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NASCAR penalizes Chase Elliott’s team for Phoenix violation

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NASCAR penalized Chase Elliott‘s Hendrick Motorsports team for an L1 violation found after Sunday’s race at Phoenix.

NASCAR fined crew chief Alan Gustafson $50,000, suspended car chief Josh Kirk two races and docked Elliott 25 points and the team 25 owner points. Elliott’s third-place finish will not count toward any tiebreakers. By losing 25 points, Elliott drops from 16th to 23rd in the points.

NASCAR stated that the team’s truck trailing arm spacer/pinion angle shim mounting surfaces must be planar and in complete contact with corresponding mating surfaces at all points and at all times.

The team is appealing the penalty, and NASCAR confirmed Thursday that Kirk’s suspension will be deferred until the case is heard, allowing him to be in the garage at Auto Club Speedway this weekend. The appeal hearing date hasn’t been set yet.

NASCAR also announced that the cars of Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were all cited for having one lug nut unsecured at the end of the Phoenix race. That resulted in a $10,000 fine each to crew chiefs Todd Gordon (Logano), Cole Pearn (Truex), Mike Wheeler (Hamlin), Jeremy Bullins (Blaney) and Brian Pattie (Stenhouse).

In the Xfinity Series, the teams of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch were each found to have one lug nut unsecured. That resulted in a $5,000 fine for crew chief Brian Wilson (Keselowski) and Eric Phillips (Busch).

NASCAR also announced that Brandon Lee and Wayne Kanter had been indefinitely suspended for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.

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Here’s what is new in 2018 for Cup teams

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A new year brings many changes. Such is the case for NASCAR teams. Here’s a look at some of the key changes heading into the 2018 season for Cup teams that have announced drivers for this season.

(Drivers are listed in order of their car number with where they finished in the points last year)

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (12th in points in 2017)

What’s new: Chip Ganassi Racing announced Wednesday that Doug Duchardt has been hired to be the organization’s chief operating officer.

What’s the same: McMurray is back for a ninth season with the team in his second stint there. Matt McCall begins his fourth season with McMurray.

 

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (4th)

What’s new: Discount Tire moves over to be a primary sponsor of Keselowski’s car for 10 races.

What’s the same: Keselowski is back with crew chief Paul Wolfe for an eighth consecutive season.

 

No. 3 Austin Dillon (11th)

What’s new: He has only one teammate, Ryan Newman, at Richard Childress Racing, with the team cutting back to two cars for 2018.

What’s the same: Crew chief Justin Alexander is back after being paired with Dillon in May 2017.

 

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (3rd)

What’s new: Wife DeLana delivered the couple’s second child, a daughter in late December.

What’s the same: Crew chief Rodney Childers is back for a fifth season with Harvick. Since they’ve been together, they’ve won one championship, scored 14 victories and captured 13 poles.

 

No. 6 Trevor Bayne (22nd)

What’s new: AdvoCare is back but with a new paint scheme for this season. 

What’s the same: Matt Puccia is back as Bayne’s crew chief. They’ve been together since the 2016 season.

 

No. 9 Chase Elliott (5th)

What’s new: A new number for the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

What’s the same: Crew chief Alan Gustafson is back and Elliott, who enters his third Cup season, seeks his first career series win.

 

No. 10 Aric Almirola (29th)

What’s new: A new ride for Almirola, as he moves from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s just among the many changes. Almirola also will have a new crew chief. John Klausmeier, who has been an engineer with the organization since 2009 and filled in as in interim crew chief previously, moves into that position for Almirola’s team. And a new look. Smithfield joins Almirola in the move, but its car will be black and white.

What’s the same: Even with the move, Almirola is driving a Ford again. 

 

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (6th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Wheeler is back for his third season with Hamlin. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles the previous two seasons.

 

No. 12 Ryan Blaney (9th)

What’s new: A new team. Blaney moves from the Wood Brothers to a third entry for Team Penske. He’ll be teammates to Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Team Penske purchased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing for Blaney’s car.

What’s the same: Crew chief Jeremy Bullins joins Blaney in the move from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske.

 

No. 13 Ty Dillon (24th)

What’s new: Crew chief Matt Borland joins the team from Richard Childress Racing.

What’s the same: Germain Racing remains aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

 

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (18th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz is paired with Bowyer for a second season in a row.

 

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13th)

What’s new: Stenhouse is no longer dating Danica Patrick

What’s the same: Crew chief Brian Pattie and Stenhouse are set to begin their second season together after winning two races and making the playoffs last season.

 

No. 18 Kyle Busch (2nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: This will be the fourth Cup season for crew chief Adam Stevens and Busch. They’ve won 14 races and 11 poles the past three seasons together.

 

No. 19 Daniel Suarez (20th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Suarez is back with Arris and Stanley as sponsors in 2018.

 

No. 20 Erik Jones (19th)

What’s new: A new driver in this car that Matt Kenseth had run the past five seasons. Also, crew chief Chris Gayle moves with Jones, the 2017 Cup rookie of the year, from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2018 campaign.

What’s the same: The car has the same number as last year.

 

No. 21 Paul Menard (23rd)

What’s new: A new home for Menard, who goes from Richard Childress Racing to the Wood Brothers. Greg Erwin will be the new crew chief, taking over for Jeremy Bullins, who moves from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske with Ryan Blaney.

What’s the same: The Wood Brothers.

 

No. 22 Joey Logano (17th)

What’s new: Logano’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child in January.

What’s the same: Crew chief Todd Gordon is back for his sixth season with Logano. They’ve combined to win 16 races and 14 poles working together.

 

No. 24 William Byron (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: A new driver and new number for what had been the No. 5 team at Hendrick Motorsports. The Xfinity Series champion moves up from JR Motorsports. He’ll have Darian Grubb as his crew chief.

What’s the same: Liberty University, a longtime backer of Byron, is back as a sponsor.

 

No. 31 Ryan Newman (16th)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: Caterpillar, which has been a partner with Richard Childress Racing since 2009, will sponsor Newman’s car in select races in 2018.

 

No. 32 Matt DiBenedetto (32nd)

What’s new: No major changes have been announced.

What’s the same: DiBenedetto is back with the team for a second consecutive year.

 

No. 34 Michael McDowell (26th)

What’s new: New ride for McDowell, who moves from Leavine Family Racing to Front Row Motorsports and joins David Ragan at that organization. Front Row Motorsports also has expanded its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

What’s the same: Team remains in the Ford camp.

 

No. 37 Chris Buescher (25th)

What’s new: The team purchased a charter after leasing one last season.

What’s the same: Buescher is back for his second year with the team.

 

No. 38 David Ragan (30th)

What’s new: He has a new teammate with Michael McDowell joining the team and replacing Landon Cassill.

What’s the same: Ragan is back for his fifth season (in two stints) with Front Row Motorsports.

 

No. 41 Kurt Busch (14th)

What’s new: Is what’s old. Busch is back with Stewart-Haas Racing as is sponsor Monster Energy after his contract option was not picked up last season amid questions about sponsorship. Busch also has a new crew chief. Billy Scott moves from the No. 10 team to be Busch’s crew chief this season. Scott replaces Tony Gibson, who moves into a position at the shop.

What’s the same: The car number for Busch, who will enter his fifth season at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

 

No. 42 Kyle Larson (8th)

What’s new: A new sponsor for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Credit One will replace Target on the No. 42 Chevrolet in 2018. Also Larson got engaged to girlfriend Katelyn Sweet in December.

What’s the same: Larson will be teamed with crew chief Chad Johnston for a third consecutive year. They’ve combined to win five races and three poles together. 

 

No. 43 Darrell Wallace Jr. (50th)

What’s new: Wallace joins the team after running four races for Richard Petty Motorsports when Aric Almirola was injured last season. RPM also has switched from Ford to Chevrolet and formed an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and will get its engines from ECR Engines this season. Team also is adding sponsorship with Smithfield putting most of its resources with Almirola at Stewart-Haas Racing. 

What’s the same: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer returns to be Wallace’s crew chief.

 

No. 47 AJ Allmendinger (27th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: This will be Allmendinger’s fifth season with JTG Daugherty Racing.

 

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (10th)

What’s new: No major changes announced.

What’s the same: He’s back with crew chief Chad Knaus for a 17th consecutive year.

 

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (1st)

What’s new: A new moniker for Truex – reigning Cup champion. Also, the team is back to a one-car operation with the shuttering of the No. 77 team.

What’s the same: Champion crew chief Cole Pearn is back to lead this team.

 

No. 88 Alex Bowman (Did not race Cup in 2017)

What’s new: Bowman takes over the former ride of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports.

What’s the same: Greg Ives is back as the team’s crew chief.

 

No. 95 Kasey Kahne (15th)

What’s new: Kahne joins Leavine Family Racing, replacing Michael McDowell. Travis Mack, who had been the car chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team at Hendrick Motorsports, makes the move to be Kahne’s crew chief.

What’s the same: The car number for the team.

 

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Denny Hamlin says he and team need to step up with crew chief Mike Wheeler out

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Denny Hamlin, the winningest active Cup driver without a series championship, begins his title drive without crew chief Mike Wheeler this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Wheeler is completing a two-race suspension after Hamlin’s winning Southern 500 car failed inspection afterward. Wheeler’s suspension means he can’t be in the garage and on pit road. He can remain in communication with the team throughout the weekend.

Hamlin admits that Wheeler’s absence last weekend at Richmond impacted the team despite a fifth-place finish. Hamlin noted that the team was late in getting the car ready for both practices, costing him track time.

“We started 10 minutes late to both practices because our car wasn’t ready,’’ Hamlin said. “In between changes, we didn’t have the sense of urgency, getting out there, getting it done, getting back on the track, where (Wheeler) is usually pushing them to get it done. I think our track time was cut down.’’

Chris Gabehart served as Hamlin’s interim crew chief last weekend but his focus was on his job as crew chief for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Xfinity team. Gabehart’s main duty with Hamlin’s team was to be atop the pit box for any critical calls during the race. He let the team handle practice while he worked with driver Christopher Bell on the Xfinity side. Engineers Sam McAulay and Ryan Bowers led Hamlin’s team during practice.

Hamlin said he needs to take a more active role in leading the team this weekend.

“I think the responsibility I carry is I have to give information a little bit quicker to them because (Wheeler), I tell him what it’s doing, bam, he comes up with a change right away,’’ Hamlin said “I think they want to be more methodical so they don’t make mistakes. They have to enter it into a computer. Let’s change this. You have to just do things a little bit ‑‑ give them a little more advanced notice when things aren’t going well.”

With all the work that takes place Friday and Saturday in practice, Hamlin knows that will be critical to how well he runs Sunday. Don’t find the right setup and it makes the race more difficult. Find the right setup and Hamlin can put himself in position to win at Chicagoland for the second time since 2015.

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Denny Hamlin says he would be for NASCAR issuing harsher penalties

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RICHMOND, Va. — Denny Hamlin knows the image looks odd.

The most recent driver to have a win encumbered after his car failed inspection is advocating for harsher penalties in NASCAR.

“As long as it’s the same for everyone, I think that’s key,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Richmond Raceway. “Make sure that when someone else is in there with the same violation, it gets the same penalty and treatment even if it’s in the playoffs. Obviously, it’s negative publicity for everyone involved, so I just hope that it’s the same. I’m fine with taking wins away. Nothing wrong with that.”

Hamlin won the Xfinity and Cup races last weekend at Darlington Raceway only to find out a few days later that both cars failed inspection at the NASCAR R&D Center. The runner-up car in the Xfinity race also failed inspection. 

The result of the Darlington Cup infraction is that Hamlin is in Richmond without crew chief Mike Wheeler (suspended two races) and fans have clamored on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio for series officials to do more with such penalties.

NASCAR is considering stripping wins next year, NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan reported on NASCAR America this week.

Hamlin said the issue was discussed by the Drivers Council before.

“I think we brought something up maybe in the off-season … taking away points that you’ve already earned for the playoffs above and beyond not getting the points for that particular race,’’ Hamlin said.

“I’m all for harsher penalties for parole violators, you know what I mean? If you do it on a constant basis, you definitely should be penalized for it. As far as whether you should take away wins, black or white, be subjective, it’s tough because this particular part of the car, I don’t know if it’s really black and white. There’s been others that have been very gray, and they’ve said, ‘Okay, that’s good.’ Then ours is not good.

“I don’t know what the line is, where you take wins away. I think there should be parts of the car maybe that they distinguish – your motor, your tires, maybe rear suspension, stuff like that, major items that  maybe wins get taken away, or aero advantages that probably should be taken away as well.”

As for Hamlin’s penalty, he said it wasn’t intentional.

“We didn’t start the race with an illegal car,’’ he said. “It worked its way that way. When I say, ‘It worked its way,’ it was so close, but so close doesn’t matter. It was still over the line.

If it can be that close, why take the risk?

“The reason people work in those areas is because there’s speed there,’’ Hamlin said. “That’s why we always fight for every inch and every quarter and every thousandth of an inch on every part of the car, whether it be under the car or above it. So it’s a tough game and you got to be willing to take the consequences when you pass over that line that gets drawn in the sand.”

For those who say such action is cheating, what is Hamlin’s response?

“How many wins does Richard Petty have?’’ Hamlin said rhetorically. “200? One of those was with a big block (engine), so does he really have 199? I mean, listen, my advice to those who say this or that is all the old school fans have been watching NASCAR forever, your driver cheated at some point in their career and they got away with it. The difference is it was inches, not thousandths. They didn’t measure that stuff back then. It’s just a tighter box that we live in today.’’

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Chris Gabehart’s job as Denny Hamlin’s interim crew chief will be simple

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RICHMOND, Va. — Chris Gabhart’s biggest job as Denny Hamlin’s interim crew chief this weekend at Richmond Raceway could be just to sit back and watch the show.

“I can assure you,’’ Gabehart told NBC Sports, “I’ve had a little bit of conversation over the last day or two, he’s coming here motivated. You’re going to get the full force of Denny Hamlin over the next two days, and it’s going to be fun.’’

Hamlin comes to his home track after sweeping the Xfinity and Cup races at Darlington and then finding out this week that both winning cars failed inspection at the NASCAR R&D Center. Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Wheeler, has been suspended two races, meaning he also will miss next weekend’s opening playoff race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Hamlin and Gabehart have worked together in the Xfinity Series this season. Gabehart also was Hamlin’s race engineer in the Cup Series in 2015.

MORE: Chris Gabehart – racer turned crew chief

Gabehart stresses that his main duty Friday is as Christopher Bell’s crew chief in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. This is Bell’s first time at Richmond.

Also, today marks the debut of the flange fit composite car in the Xfinity Series. Bell will be among 30 drivers in such cars. The rest of the field will use the standard steel-bodied cars but those will weigh 150 pounds more than the composite cars.

Gabehart says he won’t be needed as much by Hamlin’s team Friday for Cup practice or qualifying.

“I’m going to go check on them, but it’s more or less me being plugged in where I can be to get up to speed with what they’ve got going on,’’ Gabehart said. “I won’t be involved in any right rear spring changes or shock changes or any of that stuff. (Wheeler) will still be plugged in from afar.

“There is so much support over there that they don’t need me for any of that. They’re just asking me to sit on the (pit) box with a little bit of experience pushing the (radio) button and making those gut feel calls (in the race).’’

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