Mike Kelley

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like (Thursday) night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car, and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Dale Jr. to join Mike Tirico today on new NBCSN daily sports talk show

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be among the guests on “Lunch Talk Live,” the new sports talk show that airs at noon ET today on NBCSN.

Mike Tirico will host the hour-long daily show that will feature discussions among current and former athletes, prominent sports figures, NBC Sports commentators and other prominent voices in sports and media.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

“In these challenging times, we are all missing sports and the people who make sports memories,” Tirico said. “Hopefully, we can bring a midday connection with some of them to help fill the void.”

Sam Flood, NBC Sports Executive Producer & President of Production, said: “We’re excited to bring viewers fresh programming every day with unique, topical conversations from prominent individuals in all corners of sports. This will be a daily lunch date to share sports and stories we miss during these unique times.”

The hour-long show will air weekdays at Noon ET on NBCSN and stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports. You can watch the stream here. Select content and interviews will additionally be hosted on NBC Sports’ YouTube channel and social media platforms.

Here is Monday’s guest list:

Noon: NBC PGA golfer analyst Justin Leonard and NBC Sports’ Peter King

12:15 p.m.: NBC Sports broadcasters Cris Collinsworth and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

12:30 p.m.: Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski

12:40 p.m.: Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson

12:50 p.m.: NBC Sports broadcasters Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte

Follow the show on Twitter at: @LunchTalkNBCSN

 

Richard Petty Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports announce crew chief changes

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Bubba Wallace will have a new crew chief in 2019 with Drew Blickensderfer leaving to take the same position with Front Row Motorsports.

Richard Petty Motorsports said in a statement it will announce a new crew chief “at the appropriate time.” Meanwhile competition director Philippe Lopez will lead the No. 43 team’s efforts to prepare for the season.

Wallace finished the 2018 season 28th in points. He earned three top 10s, including second place in the Daytona 500.

Blickensderfer, who was with RPM since 2012, heads to Front Row Motorsports, which announced its crew chief lineup Wednesday.

Blickensderfer will be paired with Michael McDowell on the No. 34 Ford. Blickensderfer replaces Derrick Finley, who will serve as FRM’s technical director.

Mike Kelley joins FRM to crew chief rookie Matt Tifft and the No. 36 Ford. Kelley was previously with Roush Fenway Racing where he was crew chief on the No. 60 Xfinity car. Kelley is a two-time Xfinity champion, winning with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011 and 2012.

Seth Barbour will return for his second full season as crew chief on David Ragan‘s No. 38 Ford. He joined the team in the middle of the 2017 season as a crew chief for Landon Cassill.

The crew chief moves come as the team recently announced it had moved shop locations.

 

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Ryan Reed ready to enjoy benefits of having teammates again

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Ryan Reed will have a trio of wingmen this season in the Xfinity Series after going two-thirds of last season without a teammate.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver was teammates with Darrell Wallace Jr. until Roush ran out of sponsorship money for the No. 6 Ford following the June race at Pocono, the 12th race of the year.

Reed’s reinforcements this season are Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski and Chase Briscoe. The three drivers will split time in the No. 60 Ford during the 33-race season.

Reed, who was eliminated from the playoffs last year after the first round looks forward to the benefits of having another Roush car in the field again.

“Just having a second car is helpful,” Reed said Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour. “You’ve seen it with organizations that have one-car programs and they have success, but for the most part, I think, it’s gonna be helpful just to have the second car.”

Briscoe and Cindric come to Roush after spending 2017 with Brad Keselowski Racing in the Camping World Truck Series. They each won one race while Briscoe was voted most popular driver and Rookie of the Year.

Cindric made one Xfinity start last season with Team Penske at Road America, where he started from the pole and finished 16th.

Majeski, a Roush development driver, made three starts in both Iowa races and the season finale at Miami. His best finish was 10th in Miami.

“I think having three fairly inexperienced drivers – at least in Xfinity cars – that will be different,” said Reed, who has two wins in his first four Xfinity seasons. “But I also think it will be good because Ty has had some NASCAR experience with Roush, but Chase and Austin come from different organizations, so it will be cool to see their mindset and be able to pull from their previous experience, and also Austin is going to be splitting time with Penske as well, so that will be really good information and a really good comparison as we go.”

The team will be led by long-time Roush crew chief Mike Kelley.

Kelly has 12 Xfinity wins since 2006. Eight of those came with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. from 2011-12.

“He kind of helped build that Xfinity program back when we had five or six Xfinity cars back in the day before I got there,” Stenhouse said Tuesday. “I think the confidence that he has as a crew chief in this sport and what he’s done carries over to the drivers as well. When he was working on our Cup cars, I felt like he was making sure he did everything he could to make sure that we had the most downforce last year every time we hit the race track and I had confidence in that.

“I think he’ll do that same thing for the three rookie drivers he has and I feel like out of any of the crew chiefs I’ve worked for, for a rookie I feel like he’s the one to do the job. He believes in all of them and if they can get things going and organize as quick as possible that they’ll be competing for some wins before it’s over with.”

 

On Tuesday, Roush announced the full driver schedule for the No. 60 Ford.

Cindric will be in the car for nine races, beginning with the Feb. 17 opener at Daytona. Cindric was chosen for the race from a drawing between the three drivers’ names last week.

Cindric’s races: Daytona I, Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Auto Club, Michigan, Daytona II, New Hampshire, Watkins Glen and Darlington.

Majeski and Briscoe will each get 12 starts.

Majeski’s races: Bristol I, Talladega, Dover I, Charlotte I, Iowa I, Kentucky, Road America, Las Vegas II, Richmond II, Charlotte II, Texas II and Phoenix II.

Briscoe’s races: Atlanta, Texas I, Richmond I, Pocono, Chicago, Iowa II, Mid-Ohio, Bristol II, Indianapolis, Dover II, Kansas II, Miami.

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Roush Fenway Racing to field three-driver Xfinity development team in 2018

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Roush Fenway Racing announced Monday it will field a full-time driver development team next season in the Xfinity Series.

Ty Majeski, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe will share driving duties behind the wheel of the No. 60 Roush Fenway Ford Mustang.

In addition, Team Penske and Ford Performance will also collaborate in the venture.

Mike Kelley, who led Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to two Xfinity championships, will serve as crew chief for the No. 60.

“All three of these drivers have exhibited a great deal of potential on and off the track,” Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark said in a press release. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch as they hone their skills together and grow into the next generation of champions in our sport.”

Here are the drivers:

* Majeski recently earned his fourth consecutive ARCA Midwest Tour championship, winning six of 12 races. He also competed in 32 Late Model races this year, winning 20 and finishing top-3 in 29. He’s also ranked the No. 1 iRacer in the world, with over 830 wins in 1,112 starts. He finished 10th Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his third Xfinity start.

* The 19-year-old Cindric has won races in rallycross, IMSA, ARCA, the NASCAR K&N Series and the Camping World Truck Series. In his rookie season in Trucks this year, he advanced to the championship round. In 2017, he had one win, eight top-fives and 16 top-10s.

* Briscoe had one win (season finale Friday at Homestead), 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes and finished sixth in the points standings in his rookie season in Trucks. He won the 2016 ARCA championship by more than 500 points over the series’ runner-up with six wins and led nearly 1,000 laps.