’s next? In the past five races, the 2019 rules package has been used on ovals with lengths of 1.5 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile and a half-mile. Aside from road courses, it’s now undergone real-world testing at virtually every type of track in NASCAR’s premier series.

It would be fair to begin evaluating its efficacy and considering possible changes – with some parameters.

Any significant alterations to the horsepower and tapered spacer are a virtual nonstarter. Engine builders set their inventories months ahead, and adjustments would take massive effort and money (engines already are being sealed in Cup to reduce on both of those things).

If NASCAR wanted to tweak aero by reducing the height of its enormous spoilers, it would have an impact on reducing corner speeds with the 750-horsepower engines used at smaller tracks such as Martinsville.

But the challenge is that any such moves would need approval from team owners per the charter agreements. There was heavy pressure from teams to contain costs by consolidating the race package into two iterations this season, and any suggestion of in-season changes this year – which immediately would trigger more R&D spending – probably would draw pushback.

The last time NASCAR made major rules changes in season was when it experimented four years ago with the low-downforce and high-drag packages – both of which were the reaction to a lackluster start to 2015 that many blamed on high-corner speeds.

Those changes caused an unexpected seven-figure spike in the budgets for powerhouse teams, who probably would be open to considering tweaks if necessary but understandably wary of what it means for their wallets.


Another compelling reason to hold off on overhauling this year’s model is because it’s short-lived.

With an aggressive target date of the 2021 Daytona 500, there is furious work occurring behind the scenes on the Gen 7 car – its visual stylings, its features and parts (some of which are expected to be common) and its impact on helping keep team budgets in check.

It’s expected that on-track testing for the 2021 model will happen before the end of this season (and many believe it probably should have begun last season), and the goal is a fleet of five to seven cars per team (as opposed to roughly three times as many under the current model) with a budget far south of the $25-30 million that currently is estimated to be spent on championship entries.

Roger Penske recently was outspoken on the need to have the Gen 7 within two years to bring costs in line, and it was fittingly from an interview at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix season opener for IndyCar.

During the most recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Front Row Motorsports general manager Jerry Freeze said Penske and Chip Ganassi have been forthright about the impact of the Dallara in IndyCar (which made the switch to a common chassis seven years ago).

“In team owner council meetings, we talk about areas to race in, and Mr. Penske and Mr. Ganassi are quite outspoken about what they’ve done in IndyCar,” Freeze said. “There’s one place you go to get your chassis. I don’t know all the parts and components very well with IndyCar racing, but I really think that’s the direction that’s being talked about with the Gen 7 car. Dictate the areas that you’re going to race in and areas you aren’t going to race in and try to drive some costs down.

“Listening to (Penske and Ganassi) have firsthand experience with that, it seems to have worked with viable IndyCar teams that are still very competitive, and their racing has been fantastic from the races I’ve watched. They still have a loyal, passionate fan base. We’re all observing how they do it, and I think some of those methods will be replicated across our sport.”

Penske estimated that IndyCar budgets top out at $10 million annually (across a 17-race schedule) for championship-caliber teams, which are limited on the amount that can be spent on research and development.

There are signs that it can work in NASCAR, too. The move to a common pit gun last year helped keep in check teams spending seven figures annually on pit stop equipment. “We don’t want to go to an all-spec series,” Freeze said. “That’s been done before, and I don’t think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for that. That’s the balance now. What areas do we need to not be racing in, and what areas can we race in without breaking the bank? If everybody agrees you can standardize the chassis and don’t have a speedway car vs. road course car.

“We’re taking some steps to refine our package that caused cost increases for us in specializing cars. With the new package, that’s one thing that could be addressed if you just lock it in that this is the chassis or body you’ve got, you shouldn’t need a whole lot of inventory.”

You can hear Freeze’s discussion of the Gen 7 car at around the 30:00 mark of the embedded audio player below, or listen and subscribe to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get podcasts.


Ford was the first manufacturer to unveil its Gen 6 car, and Brad Keselowski was on record as far back as six months into its first season in 2013 that the hasty rollout was a marketing-driven misstep.

He took agency in ensuring it wouldn’t happen again with the development of the Mustang for its debut this season. The 2012 champion made several wind tunnel visits and peppered engineers with questions about the new model’s on-track viability.

Though he always is outspoken about the potential disparity between manufacturers, Keselowski also is well known within Ford’s NASCAR program for being a highly inquisitive driver who probes the R&D of his race cars with the exacting will of a world champion.

Keselowski provided a window into his hands-on style Sunday when asked about whether he was worried his team was peaking too early in the year.

“I think about that every day,” he said. “Every day I wake up in the morning and say, ‘Am I better today than I was yesterday?’ And if I’m not, and if we’re not, we’re going to lose. That’s the simple matter of this. The sport is very dynamic. Technology is changing every day.  Somewhere out there right now someone is working on the next advancement that’s going to be critical to winning the playoffs, and we don’t know about it. Might be another team, might be someone in our own group. If we stay stagnant, it’s guaranteed we will fall.

“So, I think about it every day. The only thing I know to do is just be super annoying.  That’s really all I know.  All I know is to go in and sit in on meetings and ask questions that make people squirm and watch them squirm and watch their face, and when they squirm, are they squirming because they should be squirming, or are they squirming because they just don’t want to work?

“And that’s all I know. I wish I was smarter than that.  I wish I was better than that.  But all I know how to do is read their body language and see if they’ve got more than I think they’ve got or if this is all we’ve got and push those people.”


Nearly as eye-opening as his sublime drive Sunday were Keselowski’s candid comments about getting more active in finding funding for Team Penske.

Opening his postrace interview in the media center by noting “we’re fighting so hard to keep sponsors,” Keselowski disclosed he has taken on more responsibility for ensuring his No. 2 Ford as a championship-caliber budget for 2020 (this season is set).

That certainly casts some doubt on the future of Miller Lite, which was the full-season primary sponsor of the No. 2 as recently as 2013. Amid branding and ownership changes at its parent company, the beer company has scaled back in recent seasons.

This was the second consecutive season Miller Lite wasn’t the primary hood sponsor for the Daytona 500, and it has yet to be the primary in any of Keselowski’s races this season.

Last year, Team Penske said Miller Lite was the sponsor of 11 races. According to the team after a Nov. 3, 2017 news release, Miller Lite’s deal was for “2018 and beyond.”


Roughly 24 hours before his first finish outside the top 20 at Martinsville in five years and only his fourth in 35 starts at the 0.526-mile oval, Jimmie Johnson struck a positive tone while also already seeming to reckon with what might lie ahead.

“History helps the week coming into the race, but as soon as timing and scoring starts on Friday or Saturday, reality is reality,” the nine-time winner at Martinsville said Saturday after qualifying 11th – the highlight of a dismal weekend at a normally illustrious track for the seven-time champion. “We’ve had a good car, so I still think we’re missing a little bit. I think we’re in a decent spot. Hopefully a top five will be on the books for us.”

William Byron passes Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

It wasn’t. Johnson finished two laps down in 24th solely because his No. 48 Camaro was just that slow. There were no pit penalties or accidents that hampered the superstar once dubbed “Mr. Martinsville” by Jeff Gordon.

Johnson’s struggle was a jarring juxtaposition with his Hendrick teammates.

Elliott challenged Keselowski with the verve that Johnson once showed in dethroning Gordon as the best driver at Martinsville. Alex Bowman was a solid top-15 driver for 500 laps, and even William Byron finished two spots ahead of Johnson despite starting from the back and overcoming a half-spin.

It was a sobering reality for Johnson, who is 15th in points through six races with new crew chief Kevin Meendering. That relationship still is developing, and there have been small victories such as making the final round of qualifying in four of the past five races.

“We’re getting practice sessions sorted out,” Johnson said. “We’re qualifying better. We’re having some good first halves of races. We’ve had a couple of good full races. But that consistency from first practice session through the end of the race is what we’re trying to hit on now.”

They will need to hit on it soon or the possibility of Johnson missing the playoffs for the first time in his 18 seasons will become disturbingly real.


There’s been no official confirmation of its demise, but NASCAR’s decision on group qualifying further underscored the Drivers Council is gone and likely for good.

Before announcing a new penalty Monday for failure to make a timed lap during any round of qualifying, drivers’ opinions hardly were solicited, according to those surveyed at Martinsville. The door to the NASCAR hauler remains open – Jimmie Johnson said he made a visit after Fontana quals – and there were several conversations between officials and drivers about group qualifying dating to last October’s 2018 announcement.

But as far as a formal gathering between NASCAR and drivers to discuss big-picture issues – which had been a regular occurrence since the Drivers Council’s inception in 2015 – there has been none this year or any scheduled in the future.

“I wouldn’t read too far into there not being a Driver Council,” Johnson said. “We had quarterly meetings at best, and depending on the timing of when those meetings took place, we could have a say in whatever was going on. The door is always open at the transporter. That’s still the way communication takes place.”

Martin Truex Jr., who recommended removing Lexan from spoilers to eliminate rear visibility, said he wasn’t approached by NASCAR for his opinion about group qualifying. The 2017 series champion said the Drivers Council largely isn’t missed.

“In a situation like (group changes qualifying), it’s probably a void,” Truex said about the lack of a formal channel. “But in most situations, it’s probably not a void because it was just one of those things that honestly became a waste of time for us.”

Questions and answers about the 2020 Cup schedule

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NASCAR’s 2020 Cup schedule created much for fans and competitors to discuss Tuesday.

A new championship race. A doubleheader weekend. Iconic tracks changing dates and three playoff cutoff races that could be brutal.

Here are answers to some of the questions from the schedule reveal.

Why is the championship race moving from Homestead-Miami Speedway to ISM Raceway?

Homestead-Miami Speedway provides arguably the best racing at a 1.5-mile track. Leaving it as the title race could leave a void.

ISM Raceway is a tight 1-mile track where passing can be difficult — although Kyle Larson showed earlier this month that one can gain several spots on a restart if they’re willing to use the high line after a restart.

So why the move indeed?

“Going to the same tracks year in and year out could potentially favor certain drivers,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, in a conference call with the media. “We wanted to take a look if we had the opportunity to go to another venue, what would that be.”

It also didn’t hurt that Ford’s contract as the sponsor of the championship weekend in Miami ends after this season, making a move easier.

And International Speedway Corp. spent about $180 million renovating ISM Raceway. When you have something shiny and new, you want to show it off. The championship race is one of the best chances to do so.

How long will the championship race be at ISM Raceway?

O’Donnell said: “I think our hope would be to stay there for a little while. I think with any venue you want to see it have a chance and grow a little bit and see how it works. … This wasn’t a decision we said, ‘hey let’s just go there for a year and rotate it. Our intention is to stay there a few years.”

Mike Helton, NASCAR vice chairman, said at ISM Raceway that “we are only talking about 2020 right now. What the future holds, we’ll see.”

Joey Logano voiced his desire for moving the title race around, saying on the NASCAR.com show after the schedule was revealed: “I kind of like that (the title race) has moved. I think it we should move it every year like the Super Bowl.”

Who does this move favor if they make it to the championship race?

Kyle Busch. He has won the past two races there and has an average finish of 2.9 there since 2016. If NASCAR keeps the title race at ISM Raceway for a few years, Busch could be the one who benefits the most. He has made it to the championship finale each of the past four years.

Kevin Harvick has a track-record nine wins there but he will be 44 next year when the finale is there, so he will likely have few opportunities to turn that success into another title.

Of course, the key is making it to the championship race.

How much more difficult did it get to advance in the playoffs?

It could be significantly harder. The cutoff races in next year’s playoffs will be Bristol (round one), Charlotte Roval (round two) and Martinsville (round three).

NASCAR has two shorts tracks and the Roval as cutoff races. That makes it easier for drivers to beat and bang should they need to do so for the win to advance or to gain a position and score enough points to advance. When drivers make contact, anything can happen.

Why a doubleheader at Pocono?

O’Donnell said that NBC had expressed interest in such a concept. The Pocono races will be held during the portion of the season NBC and NBCSN broadcast the races.

O’Donnell said NASCAR talked to “a number” of tracks about it and Pocono was willing to do it.

What about those races?

Details are to be worked out. O’Donnell noted that the Xfinity and Truck series will also be there with a plan of a Truck/Cup doubleheader on Saturday (June 27) and Xfinity/Cup doubleheader on Sunday (June 28). Oh, ARCA also is expected to be there, so there will be a lot of racing crammed into the weekend. Let’s hope for good weather.

“I think it’s neat, to see two back-to-back races at Pocono,” Ryan Blaney said on the NASCAR.com show. “That’s going to be really exciting.”

Why did Daytona move off its traditional spot of being on or near July 4 to being the regular-season finale on Aug. 29?

O’Donnell said those in the sport wanted to make it the regular-season finale, adding drama to the last race.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes over Daytona’s date. But what about the heat there?

IMS officials noted the cooler temperatures for the fans when the track’s date switched from July to September last year.

As for the issue about heat, O’Donnell said: “I think it’s hot in Daytona on July 4th. A bit of a myth to say it’s hot in a certain market.”

Why is the Clash still on its own weekend a week before the Daytona 500 and why is the All-Star Race still on a weekend of its own?

O’Donnell said that NBC, which broadcasts the last 20 races of the season, wanted to end on Veteran’s Day weekend in November. With the back-to-back off weekends in August because of NBC’s airing of the Summer Olympics, it didn’t make sense to truncate the Daytona or All Star/Coca-Cola 600 schedule.

When are the 2020 Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck schedules coming out?

O’Donnell said he hoped those could be released in the next week or so.

What about the 2021 schedule?

O’Donnell said: “I think some of the moves were made (this year) thinking ahead. We still have a lot to look at for 2021.”

The five-year sanctioning agreements NASCAR has with tracks ends after the 2020 season. That means NASCAR could change what tracks are on the schedule.

What about the future of the All-Star Race?

O’Donnell was asked if that event could be put on a rotating basis at some point. He said: “If we’re going to do that, we need to make sure it works for both Charlotte and a potential new venue.  That is something we’ve had discussions on. … Still a little premature for 2021.”

 

2020 NASCAR Cup Schedule

DATE

RACE/TRACK

Sunday, Feb. 9

The Clash

Thursday, Feb. 13

Duel at Daytona

Sunday, Feb. 16

Daytona 500

Sunday, Feb. 23

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 1

Auto Club Speedway

Sunday, March 8

ISM Raceway

Sunday, March 15

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Sunday, March 22

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Sunday, March 29

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 5

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 19

Richmond Raceway

Sunday, April 26

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, May 3

Dover International Speedway

Saturday, May 9

Martinsville Speedway

Saturday, May 16

All-Star Race, Charlotte

Sunday, May 24

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, May 31

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, June 7

Michigan International Speedway

Sunday, June 14

Sonoma Raceway

Sunday, June 21

Chicagoland Speedway

Saturday, June 27

Pocono Raceway

Sunday June 28

Pocono Raceway

Sunday July 5

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Saturday July 11

Kentucky Speedway

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

PLAYOFFS BEGIN

Sunday, Sept. 6

Darlington Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 12

Richmond Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 19

Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, Sept. 27

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 4

Talladega Superspeedway

Sunday, Oct. 11

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 18

Kansas Speedway

Sunday, Oct. 25

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 1

Martinsville Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 8

ISM Raceway

Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this report

Bristol, Martinsville will be elimination races in 2020 Cup playoffs

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The end of each playoff round will have a rock’em, sock’em feel with the changes NASCAR announced Tuesday to the 2020 schedule.

Bristol Motor Speedway’s August race will move to Sept. 19 and be the elimination race in the first round.

Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval, which saw Ryan Blaney win from third on the last lap after Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. crashed just before the finish line, will again be the cutoff race in the second round.

Martinsville Speedway’s fall race will be Nov. 1 and mark the final race of the third round. It will be the last chance for drivers to qualify for the Nov. 8 championship race, which moves to ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona.

The playoffs begin Sept. 6 at Darlington. The first round will have Darlington, Richmond (Sept. 12) and Bristol.

“If NASCAR fans thought they’ve seen tempers flare and sparks fly under the lights at the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, just wait until they experience a real pressure-packed NASCAR playoff elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager at Bristol Motor Speedway. “We’re thankful to the fans that voiced their opinions and rooted for more short-track racing in the playoffs, and appreciative of NASCAR collaborating with its many stakeholders to deliver a schedule with many positive adjustments.”

The second round of the playoffs will be Las Vegas (Sept. 27), Talladega (Oct. 4) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 11).

The third round of the playoffs will be Kansas (Oct. 18), Texas (Oct. 25) and Martinsville (Nov. 1).

“We are going to move to one of the most important races on the schedule, setting up the Cup Series finale,” said Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway, in a statement. “Recent history has shown us that drivers will do whatever it takes to secure a spot in the championship race, and now the urgency and intensity will go to another level, as it’s the last shot for teams to have a chance at the championship.”